Spectacular Now

For the fourth week out of the last five, a new limited release showed major strength. Unusual for mid-to-late summer, A24's "The Spectacular Now" attained post-Labor Day-level opening grosses. Also showing rare summer strength are Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back," Weinstein Co.'s "Fruitvale Station" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Blue Jasmine." These commercial breakouts could lead to later awards consideration--and a new specialty paradigm. The summer breakout success of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" has inspired this sea change.

As solid as "Spectacular" is, the standout performance is the second week of the year's best limited opener, Allen's "Blue Jasmine," which delivered grosses in 48 theaters not far below what "Spectacular" did in only four. It now looks like it will be among the veteran director's biggest successes.

Three of these four films screened at Sundance 2013, along with other successes "Blackfish," "20 Feet from Stardom," "Before Midnight," and "Mud" (which premiered at Cannes) and now is 2013's biggest specialized grosser to date. All have grossed over $7.5 million -- which only three from Sundance 2012 achieved in their entire runs. And of those, only one opened before Labor Day. The success of ultimate Oscar contender "Beasts of the Southern Wild" encouraged distributors to push out films earlier than in the past. The norm used to be reintroducing them at Toronto and other fall festivals--and then hitting the clogged fall film corridor. 

With several other 2013 Sundance entries opening this month ("Austenland," "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," "In a World," "Lovelace," "Cutie and the Boxer"), and "Don Jon" in September (among others) Sundance is enjoying its most lucrative post-festival presence ever. And distribution patterns have permanently changed. Summer releases are the new normal.


"The Spectacular Now" (A24) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, South by Southwest 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013

$200,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $50,000

Ranking just behind "Fruitvale Station" as the best opening yet for any Sundance 2013 premiere, and a huge improvement over director James Ponsoldt's "Smashed," another Park City-premiered film (only $26,000 total for its four theaters last October), this teen drama, adapted from a novel by the writers of "(500) Days of Summer," garnered reviews even better than "Blue Jasmine" (and slightly below "Fruitvale') to garner a strong initial gross in four prime New York/Los Angeles locations.

The marketplace has seen a lot of films from mostly Sundance (and elsewhere) that dealt with young relationships that, like "Now," featured up and coming young actors (Miles Teller and "The Descendants"' Shailene Woodley here) which then burned out quickly if they had much opening impact at all. Up and coming distributor A24 has aggressively pursued similar films as an alternative to the tried-and-true older audience specialized crowd (the latter increasingly riskier), with uneven results. 

Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers," with its smart tie-in with Vice Media, had a even bigger opening and quickly took in $14 million on a fast-track wider release. Sofia Coppola's highly anticipated "The Bling Ring" had less success, and though it got to 650 theaters at its widest, the film fell short of $6 million (its opening weekend had a 5-theater PSA of $42,000). This new release could surpass both.

With its setting more attuned to middle American teenage angst than those two films, and with the four theaters that played the film in the heart of upscale, more sophisticated audiences, these initial numbers suggest the beginning of a potentially strong crossover film, perhaps A24's biggest yet. It likely catapults its director and two leads (with "Divergent" ramping up, Woodley shows signs of becoming Jennifer Lawrence's successor as an ingenue lead) to greater attention.

A24 has been aggressive with its release patterns so far. In the case of "The Spectacular Now," their initial plan is for a slower, more conventional widening, with big city limited initial dates over the next few weeks. With late summer and early September usually lacking top studio releases, when the film broadens it could score more than $20 million.