Early summer specialized releases are falling short of the initial grosses of breakout films from the last two years. But several films representing a range of audience appeal (primarily younger-oriented) are showing varying levels of strength. A surprisingly strong New York gross from the German film "Hannah Arendt" (Zeitgeist) is the initial standout entry. Two Sundance films, both not conventional specialized releases, neither with big names (Fox Searchlight's "The East" and CBS' "The Kings of Summer") did enough business to suggest future interest as they expand and the potential to hold steady or even improve their grosses with decent word of mouth.
"Before Midnight" and "Frances Ha" -- both of which opened at much higher levels -- continue to show interest in their expansions, with both looking to be among the top new specialized releases of the year, perhaps at the level of "Mud" or "The Place Beyond the Pines," but still with substantial potential ahead.
"Hannah Arendt" (Zeitgeist) - Criticwire grade: A-; Metacritic score: 66; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Portland 2013
$31,000 in 1 theater; PSA (per screen average): $31,000
Perhaps the most surprising opening gross of the year, at least for a subtitled film. From German director Margarethe von Trotta, a key figure in the German New Wave from the 1970s (along with Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders and Schlondorff), she has mainly worked for TV in recent years. But this biofilm about the journalist whose coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial still resonates today looks like it could join her earlier "Rosa Luxemburg" and "Rosenstrasse" as a successful American release.
Von Trotta (who is in her early 70s) has excelled in films about 20th Century German history, not necessarily the easiest commercial sell. She has given them a political edge with authenticity and rigor. But the subject here, aided by a strong New York Times review on Wednesday (the five-day gross is $45,000), seems to have initially resonated far above expectations.
This opened exclusively at the Film Forum, without an overabundance of seats. This is one of that venue's top grosses in some time (usually a $15,000 weekend here is considered good). It is one of the best openings for high-quality distributor Zeitgeist, who since the late 1980s have been nurturing important foreign and independent films (recently, often documentaries) without getting the attention of the bigger companies. When they have tasted breakout success -- their biggest film was another one from a German woman director, the 2002 Foreign Language Oscar winner "Nowhere in Africa," which grossed over $6 million -- they have the capacity to get it played off successfully across the country.
This likely has somewhat lower potential, as the Oscar tie-in contributed to "Nowhere"'s success, but still is one of the most promising subtitled releases of the year. The appeal it demonstrates in New York should translate well elsewhere ahead. Our TOH! review is here.
What comes next: Apart from already-scheduled big-city dates (including multiple Landmark markets), this gross will expand the interest to more areas and wider playoff. This also looks eligible (it was a January 2013 German release) to be its country's Oscar submission, which if so would give it further visibility down the line.
"The East" (Fox Searchlight) - Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 70; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, San Francisco 2013
$75,628 in 4 theaters; PSA: $18,907
With a capable cast and an initial Sundance Premiere section debut, Zak Batmanglij's ("The Sound of My Voice) second feature added generally favorable reviews to open to a decent if not great initial result in New York and Los Angeles.
Fox Searchlight has now gone a year without a breakout opening or a film that amassed a gross much above $6 million total, after a 12-month period that included "The Tree of Life," "The Descendants," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild." This latest, a contemporary enviromental/industrial sabotage drama, got an adequate sampling at four important theaters, but with the lowest PSA of any of their limited opening releases since "Lola Versus" last June (which starred Greta Gerwig, currently in successful "Frances Ha"). Searchlight's other releases have been either with bigger stars and/or higher-profile directors, so this initial response doesn't mean that the film might not perform better ahead with positive word of mouth and the usual targeted marketing support.
This film did far better than "The Sound of My Voice," Batmanglij and Marling's previous collaboration which Searchlight opened to $36,000 in five theaters last summer. This film is an offbeat release for a core specialized audience, adding thematically provocative content and mainstream genre elements to provide more immediate appeal to younger audiences. This could work in its favor as it widens out.
What comes next: Six more cities next Friday along with expansions in their initial markets will give a better indication of this film's future.
"Kings of Summer" (CBS) - Criticwire grade: A-; Metacritic score: 56; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013
$58,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $14,500
Acquired by CBS after it showed as "Toy's House" in the dramatic competition section of Sundance this year, "Kings of Summer," the first theatrical feature from TV comedy director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, already received a strong audience response at its festival showings and earned an A- Cinemascore. Most limited releases don't gauge reaction in limited theaters, but in this case, it makes sense. With an unknown director and cast, and an appeal that is similar to Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" back in the 1980s, CBS likely is playing a long game here, opening it initially with substantial marketing support wit the hope that before long this will cross over over to a more youthful, less specialized audience. If so, this adequate initial gross shouldn't be taken as anything close to indicating the down-the-line potential for this.
This is CBS Films' first two-city release -- their only previous limited initial opening was the successful "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," which had a PSA of $12,500 in 18 theaters on its way to a $9 million domestic total, getting up to 524 theaters at its widest. Their instincts are for niche commercial films that can compete in a wider market, though usually more star-oriented or in more easily promoted genres. They took a risk with this film, which as the overall reviews show (the ones at Sundance were much stronger than the broader range of critics) isn't a typical specialized film. As a more general audience film, and with their ability to that back up, these grosses aren't close to the best indication of its potential. Our TOH! review is here.
What comes next: Showing initial faith in the film, CBS is expanding quickly to 22 further markets next Friday.