Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'
Robert Pattinson in 'The Rover'

Fresh from Cannes, both "The Rover" and wider release "How to Train Your Dragon 2" opened this weekend. Just a year ago enterprising A24 opened "The Bling Ring," but the comparison ends there. "The Rover" opened to only a fraction of the initial returns that Sofia Coppola's film received, and, despite decent reviews and previously successful directing and acting elements, the film fell well below expectations. The same company's "Obvious Child" showed some promise in its second weekend expansion, but the overall specialized market is lagging behind healthier grosses over recent months.


"The Rover" (A24) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Cannes 2014, Sydney 2014

$70,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,000

Placed in five top New York/Los Angeles theaters, backed with strong A24 marketing, "The Rover" looked positioned to be a potential strong opener. Australian director David Michod's followup to "Animal Kingdom" features well-reviewed performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. With a post-apocalyptic cross-country trek taken by a man obsessed with finding his stolen car (accompanied by much violence and oddball characters), the film has elements of other Australian dystopian classics like "Mad Max" and "The Road," but with even more of an obsessive, loner throughline.

The resulting initial grosses are modest considering its elevated positioning. And it follows the underwhelming trend seen with other 2014 A24 releases with strong direction and distinctive style ("Locke" and "Under the Skin"). Luckily the more story-based "Obvious Child" is initially faring somewhat better. Is this another sign of target younger audiences no longer looking at specialized film (older ones are still out in force, as the year's successes so far indicate)? Are action elements a turnoff? It likely isn't one single factor, but all of these films should have boasted more appeal. 

By comparison, "The Bling Ring" last year opened this weekend to a $42,000 PSA, three times as much as "The Rover" on its way to just under $6 million domestic.

What comes next: A quicker than usual national expansion with above average specialized advertising expense will determine whether this has broader appeal.

"The Signal" (Focus) - Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Seattle 2014

$146,000 in 120 theaters; PSA: $1,217

Under new management, a Focus film no longer get a careful, targeted release to maximize its chances. "The Signal" (like "The Rover" involving a cross-country trip through an isolated desert, in this case America with sci-fi elements) was premiered at Sundance (Midnight section) last January to mixed response, which made a more commercial, wider initial release logical. They didn't place it as a specialized film, playing (though still limited) at youth-oriented somewhat more upscale multiplexes across the country.

Whatever their hopes, the outcome was bleak, with an average of not much more than 100 ticket buyers per theater, and little hope of much further theatrical life. This was not initially a Focus project, but came with the Filmdistrict team that has had better success with other films past and present. Without any big names attached, and the market (particularly VOD) flooded with genre/high-concept films, even the best marketing will have a tough time putting a mixed-response film over to a younger audience.

What comes next: Hard to see much growth ahead for this.