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Arthouse Audit: Awards Contenders Ramp Up for Oscar Bounty, 'The Rocket' and 'In Bloom' Open Modestly

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
January 12, 2014 4:16 PM
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Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis"

What comes next: Los Angeles opens for a one-week calendar initial run before spreading out to other cities in similar playoff.

Expanding/ongoing

The top 11 has five films that initially were platform (not including "Frozen"), all but "Lone Survivor" intended to chase the same upscale, educated urban older audiences. Thus not every film is grabbing the same level of interest. One key story is how the studios are now driving this, at least in awards season, with Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers, even Disney ("Saving Mr. Banks") joining Weinstein and others at the high-end level of specialized-adjacent playoffs. "August: Osage County" (Weinstein) made #7, and completely outshone the more limited competition this weekend by a wide margin.

Among the top grossing films, "Her" (Warner Bros.) has taken the biggest hit, with its 1,700 theater break clearly not working, whether because it lags in interest because of the competition or just doesn't connect with either younger or older audiences much at all after some initial signs of interest. But however it grossed, that meant around 600,000 ticket buyers not as readily available for other films nationally in this intense period.

Two other Oscar contenders, "Inside Llewyn Davis" (CBS) and "Nebraska" (Paramount) expanded without really aiming for the top 10 (yet, if ever)  A third, "Philomena" (Weinstein) keeps playing strong and looks likely to outpace both. "Davis" grossed best, with $1,876,000 in 729 (+573), PSA $2,573, total $9.3 million, now getting it on a par with the Coen Brothers most recent limited release "A Serious Man" (this has gone much wider). CBS has been pushing this film hard since its initial huge opening, not far below what "The Master" did in 2013. Though this has had a somewhat slower release pattern, this likewise has limited appeal, and will need unexpectedly big (at this point) Oscar success to continue its momentum.

"Nebraska" continues it much slower roll-out (this is already its ninth week). The pattern, recognizing the more limited appeal despite director Alexander Payne because of its rural, black & white and older-character elements, has always been to maximize its run around the time of the nominations. Its weekend gross -- $820,000 in 521 (+281, PSA $1,574, total $8,150,000 shows no sign of this really gaining any traction yet. But a strong showing on Thursday -- this could end up among the top films in total numbers if all breaks right -- is vital for its continued presence, at least on the level to help prime best actor contender Bruce Dern. Otherwise, it could be in risk on not being around much longer.

"Philomena" is similar to past Weinstein successes like "Chocolat" (apart from the presence of Judi Dench). Staying at 607 theaters despite the screen pressure (including their own "August: Osage County" this weekend) it took in another $1,306,000 (PSA $2,241) and is now just shy of $22 million. Its continued awards presence - this is another film that could go either way on Thursday -- will factor into going significantly higher, but these are impressive numbers even if it goes not that much further.

On a smaller level, but these days also significant, is "The Great Beauty" (Janus), expected to be a Foreign Language nominee, which is nearing $1.1 million with another $72,000 this weekend in 38 theaters. It is well positioned to continue to play if the nomination comes along.

Several other contenders are waiting til next week or later to take advantage of awards with wider runs. "12 Years a Slave" (Fox Searchlight), though down to 114 screens (-37) still added $267,000 (total $38.9 million), while "Dallas Buyers Club" did $242,000 in 125 (-3), now at $16.7 million. Both will add much more ahead.

Among other once hoped-for Oscar contenders above $50,000 this weekend were "The Book Thief" (20th Century Fox) with $400,000 in 303 (-26), total $19,750,000, "Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom" (Weinstein), $265,000 in 363 (-647/$7,750,000) and "The Past" (Sony Pictures Classics), $86,600 in 17 (+12), PSA $5,094/$257,000 so far.

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