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

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
April 28, 2013 4:16 PM
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"Kon-Tiki"
"Kon-Tiki" (Weinstein) - Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Hamptons 2012, AFI 2012, Palm Springs 2012

$22,300 in 2 theaters; PSA: $11,150

This Norwegian film was one of the Oscar Foreign Language nominees, but is avoiding the struggle facing most subtitled films by being released in an English-langauge version (filmed at the same time and same cast as the original). With the hopes of hitting a crossover audience, this true-life story of Thor Heyerdahl's anthropological cross-Pacific raft adventure (previously a best-selling perennial book and an Oscar winning feature documentary in the early 1950s) was backed by a significant campaign for its limited two-theater New York/Los Angelese release.

The result is a PSA a bit higher than Weinstein got for "The Sapphires" (although in only two rather than four theaters), which is at best an average number without even trying to calculate marketing costs.

During the Oscar campaign, there was speculation that in a year when not facing an juggernaut like "Amour," "Kon-Tiki" would have been the kind of film that might sneak in and win the idiosyncratic FL Oscar category with its old-fashioned, older-audience appeal. It's possible that these numbers don't necessarily reflect the depth of interest in this film as it goes forward with likely further Weinstein support.  But these figures are way below the level that would suggest an easy road ahead.

What comes next: Fairly rapid specialized theater expansion starts next Friday.

"At Any Price" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, South by Southwest 2013, Tribeca 2013

$16,600 in 4 theaters; PSA: $4,150

Ramin Bahrani has been a true American independent success story, coming out of North Carolina with Iranian ethnic roots and making several thoughtful films about ordinary people struggling to get ahead, with his third film "Goodbye Solo" having modest success (along with strong reviews) in 2009. "At Any Price," his first film with a sizable budget and a name cast (led by Dennis Quaid and Zac Ephron) was positioned to be his breakout film, with initial festival presentation late last summer as good as an new film received.

Its theatrical opening eight months later, backed with considerable marketing for its initial limited dates (four great New York and Los Angeles theaters) and adequate reviews (less visible with a Wednesday rather than Friday opening) turns out to be one of the biggest disasters seen at this level recently. Even if the full five-day gross of $23,000 for the four theaters would be at best an OK number if it came from a single theater over three days.

The root of the problem could be the disinterest in upscale, sophisticated audiences in a story about an Iowa farm family faced with a fight to survive against major corporate interests. Though Bahrani told this dramatic tale with considerable insight and care, SPC seems to be struggling to get specialized audiences interested. Focus over the holidays had somewhat better success, but still far below expectations, with more marketing spending with Gus Van Sant's small town-set fracking story "The Promised Land" (which had bigger star power).

What comes next: This has been scheduled for a quicker than usual expansion, by SPC's normal standards, beginning next week in several other markets. But although there might be more interest, this is likely to confront the same resistance.

Also opening:

"Midnight's Children" (Paladin/108) - $12,200 in 2 theaters; PSA: $6,100

Deepa Mehta's film of Salman Rushdie's novel about the turmoil at the time of India's independence was also launched at Telluride and Toronto, and opened in two Manhattan theaters to mixed reviews and modest grosses.

"Arthur Newman" (Cinedigm) - $108,000 in 248 theaters; PSA: $435

This romantic comedy also premiered at Toronto. This is not remotely representative of what might have been expected of a film starring Colin Firth after his recent elevated presence, even more so with a costar like Emily Blunt.

"An Oversimplification of Her Beauty" (Variance) - $11,100 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,550

This very low budget, inventive Brooklyn-based romantic obsession story went on from its Sundance 2012 premiere to win Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You from last fall's Gotham Awards. This New York limited release should at least get further attention for its talented director Terence Nance.

"Graceland" (Drafthouse) - $11,100 in 14 theaters; PSA: $793

Austin-based Drafthouse's ongoing taste for offbeat, edgy films continues with this Filipino drama about a father forced into criminal activities to support his family. Also available on VOD, its theatrical life seems limited.

Also playing

Two indie films that went somewhat wide last week to a degree of success both suffered big drops in their second weekends. Lionsgate's Latino-marketed "Filly Brown" (focusing mainly on theaters situated near its target audience) dropped 62% to gross $565,000 in 259 theaters (71 more than last week), for a total so far of $2.3 million.Goldwyn's faith-based audience release of "Home Run" fell even more, 71%, $452,000 in 371, also at about $2.3 million. Both films look close to having maximized their theatrical life, though with enhanced further interest because of having gotten this attention.

"In the House" (Cohen Media) also in its second week, though more limited, held fairly steady in four theaters (+1), grossing $32,000 with a PSA down to about $8,000, average at best based on director Francis Ozon's previous films. "Deceptive Practices: The Mentors and Mystery of Ricky Jay" (Kino Lorber) continued did another $10,000 its second weekend in New York's Film Forum, holding up quite well.

Among third-week films, Magnolia withheld weekend numbers for Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," also on Video on Demand and ITunes. Through Thursday, with 49 theaters its second week, it has only grossed $310,000 total, far below what "The Tree of Life" had taken in at the same point and lagging much behind other home-available high-profile releases.

Three other films that started limited had significant expansions. SPC's "The Company You Keep" went to an unusually high (for them) 807 theaters from last week's 84, good enough for 14th place overall with $1,246,000. The PSA though was weak - $1,544 - with the total gross so far of $2,344,000 likely already more than half of its ultimate take, which will be on the low side for the amount of theaters and level of support this has received. LD's "Disconnect" jumped to 111 theaters from 44, with a $262,000 (PSA $2,360, $770,000 total) suggesting that much more expansion is unlikely. Goldwyn's French-language "Renoir" added a handful of theaters to gross $130,000 in 63, up to $860,000 total.

Shane Carruth's self-distributed "Upstream Color" on its last weekend before its VOD release added another $52,000 to total $296,000 with a mostly social-media lowcost marketing campaign, while GKids Japanese animated film "From Up on Poppy Hill did another $51,000 to near the $800,000 mark so far.

Among longer running films, Weinstein's "The Sapphires," though still adding theaters, dropped 29% in gross in 126 theaters as it passed the $1.4 million mark, with the distributor continuing to spend on this film. Danny Boyle's thriller "Trance" (Fox Searchlight) has only reached $2.1 million as it already is losing theaters after getting to over 400 theaters, which is a very disappointing result. SPC's "No" with a much more limited release (more core arthouse oriented) also has passed the $2.1 million mark, putting it at the high end of subtitled releases for the year so far.

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