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'Mandela' Opens Strong with Weak Reviews, Spike Lee's 'Old Boy' Collapses, '12 Years a Slave' Passes 'Blue Jasmine' as Year's Best Indie Performer

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood December 1, 2013 at 4:16PM

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.
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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.

Opening

"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.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Independents, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Idris Elba, Josh Brolin, 12 Years a Slave


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.