Last year's successes at this time of the year -- "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" -- wound up grossing more than twice the total of any recent release. Although some of these initial grosses show promise, they have little breakout potential. Whatever the reasons -- too much competition from studio films, too many specialized films in the market at one time, films going out too quickly, or less playability -- the soft specialized market is causing serious concerns among both exhibitors and distributors in terms of overall outlook, despite some individual achievement among the grosses.
"The Bling Ring" (A24) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Seattle 2013
$210,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $42,000
Although its Cannes reaction didn't reach the level of acclaim that was anticipated, and the reviews overall were decent but not standout, Sofia Coppola's latest film placed itself as another above-average specialized opener, placing it about on par with "Before Midnight" two weeks ago and ahead of "Much Ado About Nothing" last week (with one theater more than either film). It's the most limited opening number of theaters for one of her films, which have usually shown some commercial strength ("Lost in Translation" at $44 million is still her high water mark, as well as best opener, with "Bling" second best). It's a big improvement on "Somewhere" in 2010, which Focus released at Christmas to $119,000 in seven theaters.
New distributor A24 already has broken through with Harmony Kormine's "Spring Breakers," which had an $87,000 PSA in three theaters in its debut before quickly widening to a surprising $14 million total. They look to be focusing on a younger smart audience. This recreation of the true story of a gang of suburban teen thieves who broke into Hollywood Hills celebrity residences has a cast led by Emma Watson (who also appears in new wide opener "This Is the End") is not aimed at the more conventional older crowd. Whether it breaks through with the equally fickle youth audience is yet to be determined, but A24 is committed to quickly find out.
What comes next: This will jump to 500 theaters, skipping (as they did with "Spring Breakers") the intermediate platforming in major markets before going wider. Going in the heart of the summer is a bit riskier than their efforts with "Spring," but this film has elements -- story, cast, setting -- that could resonate as an alternative attraction in upcoming weeks. And A24 has already proven its marketing chops.
"20 Feet from Stardom" (Weinstein/Radius) - Criticwire grade: A-; Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013
$52,211 in 3 theaters; PSA: $17,404
Continuing the recent trend of top-grossing documentaries coming from performance-based subjects, "20 Feet from Stardom" had one of the best doc openings of 2013, opening in New York and Los Angeles. Focusing on back-up singers, usually out of the spotlight, but vital for any top act's success, this was acquired by Weinstein's Radius division at Sundance, where it played in competition. Its opening weekend PSA is significantly ahead of the ultimately successful Oscar-winner "Searching for Sugar Man" last year.
Directed by Morgan Neville, whose two-decade directing and producing career has consisted mostly of TV and cable films focusing on the music ("Troubadours," "Respect Yourself"), the film features both stars and unknowns, with many performance as it takes the mostly female and minority backups out of the shadows and into the spotlight. (Judith Hill, eliminated surprisingly in the current round of NBC's "The Voice," who worked with Michael Jackson, is featured here). Neville and Hill were among those who made appearances at select shows.
Since its inception as a separate division at Weinstein, Radius has aimed at day-and-date Video on Demand releases, with limited theatrical releases. Significantly, this is going the traditional theatrical-first route, with no VOD planned during the playoff. Though Weinstein has had some significant successes in the last year in the specialized world ("Intouchables" and "Quartet" leading the way), other more recent films like "The Sapphires" and "Kon-Tiki" have had more limited returns. Radius crossing over to theatrical is at this point a discrete effort - none other have been announced, and high profile Cannes competitor "Only God Forgives" with the director and star of "Drive" is still set as a VOD release initially. But if they find further success with "20 Feet," checking to see if they have a more mixed schedule in the future will be something to pay attention to.
What comes next: The next wave of big city opening comes on June 28.