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Arthouse Audit: 'Silver Linings' and 'Anna Karenina' Start Steady, Not Stellar

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
November 18, 2012 4:16 PM
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Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"
Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

Two anticipated openings dominated art houses this week, as both “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Anna Karenina” launched in multiple cities as part of a strategy to push audience response in advance of wider playoffs. Both faced – as do all limited releases at the moment – massive competition from wider release studio films that are drawing the same target adult audience.  Both showed strength despite all the alternative films in play.

And with “Life of Pi” opening wide on Wednesday, followed by Friday limited launches of “Rust and Bone,” “Hitchcock” and “Central Park Five,” the congestion is only going to get more intense.

“Silver Linings Playbook” (Weinstein) – Metacritic score:  84; Festivals include:  Toronto 2012, Mill Valley 2012, AFI 2012
$458,000 in 16 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $28,625

With rrelease reviews almost as fab as last week’s “Lincoln,” and also opening wider than just the normal NY/LA platform, David O. Russell’s well-received offbeat romantic comedy-drama had a solid initial reaction, although significantly below the Spielberg film (which boasted an $85,000 PSA in 11 theaters).

Weinstein knew from tracking that they would have to build word-of-mouth buzz. These grosses are on below eexpectations but are good enough to launch the film. Having won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto (as did “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Milliionaire”) and screening to great reaction, the film needs to grow upbeat WOM in advance of wider openings. It is not an event film that appeals to review-reading older moviegoers who flock to opening weekends (contributing to much bigger openings for films like “The Master” and “Moonrise Kingdom”). Its appeal is broader and more youth-oriented. The film is not remotely a typical rom-com, but its casting (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as the leads) reinforces a conventional feel that the film far transcends.

It is also facing incredibly strong competition – “Breaking Dawn Part 2” among the younger female audience, and a slew of acclaimed adult-oriented films (led by “Lincoln” in broader release). Weinstein initially planned to go wide next Wednesday with no platform. Instead they decided to open in ten top markets to get the ball rolling, then late last week decided to pull back their expansion from a typically wide Thanksgiving release to a more modest, but still substantial, 400+ theaters. This would seem to come not from concern but faith in the film once the word of mouth begins to spread. This also is consistent for the much more nuanced and careful expansion they’ve given their films, rather than a rapid push out to grab all the gross they can.

What comes next: Setting the film up as a leading Oscar contender, the pressure to catch the right wave is intense. The plan is to gradually increase theaterd through the next few weeks, sustain significant presence through the tough Christmas stretch, then go widest at the peak of the awards/nomination period just after New Years.

“Anna Karenina” (Focus) – Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012
$315,000 in 16 theaters; PSA: $19,688

Fighting the same traffic jam of must-see films as “Silver Linings Playbook” but not benefitting from the same level of reviews (some significant raves, but many more mixed) and also needing to overcome a degree of familiarity with multiple previous versions, this is a decent enough gross. Opening in seven cities (which as usual cuts down the PSA), Focus has at a minimum gotten the initial sampling they needed going into the intense period ahead.

This is the third collaboration between Joe Wright and Keira Knightley, and in some ways the most ambitious in its idiosyncratic treatment of Tolstoy’s novel about adultery among Russian aristocracy. The two previous films had slightly different launches: both were more successful early on. “Pride and Prejudice” in 2005 started off at 214 theaters to just under $3 million as a November release. “Atonement” in 2007 opened at 32 theaters totaling $784,000. Those films went on to domestic totals of $38 and 50 million respectively with clear cross-over appeal and significant Oscar representation.

The film has passionate supporters among those who have seen it already. The trick going forward is to grab the core (more female) audience. Like “Silver Linings Playoff,” this has potential beyond the initial numbers, and the game plan of getting the word started is well under way.


  • sherlockjr | November 19, 2012 6:42 PMReply

    A lot of art houses, Landmark types and indies had SILVER LININGS booked as their major Thanksgiving holiday attraction and then TWC suddenly pulled it. They have a history of this going back to Miramax days. Their reasons usually are correct for a distributor's purpose but come so late they leave theaters scrambling for something to show in this important playtime. We hope that our Thanksgiving picture will play solidly up to or possibly through the end of year holidays and this kind of situation can be financially disastrous for a small theater. A megaplex can survive losing a film like this that they were going to show in a modest sized auditorium anyway------just add a screen of a big film or hold over a decent grosser.

    But the independent has been working hard to promote a solid opening in hopes of doing well. And then suddenly what do they say to their audiences who are confused and intent on seeing the movie...and they may go to the commercial venue that did open it.

  • axtab | November 18, 2012 4:31 PMReply

    Anne: any sense if the philadelphia grosses -- which should have been strong given that it was filmed there -- were hurt by opening the film in the less-than-ideal united artists/regal riverview versus the more prestigious ritz theaters, which TWC normally engages to platform their speciality films/oscar bait?

  • Tom Brueggemann | November 19, 2012 12:10 AM

    Axtab -
    I don't know the specific grosses at the Regal theater. My guess is that a number of factors may have been involved in Weinstein's choice, including that they in the initial theaters nationally were going for a mix of specialized and more commercial theaters, and that in Philly, with all the local attention, they had a chance to draw a wider audience initially. It's also possible that, again, because of the local connection, they are going to go wider more quickly, rather than limit the surrounding runs, and take theaters right away that normally don't play at the same time as the Ritzes.
    On a personal note, this situation intrigues me - before Landmark bought the Ritzes, I was the film buyer for them for a couple years, and the ongoing battle with Regal for similar films was constant. If I were the current buyer, I'd be very frustrated by this, especially with the local filming (it seemed to me a couple of scenes were shot right by their theaters). But distributors at this level try to make the correct decision, and more often than not get it right. But sometimes it can seem like a mystery. In the specific circumstances here, I'm not sure what the results were, so I can't say for certain if it was the "right" thing. I do suspect though that if it were at one of the Ritzes, it likely would have been guaranteed to play for months.

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