Following last weekend’s big roll out of The Favourite from Fox Searchlight, this weekend will likely see a pause for awards contenders making splashy Specialty box office numbers. Orion Pictures is giving a limited start to comedy-horror-musical Anna And the Apocalypse, starring Ella Hunt and Malcom Cumming. Timed to the holiday season, the title fits the company’s strategy of releasing films that target specific audiences. Screen Media, meanwhile, has two very different features heading out, though both will have one-time event screenings around the country (on different dates) in addition to specific targeted regular runs. James Marsh’s The Mercy starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz opens Village East in New York through the distributor, while animated feature Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer will have regular engagements starting in New York and L.A. Friday in a day and date release in addition to event screenings in over 100 cities.

Other limited roll outs include Focus Features documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway at Landmark 57 West in New York and Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles. Warner Bros. is giving a slow launch for drama Head Full of Honey with Emily Cox and Emily Mortimer. Well Go USA has Korean crime-drama Unstoppable in select locations, while Strand Releasing is headed out with Italian crime-fantasy Sicilian Ghost Story and Darkstar Pictures is opening Ghostbox Cowboy starring David Zellner.

Anna And The Apocalypse
Director: John McPhail
Writers: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcom Cumming, Ben Wiggins, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye
Distributor: Orion Pictures

Orion Pictures head of Distribution Kevin Wilson had caught Anna And the Apocalypse prior to his joining the label, and remembered the genre title later as something that would fit squarely with Orion’s strategy of releasing films that are “unique and for a specific audience.”

Orion picked up the title in late fall 2017 not long after MGM relaunched the legacy brand.

The feature takes place amidst a zombie apocalypse that threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival. They soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.

“[Orion acquired] the film in November, 2017, so obviously with the holiday theme, it made sense to wait and do it this season,” said Wilson. “For this year, we decided to get past Halloween and Thanksgiving and [concentrate] during the Christmas period after some of the other [holiday launches] were [settled] in the marketplace.”

Orion has been messaging the film through heavy digital promotion via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The company is anticipating genre fans of any age, maybe skewing younger. “Our sweet spot is 18-35 and probably a bit more female than male. We teamed up with Interscope which picked up the soundtrack and is pushing it out through Spotify.”

Orion is opening Anna And the Apocalypse in four New York and Los Angeles locations Friday including Regal Union Square and AMC Lincoln Square in the east and AMC Century City and the Arclight in Los Angeles. The film will also screen at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.

“We did a lot of partnerships, hosting ‘loyalty screenings’ with Alamo,” said Wilson. “The film also payed at Fantastic Fest in Austin, so it made sense to have it open there.” On December 7, the title will expand to the top 10 DMAs taking it to between 25 – 30 locations. Added Wilson, citing Rotten Tomatoes (at 84% as of Thursday morning): “Word of mouth is going to drive this film.”

Looking ahead to 2019, Wilson said he expects Orion to roll out between 5-7 wide releases as well as a “few Specialty films” during the year.

The Mercy
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Mark Gatiss
Distributor: Screen Media

Biopic-adventure The Mercy is director James Marsh’s feature follow up to his 2014 Oscar-nominated film The Theory of Everything. Distributor Screen Media picked up the title for the U.S. from StudioCanal.

“The performances [attracted us] for sure,” said Screen Media’s Mike Messina. “Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz give dynamite performances start to finish.”

The Mercy is based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst (Firth), an amateur sailor who competed in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in the hope of becoming the first person in history to solo circumnavigate the globe without stopping. With an unfinished boat and his business and house on the line, Donald leaves his wife Clare (Weisz) and their children behind, hesitantly embarking on an adventure on his boat the Teignmouth Electron.

“Our release plan is to embrace the awards-caliber talent both behind and in front of the camera,” said Messina. “We’re expecting [a primary audience] of 35-plus, breaking even between male and female. It’s a story about endurance, so there’s a faith element to it as well, so it should appeal to that audience.”

In addition to a Friday launch at Village East in New York, Screen Media is teaming with Trafalgar Events for a one-night theatrical screening of The Mercy around the country. Screen Media sees the ‘eventized’ screening of the film on December 6 in over 100 cities as a way to extend the title’s reach, while minimizing distribution costs.

“It gives us an economically efficient way to create some scope for the movie and put it in enough theaters for people who want to see it on the big screen,” said Messina. “Additionally we’re doing digital and social media marketing, while [PR company] Falco has been involved with the campaign.”

Messina added that its release plan will also benefit its home entertainment release set for March, which the company will spearhead.

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer
Director-writer: Jennifer Westcott
Voices: Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, John Cleese, Martin Short, Jeff Dunham, Rob Tinkler, Christopher Jacot
Distributor: Screen Media

Screen Media initially saw holiday animated feature Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer last spring. The company took to the movie, extolling its potential with audiences.

“It’s the feel good holiday movie of the year,” said Mike Messina from Screen Media. “We look for inspirational content as much as we can. This is an underdog story about a horse who wants to pull Santa’s sleigh after one of the reindeer retires.”

The film centers on Elliot, a small but determined miniature horse who travels to the North Pole to compete for a spot on Santa’s reindeer team. Against all odds, Elliot and his friend Hazel the goat set out to prove that no dream is too big if you believe in yourself.

Ahead of its day and date release, the company has been working digital and social media. On a more grassroots level, the company has dispatched street teams in key cities to give away Elliot headbands.

“The exhibitors are promoting [the film] to their audiences,” said Messina. “Additionally we’re doing [event screenings] in over 100 cities through Trafalgar Events. By creating something special, and with it being a holiday movie, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. And as with The Mercy, we’re creating the biggest [theatrical] opportunity in the most economical way possible.”

Messina added that the one-day event screenings made the day and date roll out more palatable for some exhibitors who may otherwise be averse to the on-demand/theatrical model.

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer and The Mercy have very different attributes and appeal to different audiences,” added Messina. “In the current independent film climate, finding unique angles and experiences are important [elements] to releasing films. We could have just done the standard day and date release, but this is an exciting and cost efficient way to bring a larger audience to the big screen.”

Aside from the event screenings on Saturday (and some on Sunday), Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer will have regular runs in ten markets, including New York and L.A. at Village East and Laemmle Music Hall, respectively.