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Arthouse Audit: 'The Grandmaster' and 'Short Term 12' Lead Openers

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
August 25, 2013 6:08 PM
3 Comments
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"The Grandmaster"
"The Grandmaster"

This week's openings didn't reach the heights of the strongest mid-summer specialized releases, but two did solid initial business. Weinstein's "The Grandmaster" and Cinedigm's "Short Term 12" both have a ways to go before they're hits, but each grabbed decent sampling and critical heft to boost them in upcoming weeks, when there will be less competition among new films until late September when the fall glut begins.

Opening

"The Grandmaster" (Weinstein) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Berlin 2013, Karlovy Vary 2013

$132,300 in 7 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $18,900

Wong Kar-wai, one of Asia's most acclaimed directors (his 2001 "In the Mood for Love" was the highest-ranked Chinese region film on last year's Sight and Sound's once-a-decade all-time best film list), has had an uneven output over the past decade as his films have reached higher budgets and aimed at broader Asian audiences. "The Grandmaster" is not a typical art-film. Despite its showcasing at the Berlin Film Festival (in a slightly different version than was released in January in China), this movie was aimed at a mainstream audience familiar with Ip Man, the legendary martial-arts master (and Bruce Lee mentor) who has been featured in a number of films. Weinstein and producer Megan Ellison worked with Wong to craft a tweaked, more-Western oriented release for the U.S. market, and launched the film this weekend to overall positive, if not spectacular results.

Opening in three cities (Toronto, New York and Los Angeles) and including two mainstream China-owned AMC theaters, the film earned attention including an all-out rave in the New York Times ahead of an unusual TV-backed release. The PSA doesn't place it among the top limited openers this year overall, but does edge out Sony Pictures Classics' Chilean "No" among the highest-opening foreign language films, which is impressive due to the larger number of theaters in its initial lineup, with fewer art houses.

Short Term 12

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" remains the high-end example of what a classy, top-name director of martial arts cinema can do in the U.S. Ang Lee's film came with huge festival and awards-anticipating interest, and opened with a PSA (lower ticket prices) of $41,000 in more (16) total theaters on its way to a sensational $128 million domestic haul. SPC waited until the sixth week to get it up to 600+ theaters, which Weinstein plans to do this weekend. That will make it the widest-ever second-week release for a non-Mel Gibson-directed subtitled film, a major leap of faith for Weinstein, whose biggest foreign language films since the Miramax days have grossed under $15 million ("Under the Same Moon" and "Intouchables.") 

With the marketing pushing Martin Scorsese's presentation of the film and emphasizing the artfully done action sequences, this could reach those levels and easily becoming the biggest foreign language release of the year. Curiously, like the two other best Weinstein foreign language films, it comes outside the awards-enhanced boost from which most of the biggest recent films ("Amour," "A Separation") benefited. "The Grandmaster" has already grossed $55 million in the rest of the world, with China and adjacent markets the best.

What comes next: The set-up has succeeded with the help of higher-than-usual ad buys for a limited release. How this does when it goes wider remains an open question, but it's always risky to question the Weinsteins' outside-the-box moves.

"Short Term 12" (Cinedigm) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013, Locarno 2013

$60,100 in 4 theaters; PSA: $15,025

While it hasn't reached the Sundance level as the go-to festival for indie US narrative films, Austin's South by Southwest is an increasingly viable alternative. This year's top jury and audience award winner "Short Term 12" is the top to-date SxSW premiered film in terms of reviews (among the best of the year for any release) and initial limited results among the festival's dramatic competition films. Inexplicably, Destin Cretton's film was turned down by Sundance. 

3 Comments

  • mary | August 25, 2013 8:36 PMReply

    Tom

    I am not against your analysis. ( In fact, I am a fans of you; thank you for keeping writing good articles!) I am just disappointed with the THE GRANDMASTER opening result considering its bigger-than-usual marketing.
    But you make good points that the marketing is not necessarily reaching core art house people; it may explain why the PTA is under $20000. (According to Hollywood Reporter, the film is doing best business in AMC Empire)

    On the other hand, I think AMOUR is a different case; AMOUR was a slow platform release (Sony Pictures Classics is really good at slow platforming), and the film benefited from award buzz.
    And then, many Chinese-American audience don't always watch Chinese films. For example, LOST IN THAILAND is the highest-grossing Chinese film in China ever, but that film only grossed $57387 in US. (Many Chinese American did watch LUST, CAUTION , though)

  • Tom Brueggemann | August 25, 2013 7:32 PMReply

    Mary

    Thx for your comment.
    I am not predicting yet what Grandmaster will do in its wider run. What Weinstein is trying to close to unique in the distribution of subtitled films at this early stage of release, and I don't really have any point of comparison. My main point is that as a foreign language film, it performed adequately or a bit better than the norm these days. Amour opened in only three theaters with staggering reviews and a PSA as I recall of $23,000 its first weekend.
    The marketing Weinstein is doing for the wider break is not necessarily reaching core art house people. There was a spot I saw while flipping channels a couple week's ago on NBC's prime time American Ninja Warrior, an unlikely spot for a Wong Kar Wai film to put it mildly. There is also a Chinese-American audience that (similar to Indian/Bollywood fans) could turn out for this is unusual numbers.
    I think the limited break was in part a means of getting reviews (they got enough good ones to enhance their ads) and test the water a bit, including a couple more general audience theaters (the AMC Empire and Century City in NY/LA respectively). You could be right that this will end up with less than Lust, Cautions's $4.6 million. But I would dispute that any of us at this point is in a position to make a defintive statement about its prospects.

  • mary | August 25, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    correction:

    "The Grandmaster"€ is definitely a disappointment; under $20000 PTA is not a good sign, since Weinstein plans to expand the film to 600 theaters next weekend.

    Weinstein re-edited "The Grandmaster" and then promote the film a lot (with Martin Scorsese’s support). But now, it looks like "€œThe Grandmaster"€ may not gross higher than another Tony Leung starrer "Lust, Caution" in US.

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