Joss Whedon's take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" continued the May/June rollout of well-hyped specialized releases, and more significantly, joined "Frances Ha" and "Beyond Midnight" -- both now expanding similar to solid results -- as higher-end grossers, particularly for this time of year.
Though this early summer has not seen anything yet to equal the early weeks' success of previous years' "Midnight in Paris," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the volume of new openings showing promise or more is encouraging and looks to continue in upcoming weeks, with "The Bling Ring," "I'm So Excited," "Fruitvale Station" and "Blue Jasmine" among the highly anticipated new releases ahead.
"Much Ado About Nothing" (Roadside Attractions) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 76; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013
$183,400 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $36,680
Joss Whedon's followup to "The Avengers" took the form not of another Marvel adaptation (more of those to come from him) but rather a black/white adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy filmed at his home with an expedited 12-day shoot while taking a break from editing "The Avengers." The result is initially successful -- although ultimately it fell a bit short of the top 2013 specialized openers (including "Before Midnight" at $49,000 two weekends ago), it was still a solid start for a far from guaranteed successful project.
Opening in three markets (San Francisco along with the usual New York/Los Angeles - the latter boosted by Friday appearances by Whedon and cast members at multiple showings, along with cast appearances elsewhere) and enhanced by favorable reviews (the New York Times in particular), this isn't the first time this play has been a success. Kenneth Branagh's version, made at the height of his appeal after a series of Shakespeare adaptation, had a similar opening PSA (at much lower ticket prices) in 1993, aided, unlike this, by stars like Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington and a lush Italian period setting (unlike the contemporary take filmed in Santa Monica) on its way to a very successful $22 million domestic take. Still, despite Whedon's own following (not only from his films but the cult-like interest in some of his TV work) this was a risky proposition, and one of the more unconventional initially successful specialized films of the year.
This continues a string of recent success for Roadside Attractions (along with sometime acquisitions partner Lionsgate). "Arbitrage" and "Margin Call" both did well alongside of parallel Video on Demand availability, "Mud" is nearing $20 million on wider theatrical-only play, and "Stories We Tell" is doing steady business backed by great reviews in still limited release, and now "Much Ado" looms as a decent performer. At a time when some of the studio-associated companies have failed to gain much traction recently, their achievement looks even more impressive.
Notable among the grosses is the house record on two screens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, looking to gross over $40,000 at that location alone for the weekend, providing a much needed alternative in the underseated prime upper west side Manhattan neighborhood.
What comes next: The three current markets expand this Friday, with the plans for 200+ theaters across the country as the next stage on June 21.