Two films, Jon Favreau's "Chef" (Open Road) and Gia Coppola's "Palo Alto," (Tribeca) both scored more than $20,000 per screen in limited openings this weekend. "Chef" leads a week with fewer than normal new Video on Demand releases. 

Radius/Weinstein veered from its usual pattern with a wider initial release of the food documentary "Fed Up," also eschewing VOD for now. Distributors may be backing away from a rush to home viewing for specialized films. With Cannes starting midweek, offering a slew of acquisition opportunities, the ideal release pattern question is a risky business looms large.


"Chef" (Open Road) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013, Newport Beach 2013, Tribeca 2013

$204,000 in 6 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $34,000

Certainly no distributor is going to avoid VOD more than Open Road, which is owned by the two largest exhibitors (Regal and AMC) and acquires independent films (often when finished, in this case before shooting). But up to now, it has been a wide release company, despite having specialty veterans on their team, including CEO Tom Ortenberg. With "Chef" they opted for a slow rollout, despite "Iron Man" director Favreau's standing as a tentpole creator. And it looks like they could find success with an above-average start in its limited runs.

James Franco and Emma Roberts in 'Palo Alto'
James Franco and Emma Roberts in 'Palo Alto'

Going with an unusual initial six-theater New York/Los Angeles run, the estimated PSA ranks with "Fading Gigolo" and "Under the Skin" as the best PSA of the year since "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in early March. ("Gigolo" had one less theater and a slightly higher PSA). Like "Gigolo," this is less a critic-driven than broad-audience comedy aimed in part at older moviegoers. The accessible plot about a once-top chef reinventing himself running a food-truck lends itself to potential marketing even without cast names like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlet Johansson. Strong festival audience attention (including younger-skewing SXSW) gave Open Road the confidence to take this out slowly to build word of mouth. It looks like they bet right.

What comes next: This will expand to about 250 screens by Memorial Day weekend. This start suggests, particularly with the full support of two theater chains during the tough summer period, that this will be the first limited opening since "Budapest" to break out to a wider audience. Meantime, Open Road builds some cred as a festival distributor just before Cannes. With Focus now seeming less adventurous with acquisitions, Open Road will find plenty of interested sellers.

"Palo Alto" (Tribeca) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013, Tribeca 2014, San Francisco 2014

$80,600 in 4 theaters; PSA: $20,150

Tribeca Films has released around 40 films over the last four years, nearly all with VOD components, but none has come close to the level of this limited opening for Frances Ford's granddaughter Gia Coppola's debut film. After stellar festival presentation over the last four months, the film opened in New York/Los Angeles in appropriate theaters. With reported sellouts keeping the gross down at some locations and with a much smaller ad buy than many limited openings (including "Chef" this week), the result is not only Tribeca's strongest so far, but quite promising on its own.