By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood April 20, 2014 at 8:57PM
In the specialty world, strong grosses follow critical reaction most of the time. When distributors fear reviews, they often avoid narrow two-city, high-profile openings, going broader or even heading straight for video on demand. Millennium Films, despite mixed reactions to the "Fading Gigolo" premiere at Toronto, committed to a high-end New York/Los Angeles debut for the John Turturro film starring (but not directed by) Woody Allen, along with a wide advance screening program and significant marketing expenditures. The surprise result is the second-best limited opener of the year, with grosses comparable to some much higher profile first weekends in similar theaters. Its success is welcome, as several other decent openers don't boast the wider reaction that could propel them into crossover or lengthy limited release success.
"Fading Gigolo" (Millennium) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Rio 2013, Miami 2014
$198,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $39,600
Giving the first signal of the public's reaction to Woody Allen after the recent allegations about his past behavior, this comedy, directed by and co-starring John Turturro, opened to the second best grosses of any limited film this year. Starring Allen as a late-in-life male escort based in a Brooklyn Orthodox community, this opened in five New York/Los Angeles theaters (one more than typical) and ended up with an initial per screen average that is better than the far higher-profile "Nebraska" or "August: Osage County" late last year.
Millennium has been strongly pushing the film's marketing for several weeks, gauging its root appeal (including Allen) despite mixed critical response. Normally a production company that frequently sells its films to other distributors ("Legend of Hercules," "Olympus Has Fallen"), and also acquires films (this one out of Toronto) for multi-venue release (most value non-theatrical), Millennium has also shown an aptitude for taking on viable releases that escaped the usual suspects. Their biggest success (by far) so far has been Richard Linklater's "Bernie," which they propelled to a decent $9.2 million total (over a million better than the director's more prominent "Before Midnight" last year). "Bernie" opened considerably lower (PSA of about $28,000 in only 3 theaters).
The dearth of recent specialized audience comedies, the success last year of Allen's own "Blue Jasmine" and also the relative weakness of the post-Oscar new releases (other than "The Grand Budapest Hotel") provided the opening for a new hit. Millennium skillfully has taken advantage of that so far.
What comes next: "Bernie" at its widest only reached 328 theaters, and "Gigolo" might not have major crossover appeal. But it stands a strong chance to be a solid specialized performer with particularly older audiences in upcoming weeks.
The week's other debuts include five other films that premiered at the most recent Toronto, Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals, some of which also are showing on video on demand. Among these, only "13 Sinners" (Radius/Weinstein) reported numbers. This "Saw"-influenced horror film's theatrical side took in only $9,300 at in 45 theaters, for a PSA of only $207. Hong Kong action director Dante Lam's "That Demon Within" (China Lion) did an OK $65,000 in 16 theaters mainly in areas with Chinese-American populations. A much older Asian genre film -- the original 1954 "Godzilla," restored to its original Japanese release version-- opened up at New York's Film Forum to a decent $12,500 (from Rialto, the leading repertory theatrical distributor these days). The dance competition-centered "Make Your Move" (Hightop), which was theatrical only, managed only $81,000 in 142 theaters.