The fun part of the year for analyzing early box office returns has arrived. However, it is also the trickiest. As the post-Thanksgiving weekend is one of worst of the year for moviegoing, all grosses start off at a disadvantage. Most years, at least one major contender will open in NY & LA (and perhaps several other cities) to maximize attention from reviews as there is little competition and position itself for later openings in other markets. This year, that film is “Shame.”
“Shame” (Fox Searchlight)
$361,000 in 10 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $36,000
A solid if not spectacular opening, with the PSA reduced a bit by opening broader than just NY/LA (the normal platform pattern). The best news for the film is that the Saturday gross went up nicely from opening day suggesting initially that word-of-mouth (WOM) is positive, and it wasn’t just a first-day-need to see this sensation seeker’s event.
Some comparisons for first weekend in December openings: last year, “Black Swan” opened in 18 theaters with a PSA of $80,000, which was spectacular both in raw numbers but also for the breadth of its initial runs. “Shame” has a PSA of just 45% of that and is eight fewer theaters. However, it was never projected to have the potential of “Black Swan.” “I Love You Philip Morris” opened last year in six theaters with an $18,000 PSA, and then went nowhere. Two years ago, “Up in the Air” opened in 15 theaters with a $79,000 PSA; that is more than twice the PSA of “Shame” even in five more theaters but that film had far wider appeal.
Last year, “Blue Valentine” opened on the Wednesday following Christmas in four NY/LA theaters and had a first weekend PSA of $48,000. Adjusting the PSA for playtime (post-Xmas is much better) and fewer theaters, this is comparable to “Shame.” “Blue Valentine” — aided by its R rating and Weinstein’s major ad expenditure (compared to anticipated gross) — ended up grossing just under $10 million. Even with the burden of a NC-17 rating and without the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams combo, “Shame” could get there as well and could go higher if Michael Fassbender wins Best Actor.
“Shame” went a bit wider than usual. Since it isn’t typical holiday fare, perhaps the studio thought it better to get publicity/reviews to a wider audience early. And, as it is rated NC-17, they may have hoped to convince some wary exhibitors that it can play well beyond NY/LA.
Bottom Line: That “Shame” is more than just a niche picture with broader appeal is a major positive for Fassbender and company as SAG and GG nominating is underway.
“Coriolanus” (The Weinstein Co.)
This one week qualifying run in one theater in each of NY and LA is not reporting grosses as per industry custom. The regular limited engagement begins Jan. 20.
$7.6 million on 1840 screens (+563): PSA of $4,100 (including 3D surcharge)
My cautious optimism last week about the potential of this film was rewarded by decent, if not spectacular, results this weekend. It jumps to third from fifth place. Among general releases, its leading PSA is about the same as “Twilight.” The cumulative gross is just over $25 million.
With most films that open wide, the first weekend gross can be multiplied by a base number to estimate the final gross. If that were the case for “Hugo,” the film would be deemed a disaster. However, as Paramount knew they a great film without a built-in audience, the game plan was to: open well before Christmas; get strong reviews and awards attention; let the film expand slowly reaching its maximum potential during the upcoming lucrative holiday weeks and then beyond as more awards and WOM propelled it forward.
So how are they doing so far? It is doing well enough to justify expansion and, more importantly, hold on to those 3D screens during the very competitive Christmas period. WOM seems to be decent, at least among adults.
Bottom Line: My guess is that it will continue (after the doldrums of the next couple weeks) to grow and have a chance not only of breaking even, but doing enough business to buttress what I think will be its significant Oscar chances. “Hugo” should end up grossing at least at $100 million domestically and possibly a good deal beyond (and likely doing much more in the rest of the world).
“The Artist” (The Weinstein Co.)
$206,000 in six theaters (+2); PSA: $34,000; Cumulative: $496,000
Last year, “The King’s Speech” also added two theaters and grossed $325,000 for a PSA of $54,000. It’s total gross fell 9% while “The Artist” held about even. However, “The Artist” had a big advantage by winning Best Picture and Director with the NYFCC on Tuesday, which should have provided a real boost. “The Artist” only opened at 60% as well as The King’s Speech, meaning this has room for growth.
Bottom Line: The more limited appeal of “The Artist” needs to be taken into account as well. That it is finding an audience, and (at this point) Weinstein smartly is nurturing this for slow rather than rapid expansion is paying off. This will never gross what “The King’s Speech” or “Black Swan” did last year, but it is surely going to do well enough to position it positively for the Oscar race.
“The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight)
$5.2 million on 574 screens (+184); PSA: $9,000; Cumulative: $18 million
Fox Searchlight’s decision to expand more quickly paid off, with this getting solid WOM and positioning itself terrifically for holding on to and adding theatres during Xmas and beyond. This should easily outgross both “Sideways” and “Up in the Air” and have that added boost going into the Oscars.
Bottom Line: Based on these initial figures, this film’s potential might come close to that of “The King’s Speech” Despite some disappointment about its awards so far and some mixed reaction among bloggers, the overall mostly older audience that is more reflective of the Academy membership like “The Descendants.”
“My Week with Marilyn” (The Weinstein Co. )
$1.2 million on 244 screens (unchanged); PSA: $4,800; Cumulative: $3.9 million
That the gross fell only 33% with no added theatres after a holiday weekend is impressive, even if the overall PSA for the still narrow run is just so-so. Again, this has Xmas ahead for gross growth.
Bottom Line: There was concern last week that this might not justify holdovers through the holidays. This weekend’s performance has lessened that risk with Michelle Williams’ awards chances thus enhanced.
“A Dangerous Method” (Sony Classics)
$123,000 in 4 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $31,000; Cumulative: $416,000
To be down only 27% after a holiday weekend is excellent. This film is not getting nearly the attention of those above.
Bottom Line: It is showing real life with solid prospects ahead. The combination of David Cronenberg, the cast and the subject matter have real appeal with awards voters.
“J. Edgar” (Warner Brothers)
$2.4 million on 1985 screens (+ 75); PSA: $1,209; Cumulative $32.6 million
This actually is a bit better for the weekend than I projected, and at this point my recent low-end prediction ($35 million total) will easily be surpassed. This will hold on to most of its theatres for another week and keep going on in a more limited away assuming that Leonardo DiCaprio benefits from upcoming nominations which are no longer a certainty).
Bottom Line: A disappointment, but if foreign comes through as it usually does for Eastwood and DiCaprio, this could still break even despite the odds.
“The Way” (PDA)
$176,000 on 160 screens (+59); PSA: $1,100; Cumulative $3.6 million
This has been overlooked so far, and it shouldn’t be. This Sheen family production — directed by Emilio Estevez (post “Bobby”) and starring his dad Martin Sheen — which premiered at TIFF in 2010 has grossed more than higher-profile films “Martha Marcy May Marlene” ($2.7 million), “The Skin I Live In” ($2.6 million) and “Take Shelter” ($1.5 million).
Bottom Line: It’s impressive what a small operation can achieve without nearly the expense of what those other films have incurred.