In a weekend dominated by the domestic opening of "Iron Man 3," two films from Millennium Films, both of which showed at Toronto last year to modest attention score surprisingly solid openings in limited play. "The Iceman" and "What Maisie Knew" both starred respected actors (hardly a guarantee for specialized success), enjoyed significant advertising support, and enhanced their prospects with key upbeat reviews.
The timing is good for Millennium, as these numbers should enhance the attractiveness of the distribution division which is up for sale. (Millennium and major owner Avi Lerner also run a production unit.) As a producer, Millennium often partners with other companies or sells their films outright ("The Expendables," "The Big Wedding," "Olympus Has Fallen" among many others). Their other recent self-released films include "Bernie," "The King of California" and "The Paperboy." But two strong openings on the same weekend would be rare for any distributor.
The rest of the unusually large number of significant new films were lackluster or less, with expansions of earlier week films struggling for the most part to gain traction. With two arthouse films that went wide early in their runs -- "The Place Beyond the Pines" and "Mud" -- both still competing for the limited adult audience, the core arthouse stuggle continues to find long-term sustained successes. Whether the two Millennium films as they expand show ongoing strength remains to be seen.
Several notable new releases -- "Greeting from Tim Buckley" (Tribeca), another Toronto 2012 premiere also on VOD), Magnolia's "Kiss of the Damned" (VOD), Phase 4's "Generation Um..." and Janus' repertory reissue of Roberto Rossellini's "Voyage to Italy" -- did not announce grosses.
"The Iceman" (Millennium) - Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 62; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012
$93,100 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,275
Director Ariel Vroman made a big leap forward from previous low-budget DVD genre fare ("Danika," "Rx") to film this true-life crime story about a serial killer/hit man who hid his life from his family. Starring the very busy Michael Shannon (in his first lead role since "Take Shelter") along with Chris Evans and Winona Ryder, Millennium got great New York/Los Angeles theater placement (not a guarantee of success in itself) to score one of the best initial specialized PSAs in recent months, even though not all the reviews were positive.
Millennium didn't stint in its advertising, which clearly helped, but these numbers should encourage them to push ahead with an already planned major market expansion next week. This story seems to fall along the lines of hit cable crime series like "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter," a genre that hasn't seen a lot of theatrical play recently, so the interest could extend to a wider market.
What comes next: Next week will be more indicative of what's ahead, but this looks like it could be an important specialized theater film over the next few weeks, with much wider play possible if similar numbers continue.
"What Maisie Knew" (Millennium) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 66; Festivals include: Toronto 12, San Francisco 13
$23,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $23,200
Limited to just the Angelika Theater in New York, and benefiting from an all-out rave from A.O. Scott in the New York Times, this divorce drama from a little girl's point of view starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgaard and Steve Coogan and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel ("The Deep End," "The Bee Season"), opened with a solid number suggesting future potential.
This is the best opening for the directing duo since "The Deep End" debuted in 2001 with the same PSA (though lower ticket prices) in six theaters on its way to an $8 million+ gross for Fox Searchlight. They have struggled since -- their most recent film "Uncertainly" was barely released by IFC. For Moore, this is her first significant limited opening since "The Kids Are All Right" (dwarfed by her wide release hit "Crazy, Stupid, Love"). This is the kind of familiar drama that usually needs an extra hook to gain traction, so the exclusive opening, bolstered by the Times review, makes sense in order to test word of mouth and to gauge how much of an audience there is. These initial results are promising.
What comes next: A slow roll out, with Los Angeles not opening until May 17, and other cities the following week.