Box office report: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ opens well; ‘The Descendants’ expanding rapidly

It’s business as usual for an early Christmas weekend with weak wide release grosses, significant platform openings, and critical expansions for major awards contenders. Among the significant number of films to discuss, two stand out: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” among openers and “The Descendents” among those expanding. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Focus)
$301,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $75,000
A clear winner between the two stand-out new films this weekend, and a bit surprising as industry and blog interest had been somewhat higher for “Young Adult.” But in a slow weekend, it achieved the third highest PSA for any narrow platform released this year behind“Midnight in Paris” and “The Tree of Life” (which was released on a holiday weekend. Among similarly limited release openings, “Tinker” performed ahead of “The Artist,” “Shame,” “A Dangerous Method” (“The Descendent” opened somewhat wider) even without the expectations and chatter.

Box office was boosted by some of the strongest reviews of the year on a par with those for “The Artist.” The film is playing at four key NY/LA theaters (including the prestigious Cinerama Dome screen at the LA Arclight where few specialized films are shown). It is showing early strong appeal to a reported mixture of ages including educated, older audiences familiar with John Le Carre’s acclaimed spy novels that date back decades to “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” and “The Little Drummer Girl.” Focus Features also had the film version of his “The Constant Gardener” which was released on Labor Day weekend 2005 in 1346 theatres, for a three-day gross of $8.7 million before reaching $34 million domestically and included an Oscar-winning performance by Rachel Weisz.

A year ago, “The Fighter” opened in four similar theaters, and also had a PSA of $75,000. That film went on to significant success ($94 million). “Tinker” likely skews too old to match that, but Focus now has shown it has the goods to justify, after a limited roll-out the next few weeks, a significant wider release. And, if it continues to generate interest from younger audiences, it has a strong chance of outperforming “The Constant Gardener.”

Bottom line: Focus is off to a great start. How the film will perform from here out will depend in part on its being noticed by awards groups — film, actor, supporting, writing areall in the mix. In the meantime, 

Young Adult” (Paramount)
$320,000 in 8 theatres; PSA: $40,000
Opening in early December in limited theatres just as Jason Reitman’s previous two films had, this showed some initial strength. However, comparisons not only to “Tinker” but also to those earlier Reitman films — “Juno” and “Up in the Air” — reveal it to be underperforming.

“Young Adult” did just under two-thirds as much business in NY/LA as “Tinker” (three of the four theaters were the same, the other ones close by each other). The film also played in one theater each in Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis (the last because of its local setting) which brought down the PSA. “Juno” opened on seven screens initially with a PSA of $59,000, while “Up in the Air,” with almost twice as many screens, had an impressive PSA of $78,000. 

Bottom line: “Young Adult” did not earn as good reviews as “Tinker” and was competing with a wide rom-com release (“New Year’s Day”). It certainly will have a solid chance to show further strength in the weeks ahead.

We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Oscilloscope); “In Darkness” (Sony Pictures Classics); “W.E.” (The Weinstein Company)
This season has a near-record number of one-week qualifying runs of films, which will then not reappear until early next year, in order to qualify for awards. The industry tradition is to leave these grosses unreported, despite being (usually) in major theaters, with substantial advertising and having reviews.

Among these three films, only “Kevin” seems to have anything reported with $24,000 at one of its two theaters (it opened in both NY and LA). Assuming it is indeed from just one, it is at least adequate for the weekend (this is a tough-themed film, which the mainly favorable reviews emphasized). The purpose was mainly to make Tilda Swinton eligible for Best Actress at the Oscars (she has already won at the European Film Awards and the National Board of Review).

Neither Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness” (a foreign language film contender), which opened in both NY & LA, nor Madonna’s “W.E,” (with hopes for music, costume and art direction bids) which debuted only at the Arclight in LA rather than its planned wider end-of-the-year release, reported any numbers.

Bottom line: These one-week releases are all about getting the nominations to aid them later on.

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Continuing/Expanding films
The Descendants” (Fox Searchlight)
$4.8 million in 876 theaters (+302); PSA: $5,500; Cumulative: $23.7 million
Whatever the disappointments in the early awards, the public is clearly taken with this film as it rapidly expands ahead of Fox Searchlight’s initial plans. It is widening more quickly than “Sideways” seven years ago. While George Clooney’s appeal clearly helps, very good word-of-mouth (WOM) may be the main reason for this success.

Bottom line: The best is still ahead, as strong grossing holiday weeks and significant awards attention lie in its future. Considering its low production cost, this already is a big hit and looks like it will be one of the most profitable films of the year.

Shame” (Fox Searchlight)
$276,000 in 21 theaters (+10); PSA: $13,100; Cumulative: $774,000
Nearly doubling its screen count, the falloff of $21% in its total gross indicates a bit of resistance to this tricky NC-17 rated film as it pushes out into somewhat uncharted territory. Such a tough, serious film is radical counter-programming during the holiday season.

Bottom line: This is a key week for the film with Fassbender’s possible recognition by the Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors’ Guild and Golden Globes critical for its future gross.

The Artist” (The Weinstein Company)
$292,000 in 16 theaters (+10); PSA: $18,250; Cumulative: $886,000
Fewer theaters made a higher PSA easier to achieve. This film has yet to show the sort of initial popular response as “The Descendents” or previous out-of-left-field contenders like “Slumdog Millionaire.” However, given that TWC is not expanding as quickly as they have in the past, they must be aware of this problem that its elements face stronger resistance than most specialized releases.

Bottom line: The good news is that most of the awards season, during which “The Artist” will likely shine, is ahead.

Hugo” (Paramount)
$6.1 million in 2608 theaters (+768); PSA: $2,305; Cumulative: $33.4 million
This is beginning to worry me a little. With a solid increase in total theaters, it still fell almost 20%. By comparison, “Arthur Christmas” lost a few theaters but only fell 10%. Parents continue to take their children to that film in greater numbers than to this, while its more appreciative adult audience is favoring “The Descendents.”

Bottom line: The jury is going to be out on this, despite any doom and gloom elsewhere, until we get to December 25. Any underperformance in awards and nominations in the meantime will be a blow to its chances for regaining momentum then.

My Week with Marilyn” (The Weinstein Company)
$784,000 in 244 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,200; Cumulative: $5.1 million
A 33% decline this weekend is quite solid and even more so considering the weak period for box office. The Weinstein Company seems to have found the right formula — get it open pre-holiday to get attention, perform well enough initially to position itself for expansion, and get solid WOM out to the public for later.

Bottom line: While nowhere near the initial level of success of “The Descendents,” this is good enough for a niche film pursuing Oscar recognition for its cast led by Best Actress contender Michelle Williams

A Dangerous Method” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$80,000 in 4 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $20,000; Cumulative: $539,200
A 33% decline against very tough competition shows real strength for this film. As usual, Sony Pictures Classics is moving slowly, a sign of their confidence that audiences outside of NY/LA will respond when they open there.

Bottom line: Awards attention will help but its initial performance demonstrates real hope for a solid performer whatever happens, and all with less marketing expenses than other films.

Dec. 4 Box Office Report: No ‘Shame’ in opening numbers
Nov 27 Box Office Report: ‘The Artist,’ ‘A Dangerous Method’ and ‘Hugo’ score

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