By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 12, 2012 at 10:50PM
Oscar contenders are performing at a record low this close to the awards telecast (after ticket prices are adjusted), both in terms of total grosses and as a percentage of all weekend business. This can't be encouraging news for the Academy or ABC, although uncertainty about a few remaining categories could counter the flagging interest.
The grosses for all the nominated films in release only totaled $12 million, the lowest since 2006, when “Brokeback Mountain” led a group of films that benefited little from nominations.
More significantly, in a weekend with seasonal record grosses, these films managed to attract less than 7% of the total business, which is the lowest share at least since the Academy moved the awards up by a month. At the same time, the three biggest Best Picture nominees in release all saw their per-screen averages (PSAs) increase this week.
Four new releases featuring either nominees that previously completed one-week qualifying runs or films that had hoped to contend, opened this week in platform runs.
“Rampart” (Millennium Entertainment) – Metacritic score: 69
$65,100 in 5 theaters; PSA: $13,020
After a December qualifying week aimed at getting Woody Harrelson a Best Actor nomination, “Rampart” opened at five major NY/LA theaters to average business. The PSA is about $2,000 better than “The Messenger,” also from director Oren Moverman and starring Harrelson (who both got nominations). That ended up with only a bit over $1 million in gross for Oscilloscope Pictures.
What it means: With many specialized theaters clearing screening slots as the Oscar season draws to a close, this will likely have a wider release than “The Messenger” (which at its widest only got to 50 screens in a week) and achieve a higher gross.
“In Darkness' (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic score: 69
$27,600 in 3 theaters; PSA: $9,200
Not too impressive a gross for the pedigree of its NY/LA theaters or with the additional boost of not only being a Best Foreign Language nominee, but also a possible winner. The PSA is slightly above what last year’s winner “In a Better World” did when it opened after the awards, which does give it hope to outgross that film as it expands. “A Separation” had a PSA of double this a few weeks ago.
What it means: Though even with a win this might not outpace the stronger grossing “A Separation,” the subject matter and Sony Classics access to theaters should sustain a credible late winter/spring rollout for this film.
"Chico and Rita” (GKids) – Metacritic score: 77
$21,700 in 1 theater; PSA: $21,700
Impressive debut at NY’s IFC Center for this Best Animated Feature nominee from Spain (it had a previous sub rosa LA qualifying run last year with no reviews).
What it means: Although time is short before the Oscars, this gross should get the film further play dates across the country. GKids also is the distributor of a second nominee, “A Cat in Paris,” still to open.
“The Turin Horse” (Cinema Guild) – Metacritic score: 79
$10,391 in 1 theater; PSA: $10,391
The last film from acclaimed Hungarian director Bela Tarr, his country’s Foreign Language submission did nearly as well at NY’s new Elinor Bunin Munroe Center as the equally praised “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," also from Cinema Guild, did a few weeks ago at the Film Forum.
What it means: Already scheduled to be Tarr’s widest theatrical release in the U.S, this gross will justify a wider, if limited, playoff.
“The Artist” (The Weinstein Company) – Week 12
$2,286,000 in 808 theaters (-197); PSA: $2,829; Cumulative: $24,048,000
In what is a positive sign for this Oscar favorite, the gross only fell about 12% this weekend, despite a decrease of 20% in play dates, with the result that the PSA increased over $200.
What it means: Some sustained interest and good enough word of mouth to overcome clear resistance (compared to other Oscar frontrunners in past years) makes TWC’s reluctance to push this into a wider release look smart – plenty of time for that when the expected wins come. (“The Last Emperor” was the last Best Picture winner that didn’t expand to a wide level until the awards.)
“The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 13
$3,500,000 in 1,581 theaters (-457); PSA: $2,214; Cumulative: $70,729,000
With a PSA also rising $200 while losing more than a fifth of the theaters, this continues to achieve a very profitable run, outpacing all the other nominees currently playing.
What it means: Sustaining a film these days into its fourth month when it has played most major markets for most of that time is unusual these days. Whether this is near the end of its run or can sustain enough momentum to approach $100 million will depend on whether George Clooney wins Best Actor.
“Hugo” (Paramount) – Week 12
$1,800,000 in 702 theaters (-328); PSA: $2,564; Cumulative: $64,477,000
It has taken a licking, but keeps on ticking. The best PSA increase of the three Best Picture nominees still playing at a decent number of theaters, this looks on course to gross $12 million or more post-nominations – an additional gross the film would not have had without them.
What it means: Should this be an upset Best Picture winner, Paramount’s ability to maintain a decent performance during the voting period will be one of the factors.
“W.E.” (Weinstein) – Week 2
$57,700 in 17 theaters (+13); PSA: $3,394; Cumulative: $121,800
Expanding more quickly than normal in its second week, these grosses reinforce the initial impression from last week that there is limited appeal for Madonna’s directorial debut.
What it means: Not every British monarchy film succeeds, despite an impressive track record over the years led by “The King’s Speech” and “The Queen” or even “Young Victoria.”
“A Separation” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7
$288,000 in 45 theaters (+5); PSA: $6,400; Cumulative: $1,645,000
The word of mouth for this looks strong, as the PSA fell only slightly with a handful of new theaters. Already as widely seen as any Iranian release in theaters, this looks like it will be one of the top foreign language films of the year.
What it means: If anything, box office success has been a negative indicator for the Foreign Language Oscar historically. But that it is playing well with audiences not unlike those who vote in this category is as positive a sign for its chances as its many other wins so far.
“The Iron Lady” (The Weinstein Company) – Week 7
$1,129,000 in 512 theaters (-509); PSA: $2,205; Cumulative: $22,700,000
Losing about half its theaters, this has done the bulk of its business by this point.
What it means: Though far more widely seen than competitors Williams or Close, this will come nowhere close to the exposure that Viola Davis and Rooney Mara have had for their nominated roles.
“Albert Nobbs” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 3
$280,000 in 151 theaters (-94); PSA $1,854; Cumulative: $2,039,000
Losing a big chunk of theaters in its third week, with a small PSA falloff, this seems to have done the bulk of its gross already.
What it means: Utilizing both a faster and wider release strategy than Roadside did on “Biutiful,” also with a lead acting nominee, this looks like it will end up grossing somewhat less.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Warner Brothers) – Week 8
$1,505,000 in 1,375 theaters (-1,130); PSA: $1,095; Cumulative - $29,439,000
This release fell victim to the large number of new openers this weekend, as many theaters finalized it after three weeks of play, despite its Oscar presence.
What it means: Though both its wide opening and sustained second-week performance after the nominations indicated some possible good word of mouth, at this point it seems that this film never achieved the audience appreciation needed to overcome the resistance to 9/11-themed films.
"War Horse" (Touchstone Pictures) - Week 8
$411,000 in 502 theaters (-661); PSA: $819; Cumulative: $78,159,000
These are end-of-run grosses for a film that will be gone from most screens by the Oscars.
What it means: Despite getting six nominations, this will end up adding only about $6 million to its total gross. The international openings benefited far more and will likely push the film into a position where it will ultimately be profitable.
“Pina” (IFC/Sundance Selects) – Week 8
$257,950 in 67 theaters (+28); PSA: $3,850; Cumulative: $1,706,000
This saw another significant increase in locations, with the PSA only down a bit more than 25%.
What it means: Further evidence of interest in this film in a broader market beyond the largest cities, as this Best Documentary Feature contender continues to grow.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Focus Features) - Week 10
$553,000 in 232 theaters (-70); PSA: $2,384; Cumulative: $22,000,766
Although steadily losing theaters, it’s sustaining a PSA that means it will retain some presence for a couple more weeks.
What it means: There has been a steady audience for this film, but it needed a stronger Oscar profile in order to reach the next level.
“My Week With Marilyn” (The Weinstein Company) – Week 12
$206,000 in 125 theaters (-46); PSA: $1,648; Cumulative: $13,342,000
Down to a low level as it ends three months of play, at least the PSA increased this weekend.
What it means: It would take an upset Michelle Williams win to add much more to this gross.
"We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Oscilloscope Pictures) - Week 4
$80,000 in 16 theaters (+3); PSA: $5,000; Cumulative: $492,854
Even with a slight increase in theaters, the PSA held steady, a sign that this tough film is finding a receptive, if limited, audience.
What it means: Despite no Tilda Swinton nomination, this looks likely to continue to add cities over the coming weeks.