By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood June 29, 2014 at 4:29PM
This weekend belongs to The Weinstein Company, which opened three films: John Carney's original musical "Begin Again," Radius's well-reviewed Bong Joon-ho actioner "Snowpiercer," and fashion biopic "Yves St. Laurent." With room in the market to play--other current films had expanded or were near the end of their runs--these three well-positioned new openers dominated the weekend.
The Weinsteins have been quiet since the last award season. Thus far TWC's biggest 2014 grosser was Dimension's "Vampire Academy"($7 million), and with $4.4 million in the till, "The Railway Man" marks their only limited release to pass $2 million.
Opening"Snowpiercer" (Radius/Weinstein) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Deauville 2013, Berlin 2014, Los Angeles 2014
$162,100 in 8 theaters; PSA: $20,263
The torturous history of the battle to get Korean director Bong Joon-Ho's first English language film, which stars Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton as survivors on a train of survivors during a Dystopian Ice Age) released in his original 126-minute version has been well-reported. Radius took over the release from TWC, and it's a rousing success.
The $40-million Korea production has already grossed over $80 million worldwide, mainly in South Korea. Radius made a point of the release date as an action alternative to "Transformers." And it's working.
First, the reviews have been among the strongest of the year (the 84 from Metacritic is the best for a Weinstein company film since "The Master"). Radius usually (but not always) has parallel Video on Demand play. Though the date for this has not been announced, the theaters playing the film -- both initially this weekend and those listed for next Wednesday's expansion on Moviefone -- come mainly if not nearly entirely from those that are willing to be flexible rules about playing VOD films (Landmark, the major specialized chain, so far has little if any participation). This suggests that the film is headed for an early VOD playoff after this initial success.
Why does VOD now seem premature? Here's why. Only one theater played both this and "Begin Again" -- downtown Manhattan's Angelika, one of the best in the country for limited openings. Through two days, "Snowpiercer," scheduled for only one screen, grossed $25,200. "Begin," playing on three screens, has taken in $18,000. Even more startling for veteran gross watchers -- L.A.'s Sundance Sunset, which has struggled to get top first run films in the last two years, has grossed over $24,000 in two days - far better than any previous film, while "Begin," again at three screens at the Arclight, has grossed just under $22,000. The patchwork quilt of other theaters (including three other markets, a Korean-neighborhood LA theater, and only one small screen at New York's Lincoln Center and another in Brooklyn) -- all over-performed based on normal grosses. But these two core NY/LA numbers prove that this could have been a much bigger theatrical success.
What comes next: Some expansion this Wednesday to other cities while we await confirmation of VOD plans.
"Begin Again" (Weinstein) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Tribeca, San Francisco, Seattle 2014
$148,325 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $29,665
Playing at five strong theaters in New York and Los Angeles, director-writer Carney's American debut, following his success with "Once," scored the best opening since "Chef" six weeks ago (which did $34,000 in six). Positioned to fill the need for a crossover specialized midsummer film, aided by stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, this has looked like a prime contender since Weinstein acquired it for around $7 million out of Toronto (then titled "Can a Song Save Your Life?"). The film fits snugly into the Weinstein's well-marketed crowdpleaser wheelhouse.
Curiously, the PSA comes in just below the unheralded "Once" opened to in 2007 in only two theaters, but with lower ticket prices. Fox Searchlight's sleeper hit ended up just under $10 million, with an Oscar Best Song win and of course yielded a Tony-winning Broadway musical. Those elements and the cast elevated expectations. "Begin Again" earned mixed reviews.
Similar initial PSAs often lead to decent or better crossover successes -- certainly "Chef," heading to $25 million or more is one example. In a crowded Christmas period, Weinstein manage to open "August Osage County" to mid-30s and backed by an intensive award-oriented release campaign, the film got up to $37 million. The equally high- grossing "Philomena" also opened only slightly better. "Begin Again" may prove more general audience (again, this year's high-water mark for a two-city opening PSA is "Grand Budapest Hotel" at $200,000, almost seven times better than this with a name director and better reviews). While the Weinsteins will push the film to its maximum, this initial gross is decent but not great. Upticks Friday from Saturday as well as reported strong in-theater audience survey responses suggest that word of mouth will tell the tale.
What comes next: 45 additional theaters added on Wednesday, with a much wider national break of several hundred more on July 11.