Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho is an arthouse film that opened on 3,000 screens — a gamble in a theatrical market where multiplex-goers have been mostly turning out for big-budget, high-octane studio franchises. (Dune, Halloween Kills and No Time To Die took top spots this weekend, a soft one overall where Halloween parties may have dinged October’s stellar recovery.)
Except for Downton Abbey, Focus has almost never launched a film on that many screens, period. Pre-Covid, it would surely have rolled out the 1960s-themed psychological thriller over weeks in a “platform” release starting with arthouses. But the pandemic has blurred the lines of what plays where. (On the flip side, plenty of struggling arthouses welcomed Black Widow, Shang-Chi and Bond.)
Last Night — about an aspiring fashion designer mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she meets a dazzling wannabe singer and a very dark secret — did best in arthouse theaters, notably the Alamo Drafthouse chain (led by Brooklyn) and 35 millimeter print theaters at the Music Box in Chicago, the Village East and BAM in New York City, the Belcourt in Nashville, Coolidge Corner in Boston and the New Beverly in LA. It also played well in eight AMC theaters in Dolby, all on the coasts, which is where Last Night did best. It skewed young reflecting the audience that is returning to theaters, with 68% of ticket buyers under 35. (The idea that James Bond lured key older arthouse demos back – or even to films other than No Time To Die — may have been overstated.)
As Deadline reported, Last Night grossed $4.16 million, coming it at No. 6 and well below tracking.
“I am just really happy we got this movie out into theaters,” said Focus distribution chief Lisa Bunnell. “We achieved what we wanted to with the film and for Edgar.” The director, a vocal advocate for theatrical films, is now in the U.K. promoting Last Night after a focused marketing blitz Stateside.
Focus isn’t alone, other distributors have made a similar choice as the theatrical marketplace struggles to recover. There are a few reasons why:
-TV windows: Focus hasn’t announced the pay video-on-demand window for Last Night but it has recently followed a 17-day pattern for its films. Assuming that’s the case here, some theaters would be less willing to show it after that time — so it needs to get out as wide as possible as fast as possible. “There are different variables. If you are going on PVOD or streaming relatively shortly, you can’t roll it out on TV and have it hit theaters at the same time,” said one distributor.
-Economic considerations: Distributors can get a bigger bang for their initial blast of marketing dollars with a bigger theatrical sweep, especially if PVOD isn’t far behind.
-Why not?: Directors like it. And even incremental, diminishing-return ticket sales from suburban multiplexes are still cash in hand. The wider the opening, the more people may have heard of the film once it hits PVOD.
The downside is having the industry think, and say, the film didn’t do well, didn’t perform, and coming to conclusions about it based on the opening number. But we live in such odd times, Bunnell said, that “Adult movies now are not trackable. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s the pandemic. All of the ways we used to judge where movies are going, up or down, are less reliable.”
Distributors Deadline speaks to each week for Specialty Preview usually have fingers crossed and no clue at all how their films will do.
“What really matters now is that things are improving. Look at the whole month of October. The box office is growing, I think going right into a strong holiday season. This is good news,” Bunnell said.
The specialty sector has been releasing films at a rapidly accelerating clip, many having been held since 2020 and coming off strong festivals runs this year from Cannes to Venice, Telluride, Toronto, London and New York. “We are thrilled that content is getting out there. If we don’t have content back out, we will never get this audience back,” said one distribution exec.
Other specialty openings: A24’s presentation of Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II, which posted the weekend’s highest overall per screen average of $26,485 albeit at three theaters in NY and LA. The sequel to the 2019 drama stars Honor Swinton Byrne and will open additional top markets this weekend ahead of a long theatrical rollout.
(A24 has a recent specialty hit on its hands with genre film Lamb, which stands at $2.676M on 145 screens in week 3.)
The notable holdover was Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. The film from Searchlight Pictures, which posted a super per screen average of $26,000 last weekend in 42 locations — expanded to 788 theaters for a $2.8 million, three-day gross and per screen average of over $3,500. The cumulative gross after 10 days in release is $4.6 million.
Searchlight said strong venues opened in week two include the Belcourt in Nashville, Avon in Stamford Ct., Cinema du Parc and the Forum in Montreal, Hillcrest in San Diego, Tower in Sacramento, Avon in Providence, Lagoon in Minneapolis, Piedmont in Oakland and the Manor in Pittsburgh.
Next week it moves to 1,200 theaters in all remaining medium and smaller markets, including arthouses across New England, Western Mass., upstate New York, Raleigh North Carolina, and Central Pennsylvania.
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