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Arthouse Audit: New Releases Led by 'Ruby Sparks' Are Hurt By Olympics

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
July 29, 2012 2:41 PM
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Four years ago at the 2008 Olympics opening, specialized distributors avoided the date like the plague for new releases. This year, several anticipated films opened--and none showed strength consistent with what has been a robust late spring/summer. As the games tend to appeal to older audiences, this is not particularly surprising. And the new films also wound up dividing the diminished audience, so that the Olympics had an impact across the board. Among the new releases, "Ruby Sparks" (in five cities), "Ai Weiwei (in four) and "Killer Joe" (New York only) led the way.

Among the wider releases, recent successes held more consistently against the Olympics, which hit harder on the newbies.

Opening

"Ruby Sparks" (Fox Searchlight) - Metacritic score: 67; Festivals include: Los Angeles 12

$151,881 in 13 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $11,683

In a summer which has seen several surprisingly strong specialized openings, this second film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" fell somewhat short. Opening last Wednesday to get the jump on the Olympics didn't help -- the grosses for those two days were even less impressive than their just-OK weekend numbers. The PSA was reduced somewhat by opening in three other cities beside the usual NY/LA, but ithe filmplayed at top-of-th-line theaters everywhere.

What it means: Word of mouth -- which propelled "Little Miss Sunshine" to significant, long-term success -- will have to kick in for this to begin to resemble their previous hit. This also reminds that films dealing with 20-something/early-30 romance are not crossing over to the older audience that has been flocking to several other recent releases.

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Metacritic score: 75; Festivals include: Sundance 12, South by Southwest 12, Tribeca 12, Los Angeles 12, Karoly Vary 12

$28,533 in 3 theaters; PSA: $9,511

Documentaries profiling a diverse range of creative figures have thrived of late (including "Pina" and "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"), so the expectations have ratcheted higher for this acclaimed story about a missing 1970s musician who found fame half a world away with no sign of his even being alive. With strong reviews and great theater placement, the gross was at best OK (only a bit more than half of "The Queen of Versailles" last weekend).

What it means: An Olympics impact? To some extent. But this is one film that could plateau and then thrive based on terrific audience reaction, and as usual Sony Pictures Classics will make sure they play at whatever theaters it should to help maximize the gross.

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