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Arthouse Audit: 'Bad Words,' 'Enemy' and 'Le Week-End' Best of Modest Openers

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
March 16, 2014 4:28 PM
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Jason Bateman in 'Bad Words'
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan in Roger Michell's 'Le Week-End'

As the post-Oscar surge abates, a wide range of new releases opened this week. They fell far short of the total of last week's massive opener "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) which expanded this weekend to reach #8 in only 66 theaters. Also in the Top 10 is "Veronica Mars" (Warner Bros.) in 291 theaters, also available for simultaneous home viewing as is increasingly common among specialized releases.

One of these, A24's "Enemy," is the first release in that company's recent DirecTV deal to release films on the satellite carrier. "Enemy" had a decent single theater gross, with a PSA below top performer "Bad Words" (Focus), which was just OK compared to expectations when it was acquired last year. Music Box's "Le Week-End" also showed some initial interest in its opening theaters.

Opening

"Bad Words" (Focus) - Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, South by Southwest 2014

$120,000 in 6 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $20,000

For every "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Napoleon Dynamite" that scores a big success out of a film festival premiere, many other well-reviewed comedies, despite high-end acquisitions by major specialized companies, often fail to repeat their initial response. "Bad Words," was the final buy of the previous Focus team, which acquired worldwide rights out of TIFF for $7 million. It is now the first limited release from the new team, and its initial results show how tricky comedies can be to launch.

Director/star Jason Bateman, who co-starred in Focus parent company Universal's big hit "Identity Thief" a year ago, has usually found success in ensembles. The raucous comedy scored mixed reviews. This was not presumed to be a big critical success, sparking the need for good word of mouth to launch this to broader success as the necessary first step. The totals for the weekend (divided among 6, not 4 New York/Los Angeles theaters, with Focus adding two strong but more commercial theaters to the normal break) are ordinary for the sort of profile and substantial PR campaign given to its initial release. But the trajectory of the grosses -- up 24% Saturday over Friday -- marks a positive initial sign.

This looks meager in comparison to last weekend's staggering numbers for "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which in four theaters had a PSA 10 times greater. A more reasonable response is that this remains a work in progress, with the adult-crashing-a-spelling bee story (with a strong R rating for language) making it a broader based rather than upscale/older audience appeal film.  "Bad Words" has a shot at the same response as its initial Toronto showing, but it remains tougher to replicate with more competition in the wide-release world.

What comes next: This expands to other cities next week, with a much wider break scheduled for March 28.

"Le Week-End" (Music Box) - Criticwire: B+; Cinemascore: 72; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, New York 2013, Chicago 2013

$45,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $15,000

With a much smaller campaign than "Bad Words," but helped by better reviews (and equally strong New York/Los Angeles theater placement) this is a decent initial result for this Paris-set mainly English-language senior citizen rom-com about a long-married British couple returning to the site of their decades-earlier honeymoon in hopes of rekindling their feelings for each other. Director Roger Michell (whose biggest hit was "Notting Hill") has previously dealt with issues of older characters and their emotional turmoil ("Venus," "Hyde Park on Hudson"), but this one has the feel more akin to recent successes like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," albeit with a smaller cast (Jim Broadbent is the most familiar name). In any event, this isn't a film best judged by initial results. Music Box has shown, when handling a viable release, the ability to maximize results (led by the Swedish "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy). This is their best limited opening in over two years, so expect them to push this hard in the upcoming weeks.

What comes next: Starting with 15 more theaters this weekend, Music Box expects to get this to around 150 theaters within four weeks.

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