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Weekend Box Office: What the Indie Numbers Really Mean UPDATED

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
April 10, 2012 1:52 PM
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"Damsels in Distress"
"Damsels in Distress"

The weekend marks the return of two veteran directors who were established in specialized theaters in the 1990s – Whit Stillman and Nanni Moretti. Films from both directors (who have always featured pointed observations about their surroundings) opened to respectable if not spectacular grosses this holiday weekend.

With “The Raid: Redemption” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” leading the way, a number of expanding releases found varying success as theaters await the much wider release of the attention-getting “Bully” next weekend.

Opening:

“Damsels in Distress” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include: Venice 11, Toronto 11, London 11, Rotterdam 12
$58,589 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,647

Benefiting from some of the best press coverage for an indie release this year, these grosses in four great NY/LA theaters put "Damsels in Distress" at the higher end of 2012 platform releases. The consistently favorable and thoughtful reviews emphasized the film’s quirky and risky tone, preparing audiences for something completely different from the standard young-adult character film. Stillman’s first films two decades ago opened (with much lower ticket prices) to higher grosses, but that was during an era far more receptive to idiosyncratic observations with far less competition in any given week.

What it means: These grosses seem solid; combined with SPC’s usual guaranteed access to top theaters around the country, they will give the film momentum and a chance to be a real success (particularly with its reported $3 million production cost). WOM (word of mouth) is going to be decisive here even more than usual – this is not an ordinary comedy, but somewhat provocative (even irritating to some) while still entertaining. In other words, not an easy film to describe in the one-phrase manner so much of film marketing depends on, which means that at this point its future is more in the hands of those who have seen it and recommend it.

“We Have a Pope” (IFC-Sundance Selects) – Metacritic score: 61; Festivals include: Cannes 11, Toronto 11, Pusan 11, Sao Paolo 11
$31,500 in 3 theaters; PSA: $10,500

Timed to open at Easter almost a year after its Cannes competition showing and aided in NY by a strong Times review at odds with the less favorable tone of most others, this had an OK gross. With a PSA a bit below two other recent fellow festival subtitled releases (“Footnote” and “The Kid With a Bike”) but a bit ahead of “In Darkness,” it represents another in a recent string of IFC releases (led by “Pina”) going back to more conventional initial theatrical playoff before heading to VOD (video on demand).

What it means: This moves quickly into 10 more cities next weekend as another entry in what has been a surprising renaissance of quality subtitled theatrical releases so far this year.

UPDATE: “The Hunter” (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 64; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Pusan 11, Rio 11, Rotterdam 12; also available on VOD
$19,032 in 4 theaters; PSA: $4,758

This Tasmanian-set cerebral part-action opened in NY, San Francisco, Washington and Austin (but not LA yet) parallel to its cable option. Based on a novel by Julia Leigh (whose directorial debut “Sleeping Beauty” played in competition at Cannes last year), As with “We Have a Pope,” the NYT gave it an excellent review, better than the overall consensus. This comes to other cities, led by several of sister-company Landmark Theaters, in upcoming weeks.

What it means: The box office is not great, but the point was visibility.

“Surviving Progress” (First Run) – Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Toronto 11
$4,161 in 2 theaters; PSA: $2,081

This Canadian doc feature presenting a bleak look at our future didn’t fare well with mixed reviews in its NY openings. Further dates are upcoming in several other cities, including LA to complete its Oscar qualification.

What it means: Even with strong reviews, this seemed like a tough sell. Without them, harder.

“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” (Wrekin Hill) – Metacritic score: 67; Festivals include: Toronto 11; also available on VOD
$8,203 in 3 theaters; PSA: $2,734

For the second week in a row, a new documentary by a previously successful director opened with limited fanfare (in this case, not even a NY opening, tied in to personal appearances over the weekend on the West Coast). Morgan Spurlock (“Supersize Me”) like Amir Bar-Lev (whose “Re:generation Music Project” opened to little business) has had a knack for picking marketing-friendly subjects and then finding both critical and popular success. This time around, though, Spurlock’s latest film has made minimal impact so far.

What it means: Three northeastern cities get the same appearance tie-in, but at the main life for this likely will be on cable (including VOD already in place).

“Keyhole” (Monterey Media) – Metacritic score: 64; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Atlanta 11, Berlin 12, South by Southwest 12
$3,294 in  1 theater; PSA: $3,294

Guy Maddin is one of the most consistently inventive and creative minds in the contemporary indie film world, and this latest film (his first shot in digital), boasts his unique take on a genre (in this case, a gangster film costarring Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini). It got respectful if not unreserved praise from several key NY critics (it opened only there, at the IFC Center) but little interest from the public.

What it means: Maddin’s films tend to get cable reasonable cable play. Much more mainstream theatrical play though doesn’t seem likely.

Expansions/continuing:

“Bully” (Weinstein) – Week 2
$73,754 in 6 theaters (+1); PSA: $12,292; Cumulative: $234.164

Once again, the big news here came not from the grosses but the rating change (from unrated to PG-13), the impact of which will be seen in coming weeks as the film expands to both more theaters and a wider audience. In the meantime, a 46% PSA drop (Toronto added this week) is a warning sign, although the film was coming from a high point, which makes this weekend’s grosses still decent.

What it means: A significant expansion this weekend with the new rating will be the real test of this film’s appeal.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (Magnolia) – Week 5
$230,504 in 70 theaters (+26); PSA: $3,201,000; Cumulative - $992,421

Expanding more this week with less than a 25% PSA decrease, this surprise documentary hit shows no signs of slowing down.

What it means: That both this and “Bully” premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival should make buyers this year take a close look at that section, which looks like it is becoming a serious alternative venue to Sundance for these films.

“The Raid: Redemption” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3
$526,292 in 176 theaters (+130); PSA: $2,990; Cumulative $1,249,902

A major increase in theaters almost landed the film in the top 10, even though it is still at an early stage of release. The PSA took a dip with this expansion, but it is still solid enough to justify the quick growth and suggest that this has much more gross to add.

What it means: Nicely positioned to take advantage of the pre-May (and thus summer blockbuster) demand on mainstream theaters, SPC should be able to go a lot further with this subtitled action film.

“Turn Me On, Dammit!” (New Yorker) – Week 2
$5,590 in 2 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,995; Cumulative: $20,781

WOM didn’t seem to keep this already lesser grossing film at a level that will sustain its NY theaters or make it a top prospect for the rest of the country.

What it means: Not every subtitled film is finding an audience, even though several have recently broken through.

“The Island President” (Goldwyn) – Week 2
$13,159 in 5 theaters (+3); PSA: $2,632; Cumulative: $36,540

Adding LA and San Francisco this week, the PSA plunged from its NY opening last week.

What it means: This looks unlikely to break out substantially wider at this point.

“The Kid With a Bike” (IFC-Sundance Selects) – week 4
143,000 in 57 theaters (+20); PSA: $2,509; Cumulative: $543,000

Expanding quickly, with a normal 30% PSA falloff, this acclaimed Belgian film is another in a series of foreign language films that are filling the post-Oscar void at core art houses around the country.

What it means: Though this is not a break-out success like “A Separation” and “Pina” (the latter approaching $3.5 million near the end of its run), the modest success “Kid” has had will enhance its later prospects on VOD and elsewhere, as well as its chances for end-of-the-year critics’ awards.

“The Deep Blue Sea” (Music Box) – Week 3
$98,416 in 51 theaters (+2); PSA: $1,930; Cumulative: $495,506

Despite some of the best reviews of the year, this acclaimed British drama is not responding at an appropriate level, with a PSA that fell over 40% despite only adding 2 theaters.

What it means: Music Box is getting this out to the top theaters in major cities in quick fashion, but clearly the film isn;t playing as well to audiences as critics. 

“Footnote” (Sony Pictures Classics); Week 6
$136,895 in 65 theaters (+5); PSA: $2,106; Cumulative: $817,736

This had more than a 50% fall in PSA for the weekend, which is not encouraging for its future prospects. Though playing at a level where it still has room to grow, it does not seem to be getting the WOM that might have been expected.

What it means: Based on its NY/LA opening, projections that this might be the top-grossing Israeli film in the US now seem over-optimistic.

“Salmon Fishing in Yemen” (CBS Films) – Week 5
$992,428 in 524 theaters (+41); PSA: $1,860; Cumulative: $4,656,430

Staying in the top 10 despite still being fairly limited, the PSA for this fell again and is not particularly impressive, but CBS is sustaining a decent level of interest while not overspending on marketing (the easiest way to bleed potential profit).

What it means: At this point, a much wider expansion seems unlikely as current theaters end their runs, but expect this to stick around as they are replaced by new ones and greater depth in the market still ahead.

“Boy” (Paladin) – week 6
$21,000 in 12 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,756; Cumulative: $144,000

Still modest at best, but at least getting nationwide exposure..

What it means: This small New Zealand indie has already grossed $43 million in multiple international markets, but the appeal seems more limited in the U.S.

“Undefeated” (The Weinstein Company) – Week 8
$23,369 in 15 theaters (-1); PSA: $1,558; Cumulative: $460,195

Probably the slowest roll-out ever for a Weinstein (or earlier Miramax) Oscar-winning film, this just has never found an audience.

What it means: “Bully” opened better and will be the one with the big national push.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Oscilloscope) - Week 13
$66,907 in 65 theaters (-2); PSA: $1,029,000; Cumulative: $1,563,249

The gross increased 15% despite losing two theaters, a sign that Oscilloscope is still finding new runs this late in the release as they quietly head to $2 million.

What it means: The film, though a tough-sell, keeps staying alive at a modest but consistent level.

“Friends With Kids” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 5
$233,000 in 206 theaters (-102); PSA: $1,131; Cumulative: $6,736,000

Near the end of its run, still ahead of its fellow Toronto premiere “Salmon Fishing,” but unlike that film, close to its final figure.

What it means: Likely to end up just over $7 million.

“A Separation” (Sony Pictures Classics) – week 15
$129,642 in 141 theaters (-58); PSA: $919; Cumulative: $6,685,376

Playing out at the last stages of its four-month run, this still keeps adding on to its impressive total.

What it means: SPC only grossed a bit over $1 million with last year’s Foreign Language Oscar winner “In a Better World,” so by any standard this is a major success.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” (Paramount) – week 4
$418,250 in 447 theaters (-46); PSA: $936; Cumulative: $3,400,120

As last week’s grosses indicated with its weak PSA, the theater count already is declining despite Paramount’s attempts to make it a wider national release.

What it means: This despite their best efforts will fall short of $5 million.

“The Artist” (Weinstein) – week 20
$182,410 in 222 theaters (-93); PSA: $822; Cumulative: $43,848,900

Just about done, six weeks after the awards.

What it means: The $13 million+ added after the Oscars constitutes one of the larger post-win bonuses in terms of per cent of the total gross (30%), but in terms of total dollars, modest for films not yet on home video at this point.

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