By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 9, 2014 at 4:28PM
Two of the most anticipated specialized films of 2014 debuted this week. Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" rewrote the record books for biggest limited live-action opening ever with a massive $800,000 first weekend in only four theaters. The other, the first half of Lars von Trier's "Nyphomaniac" (Magnolia) began its VIdeo on Demand run two weeks prior to its initial theatrical dates (results not released alas). "Budapest" proves that the right movie from a known filmmaker with strong reviews can still score in movie theaters.
"Particle Fever" (Abramorama/Bond 360) also posted strong returns in three theaters, along with an encouraging expansion for Sony Pictures Classics' "The Lunchbox," as exhibitors move on from the emphasis on awards-adjacent titles that have dominated the market in recent months.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) - Criticwire: 86; Metacritic: A-; Festivals include: Berlin 2013
$800,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $200,000
In reporting opening specialized grosses, a per screen average of $30,000 or better qualifies as good much of the time when debuting at four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters. When the gross is over $50,000, it usually is "great." When "Blue Jasmine" opened last summer to $100,000, it was a major deal, and among other things began Cate Blanchett's inevitable run to her Oscar. If adjectives should be parceled out on a scale, what does that make the $200,000 projected PSA for Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"? It's tough to adequately convey how big this is. Record-breaking (for a two city live-action specialized opening) is a place to start.
Even in an era where increased ticket prices exaggerate the level of advance from previous high water marks, this one is impressive. The previous raw dollar record was held by "The Master," which achieved as PSA of $147,000 in five theaters (the one additional likely slightly decreasing the average). Almost as impressive was Wes Anderson's most recent release, "Moonrise Kingdom," which two years ago managed $130,000 in four.
Significantly the Saturday increase from Friday for "Budapest" looks a little better than those two films, suggesting an initial positive response to go along with the huge pre-opening interest. That bodes well for the film. As a look at the other recent big openings shows, none of this guarantees huge crossover success. Among "Moonrise," "Jasmine" and "The Master," only Wes Anderson's film managed to pass $40 million ("The Master" only reached $16 million). And some factors that benefited "Budapest" initially -- a dearth of other recent limited offerings, Anderson's significant big city following, the ability of these theaters to maximize seating and showtimes and in some cases add shows (because of the less-competitive showtime) all helped goose the gross.
But still, this is, to say the least, impressive. Pre-opening, some thought the period Europeanized look and feel for the film might make it of less interest than the more American and contemporary "Moonrise." And that still might end up being the case as it expands. But the clear initial takeaway has to be that this has enormous potential, and surpassing "Moonrise," for starters, seems quite possible. And the lack of similar high-profile upscale audience releases on the immediate horizon should just elevate this even more, again assuming positive response (and possible repeat viewings) come to pass.
Meantime, this reinforces the idea that Oscars and other awards are nice, but smart distributors know that even if early in the year placement might make them less likely (and there have been exceptions), being the fresh new film with great reviews in late winter can be a great way to maximize appeal and box office with much less competition.
What comes next: Expansions in NY/LA plus several other cities will bring this to up to 75 theaters next week ("Moonrise" only had 16 its second), with an inevitable wider break likely before too long.
"Particle Fever" (Abramorama/Bond 360) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Sheffield Doc 2013, Telluride 2013, New York 2013