Though the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend is usually targeted by studios for new releases, the specialized arena tends to steer clear. That's because so many late-year releases still demand attention, and the date conflicts with distributors' main mid-January priority, Sundance (few major indie films open against Sundance, Cannes or Toronto). This year is no different in terms of top films, with only IFC's "Like Father Like Son" positioned to have a chance at much business. Its opening, despite good reviews, was mediocre. Fourteen other limited films opened between New York and Los Angeles (seven parallel to Video on Demand availability) with less notice and likely much smaller grosses.
All of which means for the next few weeks, core specialized theaters will need to rely on the large number of awards contenders that are current, and in most cases playing fairly wide. That most of them have limited playing windows could actually be good news for for art houses, as in the weeks ahead they could be back to having much less competition as customers catch up with films they have missed.
"Like Father Like Son" (IFC) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013
$16,500 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,250
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda has been an international critics' favorite for years, and most of his films received a U.S. release, with two ("After Life" and "Nobody Knows") grossing over $650,000, not a bad total for relatively small Japanese dramas without much marketing. "Like Father Like Son" was expected after winning a prize at Cannes premiere to be a potential bigger success as Japan's presumptive Foreign Language submission. Japan chose otherwise though, and IFC delayed what was expected to be a late 2013 post-festival showing release until a period with less competition from other new quality films.
The story -- a young upper-middle class Tokyo couple learns their son was switched at birth with another boy now living with a working-class family -- is similar to other domestic stories in Kore-Eda's past films. But this film, while retaining most of the distinctive style of his past films, seemed poised to attract broader domestic arthouse interest. IFC opened this in two key New York theaters (their own as well as the essential Lincoln Plaza), but the results are at the low end of good at best (the current best performing foreign language film, Oscar nominee "The Great Beauty" did $23,442 at the Lincoln Plaza alone in mid-November).
With Los Angeles opening next Friday with other cities not far behind, this could see a spark from positive word of mouth and still has a chance at a respectable showing. But these figures reinforce once again the tough market out there for anything subtitled that doesn't have some combination of great reviews, pre-sold elements or awards attention.