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Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch did what a glum arthouse market was waiting for, revved it up with a smashing three-day average. “If Wes builds it, they will come,” said an elated Searchlight Pictures after a two year wait to get the film into theaters.
It opened in 14 markets and in a total of 52 theatres. Over the 3-day weekend, the film is estimated to gross $1.3 million for per screen average of at least $25K, which marks the highest of any film opening during the pandemic — topping even the most successful commercial products over the last 18 months and easily grabbing the specialty crown. Wide releases from The Black Widow to Shang-Chi to Venom to Bond to Dune have cleaned up but the revival had not taken flight at the arthouse yet.
Searchlight SVP-General Sales Manager Frank Rodriguez called film “a jolt of electricity” for the specialty box office. “These figures show that after a year and a half, arthouse and independent theaters have a superhero of their own in Wes Anderson.” He said a crossover into mainstream theaters has been “doubly encouraging” for the director’s tenth picture.
In fact for much of the year the specialty biz had been eagerly pointing to this film as the one destined to revive a glum arthouse market battered by Covid. But that enthusiasm began to waver as Delta hit and the specialty box office remained persistently low with the core older arthouse demo slow to return. Worries crept in that the film –full title The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, vignettes of stories from the French outpost of a New Yorker-ish magazine — was maybe be too precious to have wide enough appeal.
Not so. And the timing may be fortuitous, Rodriquez told Deadline. “The variant thing is fading a little and the timing worked out and people just started to come out. This is the honest truth, you are having people [coming out] who have not been inside a theater for 18 months.”
Focus Features’ doc Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain was bright spot but that was early last summer pre-full-blown Delta hysteria. In recent weeks, A24’s Icelandic genre horror film Lamb and Greenwich Entertainment’s The Rescue have clicked with specialty audiences but it was hard to say if those were also on-offs or signaled a nascent recovery. (Lamb, in its third weekend in 435 locations, grossed an estimated $156,905 with a cume to date over $2.5M.)
The Angelika in Downtown Manhattan was the highest grossing theatre in North America this weekend as the theatre will approach the $100K mark for its 3-day estimate, followed by The Grove in Los Angeles, the BAM in Brooklyn, which is the 4th highest grossing theatre this weekend, Alamo Brooklyn, AMC Lincoln Square in New York and the Landmark West L.A.
By market, highlights included Portland where Cinema 21 which among other venues across the country, demonstrated “a burgeoning and latent demand for specialized releases,” Searchlight said. Canada was strong, particularly the Varsity in Toronto and the Park in Vancouver. A full 83% of the audience considered themselves fans of Wes Anderson.
The film expands to over 600 theatres and over 60 markets, adding more theaters weekend of November 5th.
The French Dispatch premiered at Cannes with U.S. premieres at Telluride and The New York Film Festival, as well as the London Film Festival. Anderson and the French cast and crew will attend a premiere in Paris tonight – and all in all the film will screen in over 25 festivals.
Also opening this weekend, Becoming Cousteau, from Picturehouse, which also opened this weekend, looks set for a weekend cume of $110,959 on 319 locations for a per screen average of $348.