Indie Box Office: Analyzing box office returns is an inexact science, especially when you don't have access to all the information that the distributor may have in its possession. All you can do is work with what's available to you, research historical precedents, compare, contrast, and shake, not stir.
As a prime example: Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris looks like his first breakout hit in years. As we pointed out in last week's Indie Insights, the opening weekend's returns were great, but they were, basically, in his backyard (New York and Los Angeles). The real test would be when it expanded into other cities, which it did last weekend. And the reports sounded great! Peter Kneght at indieWIRE said the "stellar numbers [are] indicative of the film becoming a significant breakout hit" and possibly one of the top-earning films in Woody Allen's career, which, admittedly, has not been marked by big box office burners (Manhattan made $39 million back in 1979, Annie Hall took in $38 million two years before that, while in recent years Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point each made about $23 million).
Commenting on the numbers from Friday alone, however, David Poland at The Hot Blog sounded a note of warning: "Normal expansion, but not a sign of a big breakout. … This film looks to be right in between the smaller films and the bigger ones, over $5 [million] but under $10 [million] domestic." In their story, indieWIRE noted that the film will expand to 125 screens this Friday and then 750 - 1,000 screens on June 10, when it will compete with the wide releases of Super 8 and Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. Midnight in Paris is a breezy picture that could capture the fancy of a broad audience -- if folks give it a chance to work its magic, and then recommend it to their friends.
Leonard Klady at Movie City News reports on box office estimates for all the limited releases, and thus we learn that United Red Army, which I touted in Indie Insights last week, made $1,400 over the four-day weekend. Given the price of tickets at the IFC Center in New York ($13.00 for general admission, $9.00 for seniors and children, $8.00 for members), the only theater where the movie was playing, we can calculate that about 111 people saw the movie at one of the 16 screenings. If we want to look on the bright side, we can imagine that everyone who attended is a member (starting at $75 annually), which ups the total possible attendance to 180.
Really, New York City? Only 180 of you were adventurous enough to go see a three-hour Japanese movie about a group of terrorists run amuck in the early 1970s? To be fair, maybe people were catching up with Midnight in Paris. Or, more likely, queuing up to see Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, which averaged $120,000 per location (two theaters in Manhattan). Or headed off, perhaps, to watch the splendors of Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D, or any of the other independent films in limited release.
The larger issue is that specialty distributors (and filmmakers) are accustomed to releasing a film theatrically in Manhattan in order to garner reviews and build word of mouth before a home video release. Whether that's a wise expenditure of money nowadays, especially given the increasing prominence of video on demand platforms, is a question for another day.
My point here is that, even though a film may only earn a small amount of money in its theatrical release, it has nothing to do with its quality. United Red Army is a great film that deserves to be seen, but so are a number of other independent films fighting for their place in the sun. Film critics face a daunting task in keeping up with ALL of the new limited releases in New York and, in slightly lesser degrees, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and on and on. Even where I live, in Dallas, a city not blessed with an extraordinarily robust art house scene, it's difficult to find time time to see every independent release I want to see before its limited run ends.
So, while it's disappointing that fewer than 200 people saw United Red Army in a theater last weekend, on the bright side, that's 200 more people who got to experience a dynamic, mesmerizing film the way it was meant to be seen.
Deal -- and Trailer -- of the Week: Maya Entertainment recently picked up Greetings From the Devil, a thriller from Colombia that stars Edgar Ramirez, who was sensational in terrorist epic Carlos. Maya plans to release the film in theaters and via its VOD platform, though no dates have been announced yet.
Ramirez plays a man named Angel, "a former guerilla rebel [who] is seeking a fresh start after turning in his arms and giving up his violent ways in exchange for amnesty," according to a press release. "But after a victim from his former life kidnaps his daughter, Angel is given 72 hours to track down and murder the members of his former guerilla unit."
The premise bears more than a passing resemblance to Taken (2008), with Ramirez standing in for Liam Neeson in Latin America instead of Europe. Greetings, however, is different on at least two counts. One is that director Juan Felipe Orozco and writer Carlos Esteban Orozco (yes, they're brothers) are both from Colombia, where guerilla rebels and kidnappings are not unknown -- as opposed to the rich white girl slavery theme running through Taken.
And the second point is to be found in the trailer, which you can watch on YouTube, which indicates that the film is hard-nosed, brutal, and very, very stylish. Taken was an enjoyable movie, but Greetings From the Devil could really cut deep. It's not the kind of movie that will break out wide, but, judging from the visuals in the trailer, it looks it will justify a theatrical viewing.