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Arthouse Audit: 'Life Itself' Leads New Releases While 'Begin Again' and 'Snowpiercer' Show Life

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood July 6, 2014 at 3:12PM

Independence Day weekend doesn't tend to be a big specialized release date. In the last six years, only "The Way, Way Back" in 2013 stands out as a significant new release over the holiday. So it isn't surprising that the pickings were modest this year.

Also opening:

Bernardo Bertolucci's "Me and You" (Emerging), his first feature in a decade and only his third Italian language film since 1970 opened in two prime New York theaters two years after its Cannes premiere, but no grosses are available.

Last week's openers:

'Begin Again'
'Begin Again'

"Begin Again" (Weinstein) - $1,316,000 in 175 theaters (+170); PSA: $7,520; Cumulative: $1,853,000

Taking a significant risk (and adding marketing expense) with this wider-than-usual second week release, Weinstein seems to have succeeded in justifying the benefit-of-the-doubt reaction to their decent if not spectacular initial New York/Los Angeles grosses (which ended up coming in 10-percent less than they estimated). The PSA for this level of theaters puts the film on track for at least a $15-20 million domestic gross, with the potential for much more if word-of-mouth continues to overcome mixed reviews.

TWC's "Quartet," for example, went to 163 theaters on its third weekend with a PSA of $7,110 before getting to $18 million. "Chef," which is heading to $25 million or more, played far fewer theaters its second weekend (with a resulting better PSA) and averaged $8,843. This is ahead of "Enough Said," "The Way, Way Back" and "Belle" at comparable stages. This opened in most of these theaters on Wednesday. Friday showed by far the biggest percentage jump from Thursday of any film in the market and Saturday had a decent improvement on that figure.

This film is in Weinstein's wheelhouse. That doesn't mean it's a guaranteed success. But the high-end marketing/advertising support, the timing (lighter-weight, more general audience appeal film with some sophistication) at a time with little else for adults in the market (particularly older female) and most importantly strong word of mouth are all combining to make this look even more like a strong crossover success than it initially appeared.

This will get to around 800 or so screens (a very quick expansion) this Friday.

"Snowpiercer" (Radius/Weinstein) - $998,325 in 250 theaters (+242); PSA: $3,993; Cumulative: $1,501,844

Last week was no fluke. This quick expansion of Bong Joon-ho's ice-age-survivors-on-a-train story resulted in a very impressive number once again. The numbers are below "Begin Again," but it's astounding considering the normal level of performance of the theaters playing it. The film's Video on Demand availability on July 11 means most of the usual theaters that play top specialized films aren't present -- including the Landmark chain. Within that context, these numbers suggest that had this gone a normal theatrical pattern (with an expedited and well-supported marketing campaign) the potential was there for a $20 million-plus crossover appeal film.

Last summer, Weinstein, after authorizing a reedited cut for US theaters, opened Wong Kar-wai's "The Grandmaster" and went as wide as 800 theaters with a $6.5 million gross. That's impressive for a subtitled film. "Snowpiercer," which Weinstein finally didn't cut, is in English, with a combination of great reviews and some action/genre appeal (both ahead of "Grandmaster") yet seems to have been relegated, at least theatrically, to a second-tier treatment.

The strong opening suggests significant interest, particularly from younger (less typical) specialized moviegoers, exactly the kind of viewers who gravitate to streaming services. And, though it might not have been the intent, the pattern here -- top-drawer film gets attention, even without great theaters, then quickly goes to VOD (which is not the established method -- usually films either go VOD at the same time, or perhaps after one week; third week or soon after is quite unusual) -- could if successful end up being used for other films. That would be risky -- as the playoff here shows, it cut outs many of the best specialized theaters. But this might turn out overall to become one of the most telling releases of the year.

This article is related to: Arthouse Audit, Snowpiercer, Box Office, Box Office Top Ten, Steve James, Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.