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Arthouse Audit: 'The Way, Way Back' Starts Strong, 'Twenty Feet from Stardom' Expands Well

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood July 7, 2013 at 4:29PM

Fourth of July holiday weekends aren't great for opening specialized films. But this year Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" saw the best numbers for a new release in recent memory. And business spread among several new breakouts. Leading the way was RADiUS/TWC's crowd-pleasing documentary "20 Feet from Stardom," which continues to show wide appeal for a variety of audiences. Its early $1 million total is just the beginning of a lengthy run.
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Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb in 'The Way, Way Back'
Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb in 'The Way, Way Back'

Fourth of July holiday weekends aren't great for opening specialized films. But this year Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" saw the best numbers for a new release in recent memory. And business spread among several new breakouts. Leading the way was RADiUS/TWC's crowd-pleasing documentary "Twenty Feet from Stardom," which continues to show wide appeal for a variety of audiences. Its early $1 million total is just the beginning of a lengthy run.

What this year lacks is the strength of ongoing hits at the level as last year's "To Rome With Love," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." On a smaller scale, several films though are finding uneven footing in specialized theaters, led by "Before Midnight."

Opening

"The Way, Way Back" (Fox Searchlight) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Newport Beach 2013, Los Angeles 2013

$575,000 in 19 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $30,263

Fox Searchlight enjoyed its best opening in more than a year, which broke wider than just New York/Los Angeles, so it's slightly ahead of last year's late spring/summer success "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." "The Way, Way Back," the directorial debut for "The Descendants"' Oscar-winning writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, debuted at Sundance, where it did not earn raves. With an ensemble of well-liked familiar faces including Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Colette, Allison Janney and Rob Corddrey, and opening at a combination of specialty houses and big-city multiplexes, Searchlight's considerable advance screening program and other marketing elements paid off to a solid opening that suggests possible cross-over appeal and a potential mid-summer specialized success. As an example of its above average level,  the PSA is nearly double that of "Hitchcock" (in two fewer theaters), which went on to a disappointing $6 million domestic gross. 

The reaction is a surprise. The similar "The Kings of Summer" (CBS Films), which also opened to similar reviews at Sundance and focused on adolescent vacation activities, opened to only $58,000 in four theaters (six weeks on it is only at $1.1 million). This is a tricky kind of film to present, even more so in the heart of the summer, but Searchlight seems to have created both awareness and positive interest. The increase in grosses from Friday to Saturday (not guaranteed with the earlier day a semi-holiday and the younger appeal for the film) is a particularly positive development.

What comes next: 13 more markets/75 theaters will be added next Friday, with a projected 650-750 theater wider break planned for July 26.

"Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" (Magnolia) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic score: 68; Festivals include: DocsNYC 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$21,000 in 2 theaters (including Weds-Thurs New York); PSA: $10,500

Like last year's "Searching for Sugar Man," this documentary focuses on a 1970s musical act rediscovered and gaining cult status. The Memphis-based group Big Star gained cult following and released three albums, but faced less success than their music seemed to warrant, which combined with a tragic death led to their early demise. The New York/Los Angeles two-theater release, which comes after multiple-week video on demand showings, shows a continued core interest decades later in the group's music. This is one of the best initial showings for a film available for home viewing at the same time.

What comes next: This opens in Memphis this week, and is scheduled for at least limited engagements in 30 markets total at this point, a significant number for a VOD release.

"Stuck in Love" (Millennium) - Criticwire: C+; Metacritic score: 49; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Newport Beach 2013, Seattle 2013

$38,100 in 21 theaters; PSA: $1,814

Millennium has gained some traction recently with "The Iceman" and "What Maisie Knew." Like those two, this played at last year's Toronto (in the Special Presentation title, then titled "Writers.") With a cast that inclues Jennifer Connolly, Greg Kinnear and Kristin Bell in a story about a writer in mid-life crisis, Millennium opened this in New York (at Landmark's Sunshine) as well as multiple runs in two atypical initial locations (Kansas City and Orlando). The result was a mediocre gross which suggests that it is unlikely to reach the $1-2 million totals of the other two films.

What comes next: This doesn't look likely to generate much interest ahead.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, The Way, Way Back, 20 Feet From Stardom


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.