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Neon’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Grabs Arthouse Crowd, Amazon’s ‘The Aeronauts’ Deflates

Tom Brueggemann

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The successful specialized season chugs ahead as the top-tier hits add to their impressive totals. “Harriet” (Focus), “Parasite” (Neon), and “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight) still hold the lead as recent titles haven’t reached the same levels. Three Netflix awards contenders, “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” and “The Two Popes” are not getting major theater play,  although Martin Scorsese’s film might get close to $10 million. With no new films in the last couple weeks likely to explode over Christmas, that means that unlike most years, some of the strong earlier performers have more chances to thrive during Christmas.

They are competing with other well-reviewed, Oscar and adult friendly studio releases like “Ford v Ferrari” (20th Century Fox), “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Sony), and “Knives Out” (Lionsgate), all competing for the same audience.

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This week brought a preview of what will be an early 2020 specialized top film. Neon released high-end acclaimed French romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a one-week awards-qualifying run, which yielded excellent grosses for a subtitled film. They should do well after New Years when the current films are played out.

Meantime, Amazon’s pre-Prime release of “The Aeronauts” received very little interest in a national big market release.

Opening

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Neon) – Metacritic: 95; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2019

$67,105 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $33,552

When you got it, flaunt it. Every year December sees a number of films open for one week to qualify for awards, then return in the new year for regular dates. And the grosses for these brief dates aren’t reported. Neon is releasing the numbers on Celine Sciamma’s Cannes and New York Film Critics’ and European Film Award winner, a period drama about a brief, intense relationship between a wealthy bride-to-be and the woman hired to paint her portrait. This is a French, subtitled film, more chamber drama than epic, with reviews at the top end of any releases this year (ahead of crowdpleaser “Les Miserables,” which was selected by France).

As a subtitled film, it doesn’t rank with the staggering initial results for Neon’s “Parasite.” But compared to nearly all other foreign language titles, this is at the high end, more so with an relatively unknown director to American audiences and stars. These are huge numbers compared to most–the lesbian romance also carries strong queer appeal.

What comes next: This will return in initial dates on February 14.

The Aeronauts (Amazon) – Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2019

$(est.) $185,000 in 185 theaters; PTA: $ (est.) 1,000

Once anticipated as a top fall specialized and potential break out title, this fictionalized retelling of an early balloon adventure in England changed to a two-week window before Amazon Prime release. The grosses, per their policy, have not been released. Our estimate is based on some available theater grosses, most of which fall below this average, but also spot checking some top screens (the film has support from Landmark and others in major markets) which are somewhat better. For a film co-starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne with significant marketing presence, these are discouraging numbers. The more mixed reviews aren’t a help in a time when so many titles are getting strong critical response. (“The Report,” which is on prime after two weeks, has nearly totally disappeared from screens, while the Netflix titles have lingered longer.)

What comes next: This goes Prime on December 20.

In Fabric (A24) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Toronto 2018

$(est.) 26,000 in 26 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,000

Garnering terrific reviews, this London department store-set horror-genre adjacent film is set from VOD availability during this week. The theater dates got it the reviews A24 wanted to boost those. As a theater play, it had little impact.

What comes next: This goes on demand on Tuesday.

Midnight Family (1091) – Metacritic: 85; Festivals include: Sundance, New Directors/New Films 2019

$3,500 in 1 theater; PTA: $3,500

Quietly earning acclaim on the documentary circuit

What comes next: “Midnight Family” reopens limited on February 14 after the Oscars.

Week Two

The Two Popes (Netflix)

$(est.) 50,000 in 19 theaters (+15); PTA: $(est.) 2,632; Cumulative: $(est.) 115,000

As always, our estimate based on some access to actual grosses since Netflix won’t report. The core initial New York/Los Angeles theaters looked to sustain their modest initial interest. That’s a bit more impressive since both regions were where expansion occurred. From what we can tell, though, these results otherwise were mediocre or less. This looks to be so far the least effective of the streamer’s three top year end awards releases. At home viewing starts on December 20.

63 Up (BritBox)

$22,355 in theaters (+1); PTA: $11,178; Cumulative: $48,080

Excellent second weekend for Michael Apted’s latest update to his long running documentary about the lives of a group of Britons. At three hours and limited showings and now Los Angeles added, the multi-decade appeal of this epic work continues. Ten more cities open this Friday.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

Dark Waters (Focus) Week 3

$4,100,000 in 2,012 theaters (+1,918); Cumulative: $5,285,000

Todd Haynes’ corporate thriller with Mark Ruffalo went very wide in its third weekend. The lack of major new films allowed them to get top theaters to give the film its best chance at exposure. It ended up #6 for the weekend, better than many early December initial wide studio films. But it also looks like a high water mark for a film that at best will reach around $10 million.

Harriet (Focus) Week 6

$810,000 in 1,000 theaters (-84); Cumulative: $40,852,000

Still holding on to most screens, and hoping for the start of an awards boost for lead actress Cynthia Erivo to push it further, the film is nearing $41 million has already achieved high end results for Focus.

Parasite (Neon) Week 9

$700,000 in 333 theaters (-49); Cumulative: $19,354,000

Already closing in on $20 million, and with its guaranteed strong awards contention ahead with much life in it, this Korean film is already one of the top specialized titles of the year. Among subtitled films, it’s in a league of its own going back far more than a decade.

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Week 8

$562,000 in 579 theaters (-151); Cumulative: $19,297,000

Taika Waititi’s satire has neared $20 million in its two month run. How far more it can add will depend on possible awards involvement. It looks likely to scale back considerably in the weeks ahead.

Honey Boy (Amazon) Week 5

$452,439 in 460 theaters (+274); Cumulative: $2,139,000

More expansion for this very personal story based on Shia LaBeouf’s own life. As it widens, the results have become more spotty, with the per theater average now just shy of $1,000 a theater. That won’t be enough to sustain a much longer showing. Of note is that this unlike two other recent Amazon releases is a normal theatrical window play.

The Irishman (Netflix) Week 6

$(est.) 450,000 in (est.) 320 theaters (-180); Cumulative: (est.) $6,665,000

Now in its second week of streaming and getting significant viewing on Netflix, while beginning its expected award accolades run, this lost about 180 theaters from its peak last week. This is now by far the biggest-grossing film from the company in theaters (our numbers are estimates, but likely in range of the actuals). What is significant is that at this point theaters playing it are doing so knowing it is streaming: it’s financially sensible for them to play it. The number will fall, but expect this to be on some screens for weeks to come.

Waves (A24) Week 4    44

$421,625 in 570 theaters (+523); Cumulative: $1,046,000

This well-reviewed and prominent festival film enjoyed a good platform start, but since has found trouble getting its footing. In its breakout week, it’s positioned to get a wider group of top theaters than more crowded ones before and after. This fell short. The per theater average is $740, which will be far short of what is needed to sustain a future run in all but a few theaters shortly. This is one quality film that might have scored better outside the awards season.

Marriage Story (Netflix) Week 5

$(est.) 300,000 in (est.) 120 theaters (-10); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,650,000

Again, a best guess based on limited available figures. Unlike “The Irishman,” the start of streaming didn’t lead to a jump in theaters for Noah Baumbach’s marital drama with sky-high reviews. Still, with its wide national theater exposure and older-audience appeal, this is showing some old-school viability in its second month,

The Lighthouse (A24) Week 8

$73,640 in 82 theaters (-8); Cumulative: $10,522,000

In less top-heavy quality years in the acting race, the two male leads would be strong contenders. As it is, this black-and-white fundamentally specialized film is still playing after two months and passed the $10 million mark. Those are wins.

Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10

$57,317 in 78 theaters (-74); Cumulative: $3,608,000

With Antonio Banderas rising in best actor awards and Pedro Almodovar’s film placing high on ten best lists, expect this to have a presence in some theaters for weeks to come.

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