This weekend is usually the calm before the storm as a range of upcoming significant films get attention at Toronto. Normally otherwise occupied distributors avoid this post-Labor Day date like the plague. Nonetheless a likely record 30 new specialized/indie releases found theaters in New York and Los Angeles, including six from this year's Sundance Film Festival and two from the currently running Toronto Fest. Of the films reported grosses, only one -- Weinstein's "Salinger" -- showed significant strength, unusual for this time of year.
Most of the other new openings were also Video on Demand titles; their theatrical presence is mostly tied to contractual and marketing concerns. None was expected to do much theatrical business, and shouldn't be taken in themselves as signs of any particular weakness, as companies battle over new acquisitions at Toronto (which has started off as a strong market).
Among ongoing releases several strong openings continue to show strength, with "Blue Jasmine" back in the top 10, Weinstein's "The Grandmaster" reaching $5 million in wider than normal subtitled release, A24's "The Spectacular Now" growing more slowly but also just under $5 million, and Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" becoming the four indie release to total $20 million so far this year.
"Salinger" (Weinstein) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic score: 39; Festivals include: Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013
$91,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,750
This somewhat stealth release (premiered last minute at Telluride, with one show added to Toronto literally the day before the festival began) managed to overcome mediocre reviews to score the best post-Labor Day specialized opening in at least a decade (Francois Ozon's "8 Women" had a PSA of $17,500 in 2002 at lower ticket prices). Once again showing the interest in documentaries about creative figures, this investigation into elusive novelist J.D. Salinger's life had great theater placement and plenty of last-minute media coverage to manage solid numbers, particularly for this time of year.
Timed to open as the biography "The Private War of J.D. Salinger" (co-written by director Shane Salerno) was released, the film was rushed to completion to meet this date. Despite the lack of long-lead marketing, these grosses show considerable interest in its subject.
What comes next: This moves quickly into 60 markets this Friday, with up to 200 theaters.