By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 31, 2013 at 4:09PM
"The Place Beyond the Pines" is the second limited opening of the month to open better than expected, and among the strongest ever early-year launches. Focus Features, coming off the disappointment of the wider release of "Admission" last week, maximized its starry cast and strong marketing to make a major initial impact.
Two European films with positive festival reaction ("Renoir" and "Blancanieves") also opened at lower levels. though the former did strong business at its two prime theaters. More disappointing was the second week of Weinstein's "The Sapphires" which doesn't seem to be headed towards any sort of breakout.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" (Focus) - Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2012
$270,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $67,500
Marking the best total gross for a limited release this year and the second best PSA (after the unlikely initial weekend success of "Spring Breakers" in one less theater), "The Place Beyond the Pines" is a return to form for usually successfully Focus Features. It could be, depending on final figures, the biggest ever limited opening in the first quarter.
Several factors set the movie apart from most high-end openings. Acquired by Focus at Toronto last September, the "Place Beyond the Pines" release is outside of the usual awards-season calendar. It didn't get a boost from a recent festival premiere ("Moonrise Kingdom" opened post-Cannes to nearly double this gross). The reviews were respectful but at the low end of favorable, with many critics giving it more credit for aspiration than accomplishment. That would have suggested a more ordinary opening, despite top-line theater placement (which many films from companies like Focus get throughout the year).
So why this level of success? The movie boasted two stars: Bradley Cooper, coming off of "Silver Linings Playbook," and Ryan Gosling, who has built a strong reputation for quality work and smart film choices. This likely led to more interest from younger audiences in New York and Los Angeles, along with an edgier than usual plot (more in line with the tougher dramas getting attention on cable these days) than standard specialized fare. Throw in Focus' marketing expertise when they have something strong to sell and the result is a surprise hit, at least so far.
This is director Derek Cianfrance's second limited opening success with Gosling. His first film, "Blue Valentine," was released post-Christmas for awards attention, grossing $294,000 also in four theaters on its way to a $9.7 million gross and a best actress nomination for Gosling's co-star Michelle Williams.
What comes next: Expansion to several other cities next Friday and a gradual rollout is planned. Whether this heavy and lengthy (140 minute) film will get the audience response to make it a wide success along the lines of "Moonrise" isn't clear yet, but this opening should encourage Focus to give it every chance to go far beyond what "Blue Valentine" did.
"Room 237" (IFC) - Metacritic score: 83; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Cannes 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012; also available on Video on Demand
$36,000 on 2 screens; PSA: $18,000
Considering its parallel VOD availability this marks a strong opening for this documentary that offers multiple layers of meaning in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." With upbeat reviews adding to sustained interest in the original film, this opened in two New York theaters after extensive film festival play and a below-the-radar, Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles late last year.
What comes next: Los Angeles opens next Friday, but these grosses should help the film overcome the usual reluctance of some exhibitors when faced with VOD competition.