Similar to the way that the Weinstein Co. has a knack for eyeing awards-worthy films to acquire or produce, the company has continually excelled with platforming titles to higher grosses and crossing them over from New York and Los Angeles arthouse-goers to mainstream auds. It’s a B.O. strategy that goes back to Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s early Miramax days when they would propel such award contenders like 1996’s The English Patient from a $278K bow in mid November to $78.7M final cume or 2002’s Chicago, which rebooted the Broadway musical on the big screen, with a $2.1M bow at 77 theaters and final B.O. of $170.7M. Rather than just go wide with a hot title fresh out of the Toronto, Venice or Telluride film festivals, awards-worthy titles are carefully nurtured by TWC in the marketplace, with expansions typically occurring at key award points such as post-Golden Globes or post-Oscar noms. The trick is to not flame out fast, and to have the fervent support of moviegoers who adore awards fare clicking turnstiles on a regular basis between late fall and even beyond Oscar night (a frame that distributors nicknamed “Oscar Alley”).
The latest art house breakout success from the Weinstein Co. is The Imitation Game (current B.O. through yesterday: $17.8M) which follows World War II British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who cracked the Nazi submarine Enigma code, and was later punished by his country’s courts for being a homosexual, despite the fact that he was responsible for saving millions of lives. The film stars Keira Knightley as Turing’s fiancee and co-codebreaking partner and marks the first English film by Norwegian director Morten Tydlum.
In rolling out The Imitation Game, the Weinstein Co. took a path that was similar to The King’s Speech which wound up winning best picture at the Academy Awards as well as finaling a domestic B.O. of $138.8M. In early test scores, The Imitation Game was showing higher marks than The King’s Speech, hence one of the reasons to bow in the post Thanksgiving frame when adults frequent specialty films in droves. In its first weekend, The Imitation Game beat The King’s Speech, $479K to $355K — and both films respectively bowed in four theaters. TWC gradually inched up its theater count for Imitation Game, similar to King’s Speech, and with each weekend ending, beat the running cume of Tom Hooper’s 2010 British period film. Before going wide, The Imitation Game’s running cume was $2.3M, close to a third higher than King’s Speech at the same point in time. Then, just like King’s Speech, TWC widen Imitation Game during the Christmas corridor to 747 engagements (up from 34) sending its cume to $14.6M, 76% ahead of the running B.O. of King’s Speech. “It’s a good old fashioned movie that plays to everyone,” says Weinstein Co. distribution head Erik Lomis about The Imitation Game. The current plan with the film is to double its runs on Jan. 9, a day after the Oscar nom ballot deadline, but to not blow the film out completely. A full wide release for The Imitation Game will likely occur in late January and early February.
Lomis knew that Imitation Game was playing well with the awards-savvy moviegoers in Los Angeles and New York given the film’s A+ Cinemascore. However, says Lomis, “We did an exit survey in middle America. I wanted to make sure that the new markets were playing at the same level and the bottom line was, they were spectaculer.” The Imitation Game scored a 97 in the top two boxes of the survey and 88 recommend. Current demo for the film is 52% female to 48% male, with 30% of its crowd under 35, and 70% over. 76% of those buying tickets are college grads. In certain Texas theaters over the weekend, The Imitation Game even outgrossed Sony’s controversial comedy The Interview.
There are several pieces of data that insiders are analyzing which indicate that Imitation Game can surge to higher figures at the domestic tills similar to previous awards contenders. Through its fifth weekend, Imitation Game has a hearty per screen average of $10,619, which is 185% higher than The Descendants at the same point in time (final cume $82.6M), 87% ahead of Silver Linings Playbook’s PSA (final cume $132.1M), 86% higher than Black Swan’s PSA ($107M final) and 66% ahead of The King’s Speech. In addition to key award noms (5 Golden Globes including best drama and 3 SAGs including best ensemble), reviews are also the essential roux which drive older adults to dramatic films and The Imitation Game has that in spades with an 89% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score. An intriguing online marketing co-partnership with Google gave online viewers the chance to complete an Alan Turing-type test. Recently, The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, announced that it is lauding the film’s talent. Today, the Newport Beach Film Festival lauded The Imitation Game with two top accolades, best cast and picture. NBFFwill host a pre-BAFTA private reception at the ME Hotel in London on Thursday, Feb. 5th with members of the cast also in attendance.
Imitation Game‘s march to the big screen began with Graham Moore’s screenplay, which was a hot item on the Black List. Producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky developed the property with Moore. At one point the project was set up at Warner Bros., with Leonardo DiCaprio expressing interest. Eventually, Cumberbatch saw a draft and committed early. Warner Bros. passed on the project, sending it back to Grossman and Ostrowsky. Teddy Schwarzman’s Black Bear financed The Imitation Game, and the Weinstein Co. acquired the film at the Berlin Film Festival last year for $7M, a record deal for the European market and fest.