By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood April 13, 2014 at 4:26PM
"The Railway Man" (Weinstein) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, San Sebastian 2013, Tokyo 2013
$64,500 in 4 theaters; PSA: $16,125
TWC is obviously good at a lot of different kinds of movies, but these days there is nothing they seem to maximize better than a certain kind of British-oriented drama with major name stars (often past Oscar winners), elevating such films ahead of what anyone else might try to do. Though "The Railway Man" opened with mixed reviews -- Rex Reed however, as he did with "Philomena," championed it, reflecting the tastes of the core older audience -- it managed enough of an initial gross in New York and Los Angeles to guarantee certain expansion and solid backing in weeks ahead throughout the country.
Colin Firth has up-to-now been unable to propel a lead role into anything remotely like the success of "The King's Speech" in the years since (although he was in the ensemble of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"). He isn't currently quite at the level of appeal of the reigning Grande Dames of British cinema: Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, both who've thrived of late with Weinstein. "Philomena," with its massive awards support from the company, particularly for Dench, managed to gross $37 million after a similar first weekend similar-theater opening of about double this number, a very impressive showing. "Quartet" with Smith opened in two theaters for a $24,000 PSA (the greater competition for audiences in New York/Los Angeles markets for "Railway" makes its PSA somewhat comparable), and even with no nominations its gross got to $18 million.
This is a roundabout way of saying that the number, though clearly at best in the mid-range of well-supported, top theater-playing limited releases, has with TWC behind it the potential of becoming a higher-than-average general release film. Its subject matter - a British WWII ex-POW dealing with the trauma of his ordeal years later and trying to confront his torturer - doesn't have quite the appeal of the other more contemporary, sassier successes. But with the added draw of Nicole Kidman in a supporting role, this should get the full Weinstein treatment.
What comes next: Top 10 markets next Friday, much wider the week after that.
"Joe" (Roadside Attractions) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, South by Southwest 2013; also available on Video on Demand
$106,000 in 48 theaters; PSA: $2,208
The highest grossing of this week's new releases pulled it off by playing fairly wide in 48 theaters, complementing its home viewing venues and drawing attention at least to the film's merits (with generally favorable or better reviews in most places). Directed by busy Southern-rooted indie director David Gordon Green ("George Washington," but more mainstream with "Pineapple Express" and HBO's "Eastbound and Down") and the most acclaimed performance from Nicolas Cage in years (as well as "Mud"'s teenaged Tye Sheridan), the low level of gross here suggests they made the correct move on emphasizing VOD.
Roadside was one of the pioneers in broadening the range of VOD films (after Magnolia and IFC pioneered the platforms for more limited films) with "Arbitrage" and "Margin Call." Both did much better - in 197 and 56 theaters respectively, they both achieved first weekend PSAs of over $10,000, much better than "Joe."
Roadside also released "Mud," at first exclusively theatrically, and nurtured that up to a healthy $21.6 million gross (today their biggest performer). It had the advantage of the more marketable Matthew McConaughey (the film likely played a part in his later-year success) and a somewhat less bleak storyline despite other similarities.
What comes next: These numbers suggest most of the viewing is going to be at home, with its main hope of further play being potential strong word of mouth (which of course helps those VOD sales as well, and is part of the reason for trying parallel platforms). Roadside though does have plans to expand the film next week.