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Arthouse Audit: 'Love Is Strange' Spices Up Lagging Specialized B.O.

Thompson on Hollywood By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood August 24, 2014 at 1:09PM

Sony Pictures Classics' mature romance "Love Is Strange," the second Sundance opener in a row to dominate the specialty box office, did sizable initial business in New York and Los Angeles. With an appeal to older audiences, both straight and gay, it looks positioned for future success in a market otherwise crammed with longer-running, underperforming and/or Video on Demand titles.
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'Love Is Strange'
'Love Is Strange'

Sony Pictures Classics' mature romance "Love Is Strange," the second Sundance opener in a row to dominate the specialty box office, did sizable initial business in New York and Los Angeles. With an appeal to older audiences, both straight and gay, it looks positioned for future success in a market otherwise crammed with longer-running, underperforming and/or Video on Demand titles.

The other big achievement this weekend is the continued success of "Boyhood" (IFC), which continues to hold well in over 700 theaters. With "A Most Wanted Man," "Magic in the Moonlight," and the ever-present "Chef" also continuing to draw crowds, the story of specialized at the moment is the dominance of films with older adult appeal. Those aimed at a younger crowd are still struggling.

Opening

"Love Is Strange" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, Los Angeles 2014
$126,552 in theaters; PSA (per screen average); $25,310

Nine grads of the Sundance premiere section of Sundance have opened this summer, with "Boyhood" and "A Most Wanted Man" achieving crossover wide success. "A Trip to Italy" shows promise, while "Wish I Was Here" and "I Origins" failed to gain traction. "Love Is Strange" marks a conventional art-house release pattern that could yield real multi-month success, which is increasingly tricky to achieve. The reason? Apart from SPC having the expertise (and confidence) to exercise patience and nurture a film they believe in,  the adult appeal for this film (without a lot of competition among fresh titles in upcoming weeks) combined with strong word of mouth and upbeat reviews could propel this into a solid art house success with crossover appeal.

The PSA estimate puts it ahead of last weekend's impressive opening for "The Trip to Italy," which similarly played at three single-screen New York theaters, which likely led to a somewhat lower gross. But aside from appealing older, the comparison diverges.

Encouragingly, what sets this gross apart is that the film is gay-themed. It's the story of an older, long-term, now married gay couple struggling to stay in Manhattan after one of them loses his job (for being married and gay). Though similar films are staples at film festivals and regularly get released, over the past two years, of the three standout titles dealing with men, only Oscar-winning star-driven "The Dallas Buyers Club" gained theatrical traction, with "Beyond the Candelabra" and "The Normal Heart" ending up as HBO presentations. Director Ira Sachs, a well-regarded fest circuit veteran, most recently released "Keep the Lights On" to terrific reviews and a strong push to reach a core, younger audience, but only managed to gross $246,000 -- less than what "Love Is Strange" will pull on its opening weekend.

The combination of reviews, actors of note (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina), top theater placement and most importantly an empathy-drawing story is getting reaction that most gay-character films struggle to receive. It's too early to assume that this will play equally well across the country, but this could end up as one of the top-grossing Sundance films this year.

What comes next: A small number of new cities (including Chicago, Washington and San Francisco) open Friday. Most big cities will open in the weeks after Labor Day, with a pinpointed slower rollout ahead, something that SPC does well.

"The One I Love" (Radius/Weinstein) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Sundance, Tribeca, San Francisco, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$55,126 in 8 theaters; PSA: $6,891

Another film out of Sundance's Premiere section, unlike the others so far this one is going VOD at the same time (most often competition, doc and Next selections take this route). This offbeat cross-genre marital therapy two-hander starring "Mad Men"'s Elizabeth Moss and "The League"'s Mark Duplass was limited in its theatrical availability because of VOD, but managed to score a better than average audience sampling compared to average for this kind of multiple city release. That doesn't make the grosses great or suggest a lot of growth ahead, but it does indicate some theatrical appeal even when viewers can also see the film at home.

Of note and more important than the theatrical numbers is Radius' report (unusual in itself) of a VOD gross among all platforms of over $500,000 so far, and placement at #1 at ITunes among both romance and science fiction.

What comes next: The marketing for this and review placement will help to draw attention to VOD menus over the next few weeks.

"May in the Summer" (Cohen Media) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Sundance, London 2013, Seattle 2014
$3,171 in 1 theater; PSA: $3,171

This was a 2013 U.S. Narrative section competitor at Sundance. Cohen Releasing nearly always handles foreign films, and this isn't that great an exception. A story of a part Arab-American woman who returns to her family home in Jordan to marry, this opened at one prime New York theater (the Sunshine) to mixed reviews and very little gross.

What comes next: With the delayed release and now weak gross, this looks not to warrant much more significant support from Cohen beyond limited dates. It does open in Los Angeles this Friday at the Royal.

Significant openers not yet reporting grosses include two also on VOD, Matthew Weiner's "Are You Here" (Millennium) which debuted to weal response at Toronto last year, and the Sundance documentary "To Be Takei" (Starz) about the Star Trek veteran actor.

Second week

"The Trip to Italy" (IFC); also available on Video on Demand
$114,000 in 10 theaters (+7); PSA: $11,400; Cumulative: $221,280

IFC opted to go with VOD in this film's second week. These are decent second weekend numbers for its expansion to limited dates in new cities, suggesting that the film had the potential to be a significant theatrical success, possibly exceeding what "The Trip" did ($2 million). These numbers show it still has some potential to have theatrical appeal despite the VOD.

What comes next: This expands to include the top 20 markets this weekend.

"Life After Beth" (A24)
$13,500 in 20 theaters; PSA: $; Cumulative: $34,400; also available on Video on Demand

This first dual-venue release with Direct TV was reduced to a single non-prime show at both its core New York and Los Angeles theaters after its weak opening, with new ones added doing even worse as this Sundance competition film fails to break the string of low-grossing performers so far from that section this year.

"Boyhood" (IFC) Week 7
$1,864,350 in 734 theaters (-37); PSA: $2,540; Cumulative: $16,526,000

Though the screen count dipped slightly, the gross stayed nearly the same. That's impressive, and suggests that this film has a lot of gross remaining. It has already sustained a seven-week run, and now looks to continue to play through September, which is crucial as part of its longer-term award hopes. This still looks like it could hit $25 million+, which would make it even more one of the top specialized hits of the year. (Correction from last week -- when the actual numbers came in Monday, this did not actually make the Top Ten, as had been initially projected).

"Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$1,331,613 in 787 theaters (-177); PSA: $1,692; Cumulative: $6,821,000

Still on track to reach close to $10 million, above average for Woody Allen films this century, but below his three most recent successes.

"A Most Wanted Man" (Roadside Attractions) Week 5
$920,775 in 433 theaters (-211); PSA: $2,078; Cumulative: $14,111,000

Also now declining later in its run, but still packing a punch and increasing its already strong gross.

"Calvary" (Fox Searchlight) Week 4
$540,000 in 210 theaters (+110); PSA: $2,250; Cumulative: $1,628,000

As noted last week, after a disappointing limited opening, this Irish Catholic Church drama with Brendan Gleason has managed to find a somewhat better result as it expands, with Fox Searchlight continuing to support it with above average marketing. With the theater count increasing by about 50%, the PSA dropped only a third from last weekend. It's hardly great, but, in a period without a lot of new strong expanding films for the moment, this should have a chance to keep playing and find new dates. A gross of between $4-5 million now seems possible, much higher than what seemed possible opening weekend.


"What If" (CBS) Week 3
$652,000 in 680 theaters (-107); PSA: $959; Cumulative: $2,204,000

CBS gave this Daniel Radcliffe-starring rom-com out of last year's Toronto as strong a push as it could, with a $2 million+ gross due to the early wider release. But the PSA from the start has been weak, and it's tough to see this being able to sustain most of these theaters into a fourth week or beyond.


"Chef" (Open Road) Week 16
$151,624 in 105 theaters (-17); PSA: $1,448; Cumulative: $29,527,000

Open Road isn't giving up anytime soon with this film, which is going to get a further holiday weekend push to get it over $30 million.

"Land Ho" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7
$85,670 in 51 theaters (+20); PSA: $1,680; Cumulative: $362,091

This sweet older-audience aimed Sundance film never really gained traction, but managed to pop its gross a bit as SPC manages to get it as wide as possible.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Arthouse Audit, Sony Pictures Classics, A Most Wanted Man, Boyhood, Boyhood, Trip to Italy, The Trip To Italy, The Trip to Italy, The One I Love, Love is Strange, Love Is Strange


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