November 11, 2018

Netflix’s Strange ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Results; Jason Reitman’s ‘The Front Runner’ Flops

History was made this weekend by “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (Netflix), as for the first time the streaming giant grudgingly took the Coen Brothers movie into limited theatrical release one week ahead of its home site debut. But they had no intention of sharing numbers with anyone.

We found a way to count attendance, with limited success. Clearly “Scruggs” opened far lower than other Coen Brothers films. Presumably Netflix will measure the upside of increased interest in streaming the anthology when it reaches the service. As a trial run for Alfonso Cuaron’s much-touted cinematic experience “Roma” on November 21, “Scruggs” did find some interest, performing on the same level as the other limited opening this week, Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner.”

And that film has no imminent competition from home viewing.  Sony gave it strong support, but opening during the strident midterm election, the movie did not seem to resonate, and did not open at a level that will buttress its award chances.

Among expanding films, Focus’ “Boy Erased” showed significant promise in its second weekend as it reached around 25 markets. It looks poised to challenge “The Old Man and the Gun” (Fox Searchlight) among fall specialized releases that haven’t had a close to full expanded release (“The Hate U Give” with more than 2,000 theaters at its widest remains the biggest so far).


The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Netflix) – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Venice, New York 2018

$(est.) 36,000 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 12,000; Cumulative: $(est.) 45,000

Netflix continues its war on film industry norms with this haphazard opening of the Coen Brothers latest film. With Alfonso Cuaron’s looming “Roma,” other directors of his stature have pressed for advance releases of their films set to play on the streaming service. “Buster Scruggs,” originally intended as a limited series, then edited into an anthology feature, would not be likely to perform –even with a full-on effort from a distributor–at the level of their earlier specialized releases. It has been normal for these to open in a handful of New York/Los Angeles theaters to over $75,000 their first weekend.

Given that Netflix doesn’t release grosses, it’s hard to take the streaming service  seriously as theatrical player. To get some sense of the film’s reaction, we checked out the online reserved seating charts for the three Landmark Theaters playing the film (57th West in New York, the Landmark in Los Angeles, and the Embarcadero in San Francisco) to assess the results.

The film opened on Thursday with an estimated take of $6,600 in New York and Los Angeles. From there, it gets complicated. Sunday looked to be around $10,000 for the three theaters (not much uptick from Thursday). But Saturday, things got weird when theater sizes seemed to increase from Friday. That would normally suggest adjusting theater sizes to accommodate crowds.

But it’s hard to project what the gross really was. A later afternoon show in Los Angeles went from $900 (that’s around 80 customers) on Friday to $450 Saturday (with a higher ticket price, around 30 people). That is not normal — Saturday should be higher than Friday. But then (with the screen already switched to one with over 200 seats), the prime evening show was listed as sold out hours before scheduled time.

This suggests that Landmark had a landlord role for its four-walled bookings (that is, Netflix rented screens and keeps the revenues, rather than sharing ticket sales). These three locations are prime theaters, particularly for crowded frame. There is no reason to think they’d prioritize their screens over distributors committed to the continued existence of specialized theatrical film. But early on, except for New York, where it played on a small under-40 seat theater (with some additional shows in an even lesser capacity room Saturday and Sunday), it appeared the film didn’t need a big screen–until the unusual reports of a sellout at a larger screen.

So what did “Scruggs” gross? Based on the screen sizes and ticket counts, even if one accepts the online evidence, perhaps $35-40,000 for the three theaters. That would include New York, which grossed substantially lower than the theater might have with more seats.

With proper unlimited seating at these theaters, with substantial newspaper ads and strong and well-placed prime newspaper reviews, this at most might have grossed $60,000. That would be $20,000 per theater. That would be by far the lowest in adjusted terms for any of the platform openings for Coen Brothers films.

Inevitably, a large number of Coens fans are aware this is going to be on Netflix (starting this Friday) and that kept them from purchasing tickets despite the film’s prominent placement. This doesn’t mean the same fate awaits “Roma” when it launches at the same three theaters on November 21, with other cities opening on December 7 ahead of its streaming debut on December 14. Expect its results to be more substantial, but likely just as muddled and hidden from public view.

What comes next: This is likely it for theatrical showings with at most a few exceptions if any.

Hugh Jackman stars in Columbia Pictures' THE FRONT RUNNER.

“The Front Runner”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

The Front Runner (Sony) – Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2018

$56,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $14,000; Cumulative: $76,000

Hugh Jackman continues to parlay his huge worldwide stardom into more challenging projects. Last year’s “The Greatest Showman” went vastly beyond anyone’s biggest hopes. His sole release this year, a more thoughtful biopic of flawed presidential candidate Gary Hart, is taking the specialized route in hopes of boosting his awards chances. “The Front Runner” opened on Tuesday, Election Day as something of a stunt. Its full weekend, positioned at top theaters in New York and Los Angeles, is not impressive for the amount of support from Sony. This marks yet another film from once golden director Jason Reitman, who is now nine years from his last major success (“Up in the Air”).

What comes next: The preset two-staged expansion goes this Friday and then the following weekend ahead of Thanksgiving. Sony has the clout to get major theaters, but this doesn’t boast the same mass audience appeal as “Showman.”

El Angel (The Orchard) – Metacritic: 62; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2018

$25,473 in 2 theaters; PTA: $12,737

This Argentine-film, from the same production company which produced “Wild Tales,” centers on a charismatic 1970s criminal who went from petty theft to a killing spree and became a major local media celebrity. With only mixed to favorable reviews, it scored a respectable result at single runs in New York and Los Angeles at a level above most subtitled films of late.

What comes next: This opens in other major cities this week.

“Chef Flynn”

Chef Flynn (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: Sundance, South by Southwest, San Francisco 2018

$8,100 in theaters; PTA: $8,100

The chef in question is unlike others portrayed in recent documentaries (food-based non-fiction films have been popular). He is a child prodigy who became known via YouTube. This compilation of his early work as well as his progress as he becomes an adult opened at New York’s Film Forum to a decent initial result on a small screen.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday, with additional large cities in upcoming weeks.

"Boy Erased"

“Boy Erased”

Focus Features

Week Two

Boy Erased (Focus)

$725,000 in 77 theaters (+72); PTA: $9,408; Cumulative: $998,000

Joel Edgerton’s well-received drama about a young man forced into gay conversion therapy by his religious parents expanded quickly and successfully. Its second weekend showed an average just a little below Focus’ biggest hit this year, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which amassed over $20 million.

Maria By Callas (Sony Pictures Classics)

$97,350 in 26 theaters (+10); PTA: $3,744; Cumulative: $308,732

Nothing special for the second (in the U.S.; Canada opened a week earlier) weekend of this documentary take on the ultimate diva which takes new material found about her life to give a fresh view.

“A Private War”

A Private War (Aviron)

$201,400 in 40 theaters (+36); PTA: $5,300; Cumulative: $283,843

Earning strong reviews for her performance, Rosamund Pike (Oscar nominee for “Gone Girl”) centers this story of fearless Middle East war correspondent Marie Colvin, who suffered from PTS.  Its second week expansion had a respectable result for Aviron, their first limited release.

Bodied (Neon)

$28,448 in 17 theaters (+3); PTA: $1,673; Cumulative: $100,100

Neon partnered with YouTube Premium to release this battle rap story ahead of its streaming availability, coming soon on YouTube’s worldwide paid service.

“The Hate U Give”

Fox 2000

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

The Hate U Give (20th Century Fox) Week 6

$2,070,000 in 1,108 theaters (-399); Cumulative: $26,706,000

In the Top Ten for an impressive fifth weekend of its six total, George Tillman Jr.’s narrative about high schoolers getting involved after police kill one of their group still has more to add to its impressive total.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight) Week 4

$1,475,000 in 391 theaters (+211); Cumulative: $3,610,000

Melissa McCarthy’s change of pace role as biographer-turned-scam-artist is outpacing Searchlight’s already successful “The Old Man and the Gun.” It is poised for much wider release and considerably higher totals with expansion overlapping Thanksgiving.

Beautiful Boy (Amazon) Week 6

$1,405,000 in 777 theaters (+237); Cumulative: $5,182,000

Already the biggest-grossing film for Amazon since they took over direct distribution of their films, this contemporary story about the drug impact on a family will more than double “Life Itself” earlier this year.

Free Solo (Greenwich) Week 7

$(est.) 700,000 in 266 theaters (-97); Cumulative: $(est.) 8,047,000

National Geographic’s very successful Yosemite-climb documentary – which has not gone wider than 400 theaters – continues to show the benefit of targeting more limited theaters as it heads to a gross over $10 million.

"The Old Man and the Gun"

“The Old Man and the Gun”

Fox Searchlight

The Old Man and the Gun (Fox Searchlight) Week 7

$470,000 in 390 theaters (-375); Cumulative: $10,231,000

Credit Robert Redford and Searchlight’s expertise in boosting his possible final starring role to a higher gross that any specialized release under 1,500 theaters this fall so far.

Suspiria (Amazon) Week 3

$326,250 in 261 theaters (-50); Cumulative: $1,905,000

With only a small loss of theaters, Luca Guadagnino’s revised take based on Daria Argento’s horror classic dropped about a million dollars. There was interest and awareness, but the response has not been good.

Mid90s (A24) Week 4

$400,000 in 340 theaters (-751); Cumulative: $6,817,000

Jonah Hill’s first time out as a director was a three week wonder with a quick expansion. The gross and theater count dropped heavily this weekend with a sub-$8 million total likely.



IFC Films

Wildlife (IFC) Week 4

$142,638 in 106 theaters (+51); Cumulative: $611,104

Even with Jake Gyllenhaal and Carrey Mulligan as leads, this story of the impact on a teenage boy when his father abandons his family is getting a tepid response amid a lot of competition.

Colette (Bleecker Street) Week 8

$83,631 in 81 theaters (-49); Cumulative: $4,977,000

Keira Knightley’s foray into biopic territory recreating the iconic French novelist will end up a little over $5 million. Her last specialized period piece awards contender, “Anna Karenina” in 2012, reached $13 million.

Burning (Well Go) Week 3

$79,644 in 27 theaters (+21); Cumulative: $198,796

Lee Chang-dong’s South Korean intense contemporary drama continues to get some of the best reviews of the year as it opened in a handful of new cities. It is so far at the high end of art-house oriented (as opposed to the broader Korean-American community oriented commercial releases) films from that country in recent years.

Also noted:

Border (Neon) -$45,077 in 15 theaters; Cumulative: $241,683

Tea With the Dames (IFC)  – $38,172 in theaters; Cumulative: $763,353

What They Had (Bleecker Street) – $35,391 in 53 theaters; Cumulative: $222,133

The Wife (Sony Pictures Classics)  – $26,774 in 35 theaters; Cumulative: $7,739,000

The Great Buster (Cohen)  – $16,539 in 14 theaters; Cumulative: $67,386

The Happy Prince (Sony Pictures Classics)  – $16,301 in 73 theaters; Cumulative: $428,600

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Source: IndieWire film