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'Blue Is the Warmest Color' Overcomes Length, Rating to Score Top Subtitled Opening of 2013

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
October 27, 2013 5:40 PM
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Adele Exarchopoulos in "Blue Is the Warmest Color"

Continuing the flow of highly anticipated specialized releases, IFC's controversial French female romantic drama "Blue Is the Warmest Color" started off strong. Among the highly anticipated November openers are "Dallas Buyers Club," "Nebraska" and "Philomena," with more opening every week through the end of the year. Despite some obstacles, "Blue" managed the best per screen average opening of any multi-screen foreign language film so far this year, and should build momentum in other cities ahead, though it will be limited somewhat by its NC-17 rating.

Two new documentaries, "The Square" and "Spinning Plates," opened to lower but OK results. "Capital," the new film by legendary director Costa-Gavras nabbed some attention in its two-theater New York opening.

Last week's big opener "12 Years a Slave" continued its impressive grosses with a quick expansion to 125 theaters (good enough to be covered in our top 10 report), while "All Is Lost" continues to show a degree of strength in its new theaters. "Kill Your Darlings" fared less well.

Opening

"Blue Is the Warmest Color" (IFC) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013

$101,116 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $25,279

It has been a slow year for foreign language films in the art market so far.  "The Grandmaster" with its quick, somewhat wide, commercial release made it to $6.5 million. Among limited art-house releases, the best has been "No" at $2.3 million. So the initial 4-theater success of IFC's "Blue Is the Warmest Color," despite its significant advance publicity, was far from assured. Its gross --$101,000 for the first weekend -- is the best for a limited multiple opening since "Intouchables" in May, 2013 ("Hannah Arendt" had a slightly higher PSA in a single theater earlier this year), and at $25,200 about $6,000 above that of "The Grandmaster, as well as better than the openings of the last two Oscar Foreign Language winners ("A Separation" and "Amour"). "Blue" played in four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters, including IFC's own in Greenwich Village, where they announced they would ignore the film's NC-17 rating and allow younger teenagers to buy tickets without adult accompaniment.

Its rating likely has helped initially, but countering that is an offputting three hour running time (nothing remotely as long has had this response in the art market in recent memory) which also cuts down capacity and convenient showtimes. That makes it an unlikely success, despite its Palme d'or win at Cannes (never a guarantee of U.S. interest) and its subject matter (though they might find a strong core audience, lesbian romantic stories have never had anything like the impact their gay male counterparts sometimes have had). And recent publicity about the feuding between director Abdellatif Kechiche and co-star Lea Seadoux might have gotten press, but could come across as off-putting to many potential viewers.

So IFC's gamble to go with a normal theatrical run for this (another Cannes film of their from France, Claire Denis' "Bastards" went to Video on Demand along with its quiet New York opening last Wednesday) seems initially to have paid off. The last significant NC-17 film, "Shame" from Fox Searchlight, with its more initially commercial New York setting and better known cast, opened in 10 theaters with a $350,000 gross on its way to an eventual $3.9 million, despite being restricted somewhat by its rating. (We rank the best and worst NC-17 films here.) Although "Blue" is already set in prime theaters in all the top markets, this initial reaction likely opens the doors to a somewhat wider release ("Shame" at its widest was only 95 theaters), and if reaction to the film as a whole is similar to its critical response (it delivers far more than its already famous sex scenes) it could easily top "No" at least and become a significant success.

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