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Arthouse Audit: 'Mud' Scores Sole Strong Indie Opener Amid Specialized Market Struggles

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood April 28, 2013 at 4:16PM

"Mud" nearly made the weekend box office top 10 in only 363 theaters, towering over all the other new openings this week, none of which had a PSA of even $12,000 with limited New York/Los Angeles two to four theater openings. For the third time in several weeks, and in this case already in the first one, much of the money came from a wide variety of upscale theaters.
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Matthew McConaughey in 'Mud'
Matthew McConaughey in 'Mud'
"Mud" nearly made the weekend box office top 10 in only 363 theaters, towering over all the other new openings this week, none of which had a PSA of even $12,000 with limited New York/Los Angeles two to four theater openings. For the third time in several weeks, and in this case already in the first one, much of the money came from a wide variety of upscale theaters. Like "Spring Breakers" and "The Place Beyond the Pines," the success came with many core specialized theaters not in the mix, and those that are competing with multiple runs for their audience.

This comes at a time when the more limited openings can't seem to find the same level of appeal even in their more limited starts. Two highly anticipated films -- Weinstein's "Kon-Tiki" and to an even greater degree Sony Pictures Classics' "At Any Price" -- both with hoped for crossover, general audience appeal -- didn't set the world on fire or suggested any breakout potential even with significant marketing support. IFC's more modestly supported "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" more than held its own in this group.

Opening

"Mud" (Roadside Attractions) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 77; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Sundance 2013, South by Southwest 2013

$2,186,000 in 363 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,022

Reluctant Fundamentalist

Jeff Nichols' previous acclaimed film "Take Shelter" took the conventional art house route (via Sony Pictures Classics) in late 2011 and ended up with $1,730,000. This followup film is more star-driven (Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon) and earned reviews almost as strong as the earlier film, but went much wider initially --and topped that gross by nearly a half million.

Acquired by Roadside Attractions in partnership with Lionsgate last August sometime after its premiere in competition at Cannes, then shown at Sundance last January, with Roadside doing the hands-on distribution duties, this Southern-set tale of two boys encountering a fugitive showcases yet another strong performance from the suddenly hot McConaughey (his potential Oscar-contender "The Dallas Buyers Club" was acquired by Focus last week; he also stars in Scorsese's upcoming "The Wolf of Wall Street"). But his presence alone didn't make either "The Paperboy" or "Killer Joe" get this level of interest, so the appeal seems to be combined with all of the film's elements.

The PSA is solid, but it's too early to predict its ultimate success. Going a bit more slowly, "The Place Beyond the Pines" in its third weekend expanded to more theaters (514) for a higher PSA ($7,521), although that came with a higher marketing expense. What is encouraging for "Mud" is that it climbed 53% Saturday from Friday, indicating early strong word of mouth. Roadside also reports some strong interest in non-typical venues, particularly in areas like Arkansas around where the film is set.

What comes next: Roadside will expand this further to over 500 theaters next week. With so much of the attention going to "Iron Man 3" starting Friday, this still could find room as an alternative and thrive in the weeks ahead.

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (IFC) - Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 49; Fesitvals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012

$32,700 in 3 theaters; PSA: $10,900

Director Mira Nair has been one of the most consistently performing specialized directors in recent years, with four films since 2002 (including "Monsoon Wedding" and "Amelia") grossing $13-16 million, including two that ultimately played in over 1,000 theaters at their widest.

Like most of her films, this has as its theme a central character fighting societal barriers -- in this case, a young Pakistani working on Wall Street while facing pressures from the different cultures he lives in. Unlike some of Nair's earlier successes, this wasn't supported with consistently positive reviews, and as a result, the PSA is far below what "The Namesake" ($41,000) and "Monsoon Wedding" ($34,000) attained on their initial release.

That said, considering its reception as the opening film at Venice last year and the subsequent mixed critical reaction, this is an adequate opening for the film, suggesting its all-too timely themes and familiarity with the original novel, as well as Nair's reputation and costarring appearances by Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber, have given this enough gravitas to get some sampling. Among the limited openers this week, it is the one that came closest to reaching or exceeding expectations.

What comes next: IFC is expanding this to 25 top markets over the next two weeks.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Independents, Mud, Ramin Bahrani, Kon-Tiki, Mira Nair


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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.