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Arthouse Audit: 'Obvious Child' Stands Out Among Tepid Openers

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
June 8, 2014 6:04 PM
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'Obvious Child'

Although a decent line-up of current openers continues to provide a steady flow of specialized film customers as these films expand, the early summer newbies keep falling short -- and none compare to the top June players of recent years. 

This week's clear leader -- "Obvious Child" (A24), one of two films opening this week that premiered in the Next section at Sundance last January -- managed about three-quarters of what "Much Ado About Nothing" did exactly a year ago, consistent with the recent absence of a potential breakout crossover film. "Chef," always intended as a wide release, and placing ninth once again as it further expands, is somewhat filling the indie hit role at the moment, with "Belle" also doing well. While "Obvious" lacks the upfront elements other bigger, initial grosses have in terms of pre-sold appeal, it does have a shot at success.

Several other recent festival-elevated films of note rolled out as well, some with Video on Demand as well as limited theatrical exposure. Among those taking the theatrical route alone, "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" (RADiUS-TWC) and "Borgman" (Drafthouse) had the most pre-opening interest. But the absence of reported estimates suggests that they failed to perform as their distributors hoped.

Opening

"Obvious Child" (A24) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, South by Southwest 2014, New Directors/New Films 2014

$81,000 in theaters; PSA (per screen average): $27,000

With two femme-centric films leading the Top 10, specialized film this weekend counters with its top new opener not only having a similar focus, but also coming with a creative team (director Gillian Robespierre and its screenwriters) of women. This story about a single comedienne in Brooklyn dealing with an unexpected pregnancy debuted at Sundance's Next section last January to a strong response and a deal with A24, which in the last two years has carved a niche of seeking out films about and/or from women ("Spring Breakers," "Bling," "The Spectacular Now," "Under the Skin" and "Ginger and Rosa" included). 

With an unusual three-theater lineup -- only the downtown Angelika in New York, which had the best gross overall and two strong venues in Los Angeles -- this scored a per-screen-average higher than any specialized releases since "Chef" in late April (about the same as "Belle"), though below four of the five A24 films listed above. But what makes the total more impressive, with the benefit of above-average size marketing from the usually aggressive company, is its lack of known elements. Comic actress Jenny Slate is not well known, but this could be a breakout for her as was "In a World" last summer for Lake Bell. (That film also opened in three theaters to a $70,000 total and ultimately around $3 million.)

This level of gross doesn't yet clarify the ultimate appeal -- similarly opening films have gone on to a range from under $1 to over $10 million over the last year. But in an early summer without any clear standout opener so far, this has a chance of gaining traction and ending up ahead of most recent releases -- and as the top A24 release of the year, though they have David Michod's "The Rover" on tap next week.

What comes next: A24 plans a rapid limited rollout over the next two weeks before a wider national release on June 27. This has real potential as a sleeper indie success.

"Citizen Koch" (Variance) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Fullframe 2013

$10,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $10,000

One of at least eight documentaries to open this week (not uncommon with the current Academy qualification rules), this was the sole entry to report its grosses, and they aren't bad. This intended expose of the billionaire right-wing political donors at the center of the Citizens United case was originally intended for PBS until alleged pressure cut off funding. Other means, including crowdfunding, raised enough money to complete it, leading to its Sundance 2013 premiere. But it is only now getting a theatrical release, initially at the IFC Center in New York, a home to many doc releases. Despite limited ads and insignificant reviews, this drew a respectable initial take.

What comes next: This gross should be enough to help Variance get this booked further, although it already has an impressive lineup starting next Friday (Los Angeles opens on 6/27).

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