The non-stop flow of Oscar and other award hopeful releases continues this week. Focus Features' final film from James Schamus's management team, "The Dallas Buyer's Club," opened credibly in four cities in the U.S. and Canada. The well-reviewed AIDS drama, focused on a true-life character's attempt to find his own cure, shows signs of promise going forward in the competitive season ahead.
Big Universal played the limited release card for their non-awards contending Working Title comedy "About Time," with the success of this pattern to be determined by results in weeks ahead.
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" didn't expand as well as it opened, but displayed some decent interest in a range of new cities. "12 Years a Slave" continues to be the standout limited release, placing #7 for the weekend overall, while "All Is Lost" is faring the best of the other recent openings.
"The Dallas Buyers Club" (Focus) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, San Sebastian 2013
$264,000 in 9 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $29,333
Backed by strong reviews, particularly for the performances of McConaughey and Jared Leto, this atypical AIDS-related story of a Dallas rodeo rider/electrician who contracted the virus in the mid-80s although he was straight and then defied the authorities by finding alternative remedies, opened to quite decent numbers in 9 initial theaters (three each in New York, Los Angeles and then additional in Toronto and Montreal). Though not among the year's top specialized openers, it is third best among the fall awards-season releases (behind "12 Years a Slave" and "Enough Said"), roughly double what "All Is Lost" opened to two weeks ago.
This is a tricky film to market, which makes this gross more credible than its reviews might have anticipated. It is late in the game for interest in the subject (with "Longtime Companion," "Philadelphia" and HBO's "Angels in America" all considered landmarks). McConaughey has been on a hot streak recently, and his performance here, as well as Leto's in supporting, is considered a leading awards contender ahead. The film is opening against strong competition among adult audiences (unlike "Enough Said" which did double the business in its mid-September opening). The gross is better than Fox Searchlight's also tricky drama "The Sessions" last year ($28,000 in 4 theaters, which increases PSA usually). Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee's earlier "Young Victoria, which went on to gross $11 million with little awards interest, actually grossed slightly less its opening weekend in 44 theaters.
Focus has undergone expected upheaval in recent weeks as many of its production, distribution and marketing executives lost their jobs as Universal consolidates the company on the West Coast under new CEO Peter Schlessel. For the distribution team led by Jack Foley and Linda DiTrinco, it ends a 14 years-plus consistent record of success and respect within the industry (starting together with USA FIlms, which was incorporated into Focus).
The titles they released include such high water marks as "Being John Malkovich," "Topsy Turvy," "Traffic," "In the Mood for Love," "Gosford Park," "Far from Heaven," "The Pianist," "Lost in Translation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Motorcycle Diaries," "The Constant Gardener," "Brokeback Mountain," "Eastern Promises," "Atonement," "In Bruges," "Burn After Reading," "Milk," "A Serious Man," "The Kids Are All Right," "Coraline," "Hanna," "Beginners," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "The Place Beyond the Pines." All were handled with expertise by people who had deep care for the films and filmmakers involved.
What comes next: "Dallas Buyers Club" expands to around 30 theaters in multiple cities going into wider expansion around Thanksgiving, giving this maximum attention as the early awards' groups start voting.
"About Time" (Universal) - Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Edinburgh 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013