"Under the Skin"
A24 "Under the Skin"

Jonathan Glazer's well-reviewed Scarlett Johansson-starrer "Under the Skin" (A24) scored the best limited opening so far this year after the phenomenal "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Clocking less than 20% the latter film's start, "Under the Skin" still marked an impressive opening for a challenging and highly-stylized thriller. Meantime, Fox Searchlight's "Dom Hemingway" starring Jude Law got off to a weak ($8,000 per screen average) start in a similar four-theater opening.

"Under the Skin"'s initial appeal is encouraging. It was going up against a competitive Video on Demand total including a first-ever parallel release from CBS Films, as well as new films from arthouse vets Errol Morris and Lars von Trier, as well as a new Steve Coogan comedy. The weekend release slate also included a broad array of multi-city fringe releases including the four-year old "Frankie and Alice," "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar," a new IMAX short from Warner Bros., and "Jinn," a Detroit-set supernatural force film.

Adding to the intrigue this weekend, The Weinstein Company, normally the most aggressive at attention mongering, released two French films -- "On the Other Side of the Tracks" and "The Players," respectively -- starring the stars of TWC's two most recent hits,  with zero publicity and an unusual release pattern. In other words, it's getting strange out there as the specialized world copes with changing marketplace realities.


"Under the Skin" (A24) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013

$140,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $35,000

A24 came on the scene last year, well-financed (by the Guggenheim Group, owners of the Hollywood Reporter) with an emphasis on younger niche releases. They've scored some success so far with the smart young demo -- "Spring Breakers," "The Spectacular Now" and "The Bling Ring" among them. Their latest, "Under the Skin," acquired at last year's Toronto Film Festival, received elevated multi-media attention, enhanced by the Scarlett Johansson nearly unrecognizable as the same actress co-starring in her second hit movie this weekend, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." She gives a risky performance as a seductress alien taking the form of a sexy woman cruising the Scottish Highlands. The result is the second best limited opening gross for the not-so-great year so far. This stands as a decent start, more so with the risk-taking nature of the film and its appeal primarily to audiences that aren't typical opening weekend specialized fans.

Director Jonathan Glazer has two previous films that achieved at least long-time cult following. British gangster comedy "Sexy Beast" (Fox Searchlight) from 2001 grossed just under $7 million, "Birth," with Nicole Kidman, was given a somewhat wider release by New Line in 2004, but only got to $5 million). "Under the Skin" might be his trickiest film yet, and A24 faced a degree of marketing issues. It opened in four strong New York/Los Angeles theaters (though it entirely avoided top art-houses or older-audience appealing theaters, including the almost-always included Lincoln Square in NY Landmark in LA), emphasizing the hoped-for crossover appeal for the film.

Grosses jumped nicely from the just-under $50,000 first day take, indicating early on that favorable word of mouth is developing. With more limited seating in a tighter weekend than many top openers get, the gross also likely was somewhat reduced by sold out shows.

What comes next: This film needs sharp marketing, and so far it seems to have found it. Its longer-term success has yet to be determined, but with expansion starting next week, this has opened well enough to increase wider exhibitor interest.