Why ‘Blinded By the Light’ and ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ Opened Wide

IndieWire | 8/18/2019 | Staff
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Two wide releases from top directors with appeal to adult audiences are specialty films, even if their distributors opted to open them in over 2,000 theaters. Warner Bros. had strong reasons for wide-releasing New Line Cinema’s Bruce Springsteen-infused Sundance pickup “Blinded By the Light” this weekend, as did United Artists with Annapurna’s long-delayed Cate Blanchett vehicle “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

The question is how to find audiences for these films, as studios and indies alike wrestle with deeply rooted issues in today’s theatrical market. Even Sony Pictures Classics, which has pivoted to documentaries, found a weak initial arthouse audience for fast-frame-rate “Aquarela,” despite top-end reviews and theaters.

Wider - Release - Farewell - A24 - Totals

In wider release, “The Farewell” (A24) continues to add to its impressive totals. So does Roadside Attractions’ crowdpleasing “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which showed a strong second weekend with non-specialized audiences as a key element.

“Blinded by the Light”

Response - Films - Directors - Differences - Saturday

The comparative initial response to two top-end independent films from acclaimed and successful directors is revealing. There are significant differences, as the Saturday gross for Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded By the Light” (Warner Bros.) shows initial strong growth. Richard Linklater’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (United Artists) also showed an unusual second-day increase, fueled in both cases by older audiences (who are far less likely to attend Thursday early shows).

Many observers question why these specialty-audience films opened so wide. This question came up earlier this summer when Annapurna’s “Booksmart” took that route and opened to $6.9 million. But the following week, “Late Night,” with bigger stars and a $15-million Amazon Sundance buy, had built even more anticipation than “Booksmart,” and went from a four-theater platform with a strong $61,000 PTA to a lesser initial wide result of $5.3 million. And SXSW-launched “Booksmart,” without a name cast, ultimately grossed more than $22 million, almost $7 million more than “Late Night.”

Neither “Late...
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