"Call Me Kuchu"
"Call Me Kuchu"
Also opening:

Cinedigm's "Call Me Kuchu," documenting the potential life and death struggle of gays in Uganda, did $3,200 in one New York theater. "Pandora's Promise" (Abramorama), a Sundance 2013 doc mostly positive about nuclear energy, took in $20,421 in 16 theaters. "More Than Honey" (Kino Lorber) took in $7,700 in five days at New York's Film Forum. "So Young" (China Lion), a massive smash at home, did only $5,000 in 3 theaters.

Festival acclaimed films "In the Fog" (Strand), "Aliyah" (Film Movement) and "Berberian Sound Studio" (IFC, also on Video on Demand) have not yet had grosses reported.

Ongoing/ expanding

The major event of the weekend was the significant national break of Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight" (Sony Pictures Classics) in its third week. Playing at 897 theaters, the best-reviewed film of 2013 reported a gross of only $1,526,000, for a per screen average of $1,701.

Playing in a release pattern similar (91 more theaters) to Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" exactly a year ago, it grossed less than half as much (Allen's film ended up just under $17 million). The PSA is half of what "The Place Beyond the Pines" achieved on 600 more screenings (with PSAs harder to maintain with more theaters), and likewise about half of "Mud" in its third weekend at 852 theaters. Both those films headed toward $20 million+ grosses because their initial grosses when opened wide -- in both cases with somewhat less competition for screens -- were able to sustain lengthy runs that amassed their ultimate grosses, which now seems unlikely for "Midnight." 

Whatever the reasons for SPC to move so quickly, the film is unlikely to sustain a long run (the most recent entry in the series, "Before Sunset," played steadily for three months on its way to a nearly $6 million gross). "Before Midnight," with a more concentrated national advertising campaign, has likely seen its high water mark unless the modest sampling of the film leads to great word of mouth to allow it to plateau at this unimpressive level.

This is significant because the trend from most of the studio-related distributors (initially an innovation from Weinstein's Miramax days) is to get any limited film with potential out wide as quickly as possible. It increases gross totals, awareness (which can help in DVD and cable sales as well as foreign interest, and positions films better for awards). But it can come at a cost -- limiting a film's potential at core specialized theaters, and more importantly not allowing a film of the terrific quality of "Before Midnight" to find its own level and thrive where it will have the greatest response. 

It's possible that "Midnight" might still hold well enough to look better ultimately, or else its older-audience serious appeal (while it appears to look younger-oriented) just plays better with critics than audiences. But in a season with several standout releases (led by "Pines" and "Mud" and more modestly by the much more narrowly-releases "Frances Ha") these numbers are a reminder of how tricky it is to succeed even with all elements seemingly in place for a successful run.

Roadside Attractions' "Much Ado About Nothing" added 18 theaters in existing markets for a total of 23, grossing $163,000, which actually was down a bit in total for the limited first weekend in only five theaters. Next week's big city limited expansion will give a better indication of its potential.

Among third-week expansions, Fox Searchlight's "The East" continues to show modest strength, grossing $285,000 in 115 theaters (+74), for a PSA just under $2,500 and a total of $706,000. The new openings are at a relative level a bit above the film's performance to this point, suggesting it is reaching the intended younger audience better now. It is performing better than CBS Films' "The Kings of Summer" whose third weekend did $142,000 in fewer (63) theaters (+19), with a lower PSA of $2,254 and total of $534,000.

Two other recent releases continued to do well on their relative scales. IFC's "Frances Ha" -- another film that has an accelerated wider release -- added another $321,000 in 213 screens (-20) for a PSA of $1,507 and total of $2.9 million. SPC's Israeli "Fill the Void" continues its very slow rollout, doing $87,000 in 5 theaters (PSA $4,844, total, with a long way to go, of $390,000).