Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

With so many adult-oriented films playing in wide release over the holiday weekend, it was more difficult for narrower releases to gain traction. One, the second Weinstein potential awards contender in a row to open in just two cities, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," exceeded expectations while the other, Spike Lee's remake of "Oldboy," performed weakly in several hundred theaters. Recent limited openers "The Book Thief" and "Philomena" made it to the Top 10, while previous placers "Dallas Buyers Club" and "12 Years in Slavery" did not. Meanwhile "Nebraska" is broadening much more slowly.


"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (Weinstein) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Hamptons 2013, AFI 2013

$100,300 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $25,075

While the sole( new awards-oriented platform this weekend came in below the level of "Dallas Buyers Club," "Nebraska," or "Philomena" (which all had PSAs over $30,000 for their New York/Los Angeles starts), this opening was more impressive because it follows weaker reviews, with a Metacritic score just below the "favorable" level.

South African apartheid-themed films have been common for decades now ("A World Apart" back in 1988 received acclaim but not much business; "Invictus" scored Morgan Freeman an Oscar nod but otherwise underperformed; Jennifer Hudson's "Winnie" took two years to get a minor U.S. release). In this context, these are decent numbers, particularly with the mixed critical response.

Director Justin Chadwick (BBC's "Bleak House" and "The Other Boleyn Girl") had more recently made the South African-set "The First Grader" on a less epic scale. Idris Elba ("Luther," "Prometheus," "Pacific Rim") has gotten the best response to the film so far, generating long-shot Best Actor buzz. The awards strategy made this platforming more essential, with this initial response keeping Elba in the conversation.

What comes next: This doesn't look to be getting the rapid specialized expansion that usually comes with a Weinstein release, suggesting that they were looking for initial results to give more of an indication of its prospects. It likely has a future that follows the course of "Fruitvale Station" and "12 Years a Slave," meaning a wider mix of theaters than just the usual arthouse locations.