Neon and Participant opened animated documentary Flee to a $25,033 debut in four locations. That makes for a strong per-theater average of $6,258 ahead of a rollout early next year for the much-decorated Danish film ahead of Academy Award nominations Feb. 8.
It’s one of a few rather particular offerings, including Drive My Car, that distributors are tending to carefully with slow platform releasing to best capitalize on growing word of mouth as the films continue to accumulate awards and word of mouth.
A rep for Neon called Flee, Denmark’s foreign film Oscar entry, “an amazing cinematic unicorn” given its rare shot at nods in three Oscar categories — documentary, animated and foreign language film. The distributor is “very happy with the opening and looking forward to expanding the movie in late January,” he said. Meanwhile it stays small, focused in NY and LA (AMC Lincoln Square, Angelika Film Center, AMC Sunset 5, The Landmark), giving the super-specialized film by Jonas Poher Rasmussen a long runway to accumulate critical buzz. It’s at 98% with critics with an 83% audience score so far on Rotten Tomatoes.
Flee took the Sundance Grand Jury Word Cinema prize for documentary and continues to gather accolades, most recently a Gotham Best Documentary win, the National Board of Review Freedom of Expression award, and Best Non-Fiction Film from the New York Film Critics Circle. It’s the story of an Afghan refugee boy who makes a home in Denmark but carries scars and a secret that haunts him. He shares his story for the first time with a close childhood friend, the filmmaker. The use of animation, unique in a documentary, masks his identity.
Fresh off its Gotham Award for Best International Feature and its New York Film Critics Circle win for Best Film, the Sideshow and Janus Films’ release of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car grossed an estimated $27,300 in four theaters in its second weekend for a PTA of $6,825 and a cume of $58,879. The film had a $13,000 weekend at Landmark’s Nuart in LA, which its distributors said is the theater’s highest post-pandemic weekend to date. In NYC, it had a strong hold, increasing 7% at Film Forum and down10% at Lincoln Center due to capacity constraints with two of the three Saturday shows sold out.
Japan’ submission to the Academy Awards for Best International Feature is three hour long, necessitating a careful rollout. It will be adding about 15-20 theaters a week through Jan. 15, said a rep for the distributors. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story, it follows a renowned stage actor and director invited to helm a production of Uncle Vanya at a theater festival in Hiroshima and a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. It took three prizes in Cannes including Best Screenplay. The film is 100% Certified Fresh by critics with an 81% Rotten Tomatoes audience score.
Elsewhere in specialty Focus Features Wolf opened in 308 locations, the widest specialty release this weekend, to a disappointing cume of $80K and a PTA of $261. The R-rated drama by first-time director Nathalie Biancheri stars George Mackay as boy who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body. Marketing was limited for the film, which has a 44% critics and 33% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
(Belfast, also from Focus, crossed the $5 million mark last week in 1,255 theaters before hitting PVOD Friday. The Kenneth Branagh pic’s estimated take is $500,000 this weekend for a total cume of $5.9 million.)
IFC Films opened Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta in 202 theaters for an estimated weekend gross of $145,000 and a per theater average of $718. The latest film from the master filmmaker about a 17th-century nun in Italy who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions, had its world premiere at Cannes and North American premiere at NYFF.
From Utopia, Dasha Nekrasova’s debut feature The Scary of Sixty-First scared up $8,108 at one theater in LA — the American Cinematheque’s Los Feliz 3. The polarizing satire about the spirit of Jeffery Epstein possessing a young woman who unwittingly moves into an apartment he used to own, won Best First Feature in Berlin. It opened exclusively on 35mm with 10 pm showtimes only including a preview Thursday. It expands to the Quad in NYC on 12/17 ahead of a continued late-night expansion into 2022.
Debbie Lum’s Try Harder from Greenwich Entertainment grossed $25,232 in five locations in NY, LA and SF for a PTA of $5,046. Greenwich said the doc will have the highest or second-highest grosses in all its theaters and should eclipse a $10,000 PTA at the Union Square in NYC and the Regal Stonestown in SF. About a senior class at a high achieving high school in San Francisco navigates the college application process, it premiered at Sundance earlier this year and has glowing review (at 97% with Rotten Tomatoes critics).
Circle Collective opened Michael Bilandic’s Project Space 13 this weekend at the Roxy Cinema in NYC tied to a retrospective of his previous three films to $3,000 debut. The Roxy programmed single nightly showtimes for the new satire from the NYC underground filmmaker and his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Sean Price Williams.
Specialty films, which can run one in one theater or 1,000, have been in slow Covid recovery mode but there have been green shoots recently and good news this weekend is that the Omicron variant doesn’t appear to be stomping them down — or not yet. “The market is still in recovery, but if there is an impact, we haven’t seen it,” said one specialty exec. “Everyone’s wary and keeping an eye out, but no,” said another.
Take Fathom’s alternative engagement Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers. Released Wednesday, it surged to a weekend gross of $4.1M in 1,700 locations for a PTA of $2,412 and a cume through Sunday of $9M – making it the top grossing and highest attended event in Fathom’s history.
“We knew we had something special with this title,” said Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events. “We are grateful for the passionate fans of The Chosen and our exhibitor partners who accommodated demand by adding showtimes and locations.”
The event also set a Fathom record for fastest out-of-the-gate sales with $1.5 million in its first 12 hours of availability, indicating “people will indeed go to the theater for a project they’re passionate about,” said Chosen creator, writer and director Dallas Jenkins.
The title is produced by Angel Studios based on its crowd-funded hit streaming series, The Chosen, that follows the events surrounding the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. Fathom Events (the alternative content distributor controlled by AMC, Cinemark and Regal) initially planned it as a two day release on 12/1-12/2 but the title performed so well it’s been extended through 12/13 with a wider run.
Even Wall Street took note. “These numbers seem notable considering very little traditional marketing for The Chosen – which may suggest a willingness to come out to theaters for the right content,” said Meghan Durkin, an analyst with Credit Suisse. The film was also “a much-needed surprise” hit to kick off December in the midst of a traditional lull before key holiday releases. Durkin sees the The Chosen as the second positive indication — the first being massive ticket presales for Spider Man: No Way Home — that holiday moviegoing may slip by Omicron.
Faith Media Distribution’s True To The Game 3, the third installment of the series based on the Teri Woods novel, grossed an estimated $623,529 for the weekend with a PTA of $1,417 in 440 theaters. Directed by David Wolfgang.
Another notable holdover includes United Artists Releasing’s Licorice Pizza from Paul Thomas Anderson, grossing an estimated $223,328 in week two in four theaters for a PTA of $55,832 and a cume through Sunday of $761k. Film follows Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s. Staring Cooper Hoffman, Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie.