Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

With the Top Ten continuing to skew to adult-oriented, critically acclaimed films, specialized theaters playing more limited releases continue to scuffle, often at levels below previous holiday seasons. "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Amour" stood out again in their two-city platforms, although both declined in their second weeks, while multi-city openings of "Promised Land" were modest at best. The increase for "The Impossible" in its second stanza would be more promising if it weren't quickly headed for wide release.

In a year with many stellar specialized films - "A Separation," "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Intouchables," "The Beasts of the Southern Wild" among those that opened limited and didn't go to immediate broader breaks - the end of the year has been disappointing, with later releases not rising to expectations at theaters. Many of the core specialized houses are able to play some of the biggest hits playing on over 2000 screens, but without them, this has not been a bountiful season for the specialized community.


"Promised Land" (Focus) - Metacritic score: 53

$190,000 in 25 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7,600

Positioned as a year-end awards contender - understandable for a film directed by Gus Van Sant and co-starring and written by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski - the far-less-than stellar reviews have removed that as a possibility. Still, despite enormous competition for adult moviegoers, this at least got sampled in its initial week in several cities.

It's a big falloff though for Van Sant. "Milk" opened Thanksgiving weekend 2008, and has a PSA of $40,000 in 35 theaters, vastly more impressive on its way to a $31 million domestic total. And of course it isn't remotely in the league of Damon's previous breakout film with the director, "Good Will Hunting."

What comes next: Focus expands this quickly to 1,500 theaters next weekend, where it will face off against "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D" and the wide release of "The Impossible," as well as but the powerhouse Christmas line-up still going strong.

"West of Memphis" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Metacritic score: 79; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, New York 2012

$13,900 in 5 theaters; PSA: $2,780

Acclaimed out of Sundance and thought to be a contender for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar, this failed to make the list of 15 semi-finalists and also hasn't won any other major awards despite superb reviews. But the biggest problem for this film is that, though it adds new information and perspective, its topic -- the case of the West Memphis 3 youths wrongly convicted of a heinous murder in the 1990s -- has already been covered in the three "Paradise Lost" films, including last year's Oscar nominee.

What comes next: Without the chance of any Oscar attention and weak grosses, this will not get much further attention beyond dates already set, although Sony Pictures Classics will fight hard.

"Tabu" (Adopt) - Metacritic score: 77; Festivals include: Berlin 2012, New York 2012

$5,300 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,300

Miguel Gomes' Portuguese film has scored high on year-end compilation of more esoteric critics' 10-best lists (no lower than 11th place for the Indiewire, Village Voice and Cahiers du Cinema surveys). It qualified in the U.S. with this exclusive post-Christmas opening at New York's Film Forum. Not performing anything close to what "Amour" is doing at the same venue, though with vastly less advertising or advance interest, it is an average but credible predictable for this hard-core art film.

What comes next: Going forward this will be appropriately playing in a lot of museum, cinematheque and similar locations rather than going the more conventional big city core art house route.


"Zero Dark 30" (Sony) - Week 2

$315,000 in 5 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $63,000; Cumulative: $1,368,000

Still the standout among the limited releases, with no close second, this fell 23% from its strong opening weekend. This might seem significant, but the details explain most of the fall. Playing in five strong theaters in New York/Los Angeles, it lost both screens and capacity on remaining screens  with the strong Christmas day releases demanding even more attention (and like "ZD30" also exceeding 150 minutes in length.) The result? A lot of sellouts without anywhere to put excess capacity, unlike last weekend.

Most big year-end limited releases don't open until Christmas Day or later, so it is difficult to make any exact comparisons. "There Will Be Blood" opened the weekend after Christmas in 2007, one theater each in New York and Los Angeles, with a $190,000 total. But the exclusivity as well as being opening weekend aided those figures, as well as not having films similar to "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained" competing for seats at most of these theaters.