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Arthouse Audit: 'Marigold' Is 'Avengers' for Seniors, 'First Position' and 'Bernie' Score

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
May 6, 2012 1:43 PM
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Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

While it didn't have 24-hour shows at some locations, and didn't set any records, just as "The Avengers" raised the bar for 2012 wide-release films, Fox Searchlight's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is showing the best results for specialized/older audience films since 2011's late-year openings. And similar to the Marvel juggernaut, most other new specialized films stayed out of the way, with only four other significant new limited opening debuts (compared to 20 total last week). Three of these have VOD (video on demand) tie-ins. Two of them were acclaimed Toronto documentary premieres last year; four were directed by women, with "First Position" a stand-out.

"Bernie" was the highlight by far of the second-week films, with only a few other films showing much strength.

OPENING

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) - Metacritic rating: 61

$750,301 in 27 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $27,789

Combine the exotic setting of one recent Oscar Best Picture winner, the director of another, an all-star cast of British vets, $70 million in gross already in the till overseas, and you build high expectations for this tale of retirees at a run-down Indian hotel. The result is the best opening for a limited release since late last year. The unusual 12-market debut reduced the PSA from a more normal NY/LA debut, but confirmed what had been expected - this has more heartland than coastal appeal, with theaters in cities like Toronto, Phoenix and Denver standing out.

The oldest segment of the movie-going public tends not to flock to theaters as quickly as their younger counterparts, and seating at prime shows isn't quite as available in all cases (not as much a problem for "The Avengers" as theaters cleared their decks for it). And whether "Marigold" crosses over to a younger audience remains to be seen.

For comparison, the "Marigold" opening is not as big as, say, "The Descendants" ($41,000 PSA at 29 theaters its first week) or "Midnight in Paris" last June (it had a PSA of $33,000 when it expanded to more - 58 - theaters). But when compensating for differences in total runs, it is more impressive than either "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" or "The Tree of Life" when they went to a similar number of cities. This despite having far less positive reviews ("Exotic" overcame mixed to even unfavorable ones in some cases, although the most influential ones were mainly supportive.)

What it means: Fox Searchlight is expanding this to some 150 theaters next weekend and aiming at 800 by the end of May. They got the jump on other possible successes later this month ("Moonlight Kingdom" and "The Intouchables" among others), and the likely positive WOM (word of mouth) and lack of other films aimed at seniors should bolster this as it expands. It's too early to project a final number, and of course opening this time of the year won't lead to potential awards contention (at best some supporting acting attention). But this should top $20 million as it widens out, and higher is definitely possible. Not "Avengers" returns, but for this more limited market, excellent.

"First Position" (IFC-Sundance Selects) - Metacritic score: 72; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Portland 12, Miami 12

$51,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $10,200

Another documentary featuring competition among gifted children, in this case ballet prodigies aiming for scholarships and other notice, IFC-SS is going the theatrical route initially (as they did successfully with "Pina" earlier this year). Opening in NY and LA, it scored a solid PSA, even better with it not playing at either of the top two LA platform theaters. This places "First Position" a bit behind two other recent doc successes - "Pina" and "Jiro Dreams of Sushi' -- both of which then maximized their theatrical potential.

What it means: Unlike those two, this is quickly going to VOD (video on demand) - next Friday, parallel to its expansion to 15 more cities. That will mean this will not have anything like the exposure they had in theaters.

"Last Call at the Oasis" (ATO) - Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Berlin 12, South by Southwest 12, San Francisco 12

$16,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $5,333

Grabbing top-notch theaters in NY/LA, Jessica Yu's alarming documentary about near-future catastrophic water shortages continues its high-profile exposure that has included top-festival play as well, possibly on its way to Oscar consideration (she won for documentary short). The grosses however aren't equal to its positioning, showing that this wasn't able to stand out ahead of other recent environmental-themed docs.

What it means: This likely will have considerably more exposure on cable in the future, but its theatrical life looks to be limited.

"The Perfect Family" (Variance) - Metacritic score: 43; Festivals include: Tribeca 11, Provincetown; also available on VOD

$13,000 in 6 theaters; PSA: $2,166

A year after its Tribeca premiere and also debuting on VOD, this Kathleen Turner-starring comedy about a dysfunctional family competing in a church contest as the "ideal" opened with a bit more of a general audience presence in NY/LA (including AMC theaters near Times Square and Burbank). It didn't work.

What it means: Little if any additional theatrical life.

"A Little Bit of Heaven" (Millenium) - Metacritic score: 14; Fesitvals include: Tokyo 11; also available on VOD

$9,800 in 11 theaters; PSA: $891

Since her strong Sundance debut with "The Woodsman," director Nicole Kassell has mainly been helming quality TV dramas ("The Killing"). This year-old terminal cancer dramedy starring Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal has been on VOD for a month. Dreadful reviews made certain it was DOA at theaters.

What it means: Millenium also has "Bernie" to expand, so they'll move on from this quickly.

Expansions/ongoing

"Bernie" (Millenium) - Week 2

$140,000 in 8 theaters (+5); PSA: $17,500 ; Cumulative: $262,000

Adding (unusually) the Lincoln Plaza in NY in the second week and also four theaters in Texas, this Richard Linklater comedy continues with its successful early numbers while not moving out as quickly as other distributors might have.

What it means: With a cast that includes Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley Maclaine, solid reviews and comedy appeal, this is set up to be a sleeper specialized hit, with solid crossover/wider appeal more than likely.

"The Sound of My Voice" (Fox Searchlight) - Week 2

$52,700 in 28 theaters (+5); PSA: $1,882; Cumulative: $101,900

A very weak expansion, even in comparison to its mediocre NY/LA openings last weekend. Mostly mixed to negative reviews in the new cities clearly hurt this already vulnerable film.

What it means: Despite elevating the film with its usual strong marketing and theater presence, this will be a rare failure for Fox Searchlight.

"Headhunters" (Magnolia) - Week 2

$87,000 in 16 theaters (+12); PSA: $5,438 ; Cumulative: $148,242

Addding theaters in its second week, this stylish envelope-pushing Norwegian thriller achieved a decent PSA again.

What it means: Most big cities have yet to open, but if it continues at this level Magnolia will have at least a modest hit.

"Darling Companion" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 3

$67,700 in 46 theaters (+29); PSA: $1,472; Cumulative: $211,700

More than doubling the theaters, to little impact, as this Diane Keaton-Kevin Kline starrer from Lawrence Kasdan fails to overcome weak reviews.

What it means: Already struggling, this was hurt even more by "Best Exotic Marigold" appealing to a similar audience.

"Bully" (Weinstein) - Week 6

$168,000 in 263 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $639 ; Cumulative: $2,535,000

Keeping at what looks like the maximum number of theaters (although shifting every week to new ones), this fell in half from its already mediocre level.

What it means: Not much theatrical interest left for this, but this will have considerable viewing down the line, far more than most documentaries after they have moved on.

"Damsels in Distress" (Sony Picture Classics) - Week 4

$159,000 in 205 theaters (+148); PSA: $776; Cumulative: $630,000

Going wider quickly, with very weak results, as Whit Stillman's high-profile return continues to fail to gain any traction.

What it means: This is going to struggle to gross much more than $1 million theatrically.

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" (CBS Films) - Week 9

$270,000 in 247 theaters (-88); PSA: $1,093; Cumulative: $8,229,000

Finishing up after a successful run, this enters its third month in release with still a considerable number of theaters.

What it means: Though it will short of $10 million, CBS Films still managed to maximize its potential without overspending.

"The Kid With a Bike" (IFC-Sundance Selects) - Week 8

$70,000 in 70 theaters (-15); PSA: $1,000 ; Cumulative: $1,270,000

Now playing out the string after its decent initial grosses, this acclaimed Belgian drama is nearing the end of its run.

What it means: Unlike IFC-SS's other recent Cannes 2011 release "We Have a Pope,' this was held back from VOD play to accumulate a good (for a subtitled film) gross, which will likely enhance the interest when it becomes available on that platform.

"Footnote" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 10

$96,700 in 82 theaters (-19); PSA: $1,179; Cumulative: $1,696,500

Still adding gross late in the run, this still is finding attention as it approaches $2 million.

What it means: This Israeli Oscar nominee will outgross two other broader audience recent releases - "Darling Companions" and "Damsels in Distress" - by some distance, although those two still have life ahead of them on DVD and cable.

"Marley" (Magnolia) - Week 3; also available on VOD

$100,000 in 55 theaters (-9); PSA: $1,818; Cumulative: $752,525

What it means: Between the VOD availability and the biggest fans turning out early, this now is falling quickly. It still achieved most of what Magnolia was looking for in terms of exposure and impact.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Magnolia) - Week 9

$92,000 in 62 theaters (-18); PSA: $1,508; Cumulative: $1,987,177

Off its higher level, but still adding gross in its third month as it nears $2 million.

What it means: This continues to be the surprise documentary success of the year.

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