Specialized movies tend into underperform in April, but this last weekend of the month marked the year's third-best specialty opener: A24's "Locke." The trapped-in-a-car drama starring Tom Hardy follows "Fading Gigolo" and "Under the Skin," and scored a reasonable $22,000 per-screen-average for a two city opening for this time of the year. Last year only boasted two at that level among limited openers -- "Trance" (which quickly faded) and wide-appeal "The Company You Keep" (which managed to top $5 million). But last April also brought "Mud," playing more broadly from the start and ultimately getting over $20 million, with core art houses benefiting from its success. This year has nothing looking remotely as good. Still, the month's new product at least has given the theatrical end of the business (with VOD increasingly popping up as a rival, with several new significant entries this week).
"Locke" (A24) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Venice 2013, London 2013, Sundance 2014
$89,200 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,300
Premiering to acclaim at Venice, particularly for Hardy's bravura solo performance against a series of voice-only phone calls, then not showing up again until Sundance (strangely absent from Telluride and Toronto), veteran scripter Steven Knight ("Dirty Pretty Things," "Eastern Promises") turned a high concept -- a Welsh construction contractor has to balance three life crises on the phone during a night drive to London -- in a bravura directorial achievement comparable to Mike Figgis's innovative triptych "Time Code." Hardy has been a regular in both high-end specialized and wider films since "Black Hawk Down," and gained some fame from his two Christopher Nolan appearances ("Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises"). Still, he has yet to achieve real solo marquee value. The strong reviews particularly touted Hardy--with some mention of awards. Still, the high concept is tricky-- equally acclaimed "All Is Lost," featuring a silent solo performance by Robert Redford, disappointed at the box office. "Locke" opened to a lower PSA (although slightly higher gross in 6 rather than 4 theaters). The idea of 85 minutes in a car with one actor likely needs strong word of mouth from initial viewers to get to its deserved ultimate level. A24 has had its best success in marketing to a younger female demo ("The Spectacular Now," "The Bling Ring"). Their Scarlett Johansson-starring "Under the Skin," with a more exotic/sexy appeal opened about 50% better earlier this month, though it now is struggling as it broadens. "Locke" opened a bit better than "Only Lovers Left Alive"'s actual numbers two weekends back -- which is also meeting some resistance in wider release. "Locke" may have broader appeal, but at a minimum has gotten the initial attention it needs to spark further interest.
What comes next: New cities come on board starting next week, although this might not be expanding as quickly as "Under the Skin."
"The German Doctor" (Samuel Goldwyn) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 62; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Montreal 2013, Chicago 2013
$35,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $7,000
Opening in 3 markets (the Bay area joins New York and Los Angeles), this acclaimed Argentinian film premiered at Cannes last year under its original title "Wakolda." Based on incidents in the exiled life of Nazi Josef Mengele hiding in South America, it's a thriller (similar to Gregory Peck film "The Boys from Brazil") but with a more realistic, small-cast feel. Despite mixed reviews and no Foreign Language Oscar nomination, this managed to get an initial toe-hold that should buttress the expected wider release for Goldwyn.
What comes next: More markets next Friday, with a nationwide rollout throughout May.