UPDATED to include comments by Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse: 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 long 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 a 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 Rescue, also week three, anticipates a weekend gross of $136,350 at 303 locations. It’s off only 34% from last weekend and at its the top 50 locations is holding steady, including a 20% uptick at the Angelika in NYC.)
The Angelika was also the highest grossing theatre in North America for Dispatch this weekend, approaching $100K 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, the Alamo Brooklyn, the AMC Lincoln Square in New York and the Landmark West L.A.
Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse said The French Dispatch was by far the best performing specialty film since Covid at the hip chain’s booming Brooklyn location. It was also the very first film he watched at the newly opened Alamo in downtown Manhattan. League was in town from Austin headquarters for a soft launch of the Financial District theater and manned a vintage printing press installed in the lobby of its ‘Press Room Bar’ on Friday for three hours.
“I was physically manning the press [which] allowed me to look at the door and yes, we had our younger audiences, but it was a pretty broad spectrum and it looked like the diverse arthouse audience we know and love. I really do think that we are marching towards this level of feeling comfortable,” he told Deadline. “We obviously have to wait until next weekend [when the film goes wider] but all indicators seem really strong.”
He called French Dispatch “a very Wes Anderson movie” — meaning one could have imagined a possibly less broad appeal than the director’s multiple Oscar-winning 2015 breakout hit The Grand Budapest Hotel. “It’s a four-part anthology film with fairly esoteric subject material, and it’s crushing it, so huzza!”
League is the founder of the movie circuit and part of an investor group that brought it out of bankruptcy earlier this year.
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.
Beyond traditional media buys, marketing included a cocktail party at popup of the film’s Café Le Sans Blague on Bleecker Street that attracted young crowds with long waits throughout the day Saturday.
Flying Coffee’s tie-in The French Roast was on offer and the coffemaker’s co-branded website and online sales went live Thursday evening.
Eyeglass retailer Warby Parker launched an in-store activation Friday at its seven NYC stores offering limited edition Dispatch tote bags with purchase and in-store displays. Iconic newsstand Casa Magazines is selling copies of ‘The French Dispatch magazine.’ And department store Bergdorf Goodman’s window has a Dispatch-themed window through Nov. 1 with magazines also available in-store and French Dispatch cocktails at its restaurant and bar.
A 180 Strand experiential pop-up event is also taking place in London through mid-November, including an immersive walk through of the world of the film including sets, props, costumes and a working recreation of the Sans Blague café.
Also opening this weekend: Becoming Cousteau, from Picturehouse looks set for a weekend cume of $110,959 on 319 locations for a per screen average of $348.