By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood August 3, 2014 at 2:04PM
January's Sundance Film Festival lineup continues to open this summer --with often lackluster results. Ten of the 13 films in current release are hitting theaters in advance of the torrent of new titles soon to hit fall film festivals. (One exception is "Whiplash," which Sony Pictures Classics is continuing to play on the fest circuit, presumably with an eye on ultimate awards payoff.)
Fox Searchlight's "Calvary" opened below expectations in its first theaters, given stellar reviews and TV ad support.
"Boyhood" remains the standout as it quickly expands to over 300 screens, showing significant success with a promise of more ahead. Roadside Attraction's "A Most Wanted Man," starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, also widened with strong results. (It's one of three recent films to emerge with best actor contenders, along with Brendan Gleeson of "Calvary" and Chadwick Boseman of "Get On Up.") By contrast, Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here" (Focus) in its third week added about 25% more theaters but still dropped 47%.
Two documentaries showed promise in their New York debuts this weekend.
Among other films not reporting are two Magnolia Sundance titles, "Happy Christmas" and "Life Itself" as well as new opener from director James Franco, "Children of God" (WellGo USA).
"Calvary" (Fox Searchlight) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: 2014 Sundance, Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle
$72,798 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $18,200
One of the major acquisitions at Sundance, John Michael McDonagh's film arrived weighted with expectations due to by its high Metacritic score and the success of the director's earlier Irish film starring Brendan Gleeson, "The Guard' (distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, it amassed a solid $5.4 million). While it's the top opener of the week, placed at the best New York/Los Angeles theaters, Searchlight laid out elevated marketing and a suggestion that this could be (along with "Boyhood") one of the prime summer awards contenders. So an $18,200 PSA arrives at the lower end of anticipated returns.
Early August last year, by comparison, saw two Sundance films open to decent success. A24 opened "The Spectacular Now" the first weekend to an almost $50,000 PSA at similar theaters on its way to a $6.8 million gross. The following week the less obviously commercial "In a World" (Roadside Attractions) had a $23,500 PSA on its way to a decent $3 million take. So this clearly, despite high hopes, falls short of these numbers. (Searchlight has had two standout films this year, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," unfair for any comparison, but also "Belle," which opened to a $26,645 PSA in 4 on its way to a $10.6 million total).
The plot -- Irish small town priest faces turmoil from all sides, with a tricky combination of humor and searing drama -- might face resistance as covering familiar territory (most recently the successful "Philomena"). Its better than average improvement in grosses from Friday to Saturday is encouraging, however. Also, the gross is only slightly below what "The Guard" -- $77,000 - in its initial 4 theaters when it opened. That film, clearly propelled by strong word of mouth, ended up with a higher than expected (based on its opening) $5.4 million.
What comes next: Next weekend will see this expand to up to 40 theaters including 8 new markets. This more limited rollout than usual for Searchlight suggests that they're hoping for a word-of-mouth push en route to what "The Guard" achieved. But they're spending much more than SPC did.
"Finding Fela" (Kino Lorber) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: 2014 Sundance
$14,000 in 1 theaters; PSA: $14,000
Hitting the sweet spot for so many docs with a portrait of this significant and multi-faceted creative musical force), Alex Gibney's music biodoc tells the story of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and activist Fela Kuti (the subject of the Tony-winning Broadway musical). Add to that its placement at the popular IFC Center (with "Boyhood" selling out multiple screens) and this decent initial gross is no surprise. Gibney averages about two new docs a year, with most getting a theatrical release (last year "We Steal Secrets" and "The Armstrong Lie"). His biggest success was "Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room" at $4 million and he won an Oscar for "Taxi to the Dark Side." (Our profile of Gibney here.)
What comes next: Four more cities are set over the next two weeks, with this likely to get steady play across the country based on Gibney's past films, the music tie-in and Kino Lorber's usual access to appropriate theaters.
"Rich Hill" (The Orchard) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: 2014 Sundance, Heartland, Hot Docs
$9,385 in 1 theater; PSA: $9,385
"Rich Hill," which follows the lives of three near-poverty level teenagers in a small Missouri town, won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize for U.S. documentary at this year's Sundance. That award doesn't guarantee box office success -- many of the best known docs out of the festival have come either from international or out of competition -- but "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Restrepo" both went out to some theatrical success after their prizes. The film was jointly acquired by multi-platform distribution and marketing company The Orchard (only recently branching out to feature films) and PBS' Independent Lens series (it will be broadcast next March, coincidentally or not right after the Oscars).
Despite its pedigree, as a non-glam or celeb-oriented doc it can be difficult to attain a prime Manhattan date, more so for a less veteran distributor. This is playing at the Village East, which, though a prime location, is a secondary venue. With minimal advertising, this still managed to gross a credible $9,385, not spectacular, but above average for an opening weekend for a single run of a doc in New York even if at higher profile theaters. (TOH! story and exclusive clip here.)
What comes next: The doc is already booked in an impressive 50 markets. Mostly calendar dates, they include initial showings in Missouri next weekend. It also debuts on VOD and ITunes this week.
"A Most Wanted Man" (Roadside Attractions)
$3,324,265 in 729 theaters (+368); PSA: $4,560; Cumulative: $7,059,000
A nice 24% gross increase coming with a doubling of theaters, a sign of decent word of mouth for this sophisticated John Le Carre spy thriller starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. This managed at least #10 for the overall weekend, and might move up when actuals come in. Roadside (partnered with Lionsgate) has managed to master the tricky pattern of a limited multiple rather than a platform run with a shot at catching on with a wider public.
"Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics)
$740,430 in 65 theaters (+48); PSA: $11,853; Cumulative: $1,352,766
Decent if not spectacular expansion by Woody Allen standards. No one expected this to perform at the same level as "Midnight in Paris" or "Blue Jasmine." Its second weekend roughly comes in at about 1/3 the level of those two successes, suggesting that this has a shot at approaching the "To Rome With Love" gross of $16.6 million, though that might be overly optimistic.
"A Master Builder" (Abramorama)
$4,475 in 1 theater (unchanged); PSA: $4,475; Cumulative: $21,829
Expanding/ongoing (grosses over $50,000)
"Boyhood" (IFC) Week 3
$2,522,210 in 311 theaters (+204); Cumulative: $7,059,000
This remains a strong performer (#11 at only 311 theaters) and with an $8,159 PSA continues to draw interest at more than just core specialized theaters. It isn't record-setting or close to the year's best - the third weekend of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in 304 theaters had a PSA ($22,329) on its way to $59 million. But this still looks like it has most of its theatrical revenue ahead, and as this continues to expand and draw in more non-typical specialized viewers, a very impressive gross between $25-30 million or even more seems possible.
"Begin Again" (Weinstein) Week 6
$696,000 in 727 theaters (-517); Cumulative: $13,783,000
Playing out quickly even by normally aggressive Weinstein standards, this is now in fast decline in theater counts and PSA, but has already managed to become one of the top initially limited grossers of the year, although it will end up at about half of crowdpleaser "Chef."
"Chef" (Open Road) Week 13
$680,000 in 350 theaters (-55); Cumulative: $28,333,000
Check it out! In its 13th week, in half as many theaters, this outgrosses "Wish I Was Here" on its third weekend.
"Wish I Was Here" (Focus) Week 3
$614,000 in 753 theaters (+158); Cumulative: $3,058,000
Zach Braff's Kickstarter-funded film added about 25% more theaters but still dropped 47%. Given that Focus Features acquired U.S rights for $2.7 million and might end up spending some $8 million in marketing and gross about a total $5 million--getting less than half back from theaters, say $2.25 million film rental-- the rest of their ancillary revenues are unlikely fail to make up the shortfall. This adds to a string of 2014 Focus disappointments including "Bad Words," "The Signal" and "Walk of Shame."
"Snowpiercer" (Radius) Week 6
$109,746 in 100 theaters (-49); Cumulative: $4,139,000
More importantly, though tough to quantify, it is still at #4 on the ITunes movie sales chart in its fourth weekend there.
"I Origins" (Fox Searchlight) Week 3
$70,000 in 122 theaters (+46); Cumulative: $236,120
Ouch. This grossed less in 122 theaters than Searchlight's "Calvary" did in four. This sci-fi/romantic/spiritual film (another Sundance highlight) seemed to have much greater potential.
"The Obvious Child" (A24) Week 9
$68,988 in 44 theaters (-19); Cumulative: $2,897,000
Though not the breakout/crossover film some expected, this romantic comedy is still a decent specialized performer, even though it only reached 202 theaters at its peak.