Art and Experience: Eight films opened in limited engagements from last Wednesday through Sunday. Four studio productions had pre-set January wide-release plans: “Hidden Figures” (Twentieth Century Fox), “Silence” (Paramount), “Patriots Day” (Lionsgate), and “Live by Night” (Warner Bros.). Studio specialty division Focus Features moved “A Monster Calls” into holiday play with crossover hopes. And three top Cannes competitors entered the fray: Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” (IFC), Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta” (both Sony Pictures Classics).
These joined multiple awards contenders expanding to capitalize on holiday playtime, with Lionsgate’s “La La Land” the clear audience leader. But “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) and “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight) showed strength, and several other films also are adding to their totals in this lucrative season.
The elevated number of limited openers among more general audience high-end films follows studio successes such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Sniper” and “The Revenant,” which all opened in a handful of theaters at Christmas before going on to both award and commercial success in mid-January. Some distributors, recognizing the dangers of facing the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” onslaught, held off until the bounteous Golden Globes/Academy Awards nominations/Martin Luther King Day period.
The problem; it takes a strong initial response to generate momentum. And when things shake out over the next weeks, most of the newbies won’t rise to past holiday successes.
And the year isn’t quite over. Two of the most acclaimed films from of the year, Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” (Bleecker Street) and Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” (A24) are still to come with Wednesday openings in New York and Los Angeles.
Ken Loach’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” opened in New York and Los Angeles as an awards and ten best list qualifier ahead of its January regular release with no grosses reported. IFC also opened “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” in New York with favorable reviews and same day Video on Demand play, with no grosses reported for this Toronto Midnight Madness premiere.
“Dangal” (UTV), Aamir Khan’s wrestling story from India, came close to making the Top Ten with an estimated $4,500,000 in only 331 theaters for the four day weekend.
With staggered opening dates, comparative numbers are trickier than usual. The openings are listed by their release date. All show two-day Sunday-Monday numbers so they can be viewed on an even scale. The PTA/per theater average is for the two days. Also note tesryT7TA%rys. Ahttp:/!eree to foreovainatior thannormial Sunda oguosses for ttreo-day-figure.E<,em%3. Opewed Wednesdag<,em%3. ?strong>“Patriots Day%9 %Ag<strong%3Wtesr comse nexp:“Julieta%9 %AgWhat comes next: This will open in other major markets in January.
“Silence” (Paramount) – Metacritic: 80
$94,000 (Sun-Mon), $ 180,000(Fri-Mon) in 4 theaters: Fri-Mon PTA: $45,000; Sun-Mon PTA: $23,500
Martin Scorsese’s 160-minute 16th-century Japan missionary drama got strong reviews and great theater placement. Extraordinarily, in his fabled lengthy career, it’s the first to receive a two-city platform release since “Raging Bull” 36 years ago. (By comparison, its opening weekend in four theaters had an inflation-adjusted PTA of $100,000.)
A serious religious epic aimed at a sophisticated audience marks a marketing challenge, especially with the intense holiday competition. Its initial theaters slotted as many shows and screens as possible, and it appears to have enjoyed adequate capacity.
That would make the rough equivalent of a $35,000 opening three day weekend less than sensational. But it also isn’t the final word. The film has potential to gain from potential Oscar nominations ahead, with its January 13 expansion timed to benefit early in its run. And its appeal to Christians, particularly Catholics, is part of the wider marketing plan.
Will it work? It won’t be easy. But compared to some other limited platform films, this is off to an adequate start.