By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 3, 2013 at 4:05PM
After months of films with mostly older-audience appeal playing off during the awards circus, Fox Searchlight's "Stoker," a stylish thriller from a noted Asian cult director making his English-language debut, boasted the best limited opening of any 2013 release so far. Although not performing at the initial level of most recent Oscar nominees or other hits like "Quartet," this marks a pleasant surprise despite less-than-stellar reviews.
Three new documentaries enjoyed adequate or better openings, while "War Witch," a grim Oscar Foreign Language nominee from Canada, opened to lesser results while also playing nationally on Video on Demand. Three other Oscar-related releases as well as "Quartet" dominated the holdovers for the moment. Of those, two, "No" and "The Gatekeepers," have most of their business still ahead of them, which is important as new product is crucial now, as new 2013 films will need to sustain the specialized business.
"Stoker" (Fox Searchlight) - Metacritic score: 59; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Rotterdam 2013
$158,000 in 7 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,500
Korean master Park Chan-wook's first American film earned reviews below his earlier efforts ("Old Boy," "Lady Vengeance") but managed a decent start, backed by a strong campaign and booked in top theaters. Fox Searchlight went to five cities rather than the normal platform of two, a risky strategy that usually reduces the PSA. In this case, even with the slightly wider release, it achieved the highest specialized PSA of the year so far.
Starring Nicole Kidman (continuing her risk-taking choices that include recent "The Paperboy" and "Rabbit Hole"), the horror thriller was launched in the Premiere section at Sundance. The first from that group to be released theatrically, it is performing (accounting for different theater counts) a bit below the level of two earlier Searchlight films -- "Cedar Rapids" and "Win Win" -- that also had a similar Park City presentation on their way to $6.8 and $10.1 million ultimate takes.
After their modest (but disappointing compared to expectations) take from "Hitchcock," Searchlight is pushing this as the sort of intricate creepy thriller specialized in by the master. Whether younger upscale audiences will take to this remains to be seen beyond this initial positive opening, but Searchlight deserves credit for getting this initial sampling with one of their lesser critically-supported efforts.
What comes next: After modest expansions in its current cities, this will roll out wider by mid-month. Whether this deserves a multi-hundred theater break with the extra marketing expense that requires remains to be seen.
"A Place at the Table" (Magnolia) - Metacritic score: 68; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Toronto Hot Docs 2012; also available on Video on Demand
$84,000 in 35 theaters; PSA: $2,400
With significant participation from Magnolia's sister company Landmark Theatres, this hunger-in-America documentary opened across the country both on screen and at home. The result from the former was modest, though not bad with its VOD availability. With this exposure, it received decent or better reviews in most cities, elevating public awareness above what many similar films have most weeks with their parallel release.
In the pre-VOD world Magnolia had a significant success with the similar "Food, Inc." in 2009, ending up with a gross over $4 million. This has no chance for similar theatrical success due to its home viewing, but this could easily surpass total viewership from the combined platforms.