By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood April 13, 2014 at 4:26PM
The heaviest slate of significant new films to open in one week so far this year, all of which had considerable attention from Cannes to Toronto in 2013, opened to variable results this weekend.
The clear leader is Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" (Sony Pictures Classics) which had respectable numbers in its four New York/Los Angeles theaters. The Weinstein Company's "The Railway Man," starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, did about two-thirds as well, for a decent if not spectacular start despite more mixed reviews, and also in four theaters. "Joe" (Roadside Attractions) went much wider to complement its main component, a Video On Demand release, with far weaker results overall. With New York being a major share of its grosses, a rare good-weather Saturday might have cut into the grosses somewhat.
Two other SPC films led the way among other below-the-top-ten specialized releases, with the "The Raid 2" nearly cracking the Top Ten at #11 with just over a million, though playing fairly wide at 954 theaters. Doing comparatively much better is their increasingly successful Indian film "The Lunchbox, holding very well and approaching $1.8 million, already the biggest specialized subtitled release of the year.
"Only Lovers Left Alive" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013, Sundance 2014 SXSW 2014
$97,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $24,250
Though Jim Jarmusch, along with John Sayles, is the father of contemporary U.S. independent film (his breakout initial film "Stranger Than Paradise" predated Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee), he has never been an especially big box office draw -- in no small part by staying true to his indie roots. His latest effort, also one of his best-reviewed, premiered at Cannes in competition almost a year ago, and has already opened in other significant territories where he maintains a niche or wider following. At home, this opening weekend comes in at a respectable third best first weekend for any limited two-city release so far this year, and easily ranks as the best, and most anticipated, of the three significant new openings.
Jarmusch's earlier films have had a variety of release patterns, so exact comparisons are at best inexact (without even getting into higher contemporary ticket prices). His best overall grosser was "Broken Flowers" from Focus in 2005, which came out strong at nearly $14 million, and another $34 million worldwide, aided by Bill Murray in the lead shortly after "Lost in Translation." Significantly, that film's first weekend had a higher PSA (almost $29,000) despite playing much wider initially (27 theaters, most of them with lower normal grosses than the core ones in New York and Los Angeles). Relatively speaking today, "Lovers"' grosses are in line with more genre-oriented, and thus trickier to market, specialized dramas from last year, and those currently in play. "Lovers" holds its own, and because of its better reviews and potentially better word of mouth, stands a shot at surpassing all or most of these.
The most recent of these was the similarly well-reviewed "Under the Skin," which had the clear draw of a bigger name (Scarlett Johansson, the same weekend she appeared in a new blockbuster) and a strong, sexy design, though overlapping somewhat in its supernatural story. "Skin" had a PSA of about $33,000, about 1/3 better. Closer to "Lovers"' numbers, in all cases a little less, were early 2013 releases by well-known directors Park Chan-wook ("Stoker," with Nicole Kidman) and Danny Boyle ("Trance" with James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson), both well-supported by Fox Searchlight, in similar theaters. Millennium's Michael Shannon-starring murder story "The Iceman" also came in a little less. Those three films managed to take in between $1.7 and $2.3 million. Prospects for "Lovers" could be better ahead. although the initial results suggest that Jarmusch remains a more niche-oriented director and this shouldn't be expected to cross over to wider audiences despite the current fashion for stylish vampire-related stories.
What comes next: A handful of markets are added next week, with a rollout over the next few weeks across all metro areas. This is a film that should benefit from SPC's finesse at nurturing smaller films with a slower release, allowing it to build a following while not wasting money on a more expensive early wider playoff -- the course A24 seems to be taking with "Under the Skin."