Hoping for another slow-burn win to break its box-office slump, Focus Features is playing the long game again with "The Place Beyond the Pines."
The R-rated drama, which stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in performances that had Toronto Film Festival crowds buzzing, has the feel of a fall movie. But Focus rolled it out in two New York and two L.A. theaters Friday; the plan is to add 22 theaters and 13 markets next week, before going nationwide with at least 250 theaters on April 12.
"It is slightly unorthodox releasing a sure-fire awards contender this early in the season, but there is always room in theaters for a quality arthouse film," Exhibitor Relations vice president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "It's quite possible that Focus is hoping this plays all spring and into summer, much like 'Moonrise Kingdom' did last year.
"If reviews stay strong, and the audience connects, this could be a real slow-burning hit for Focus. It certainly has the pedigree to do so," Bock said.
"And let's face it, they could really use one. With the logjam of laurel-toting films debuting every fall, maybe this is just a way to stand out from the crowd."
"Place Beyond the Pines" tells the story of a motorcycle stunt rider-turned-bank robber who turns to crime to try to feed his family. Derek Cianfrance directs from a script he wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder.
Gosling stars in the film, and Cooper plays a hotshot cop on the biker's tail. Cianfrance also collaborated with Gosling on 2010's "Blue Valentine."
The formula has worked for Focus in years past.
Several of its adult-targeting, "off season" films have come back to win Academy awards. Christopher Plummer took the Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in 2011's "Beginners." Rachel Weiss took the Supporting Actress Oscar for 2005's "The Constant Gardener" and Charlie Kaufman won the Original Screenplay Academy Award for 2004's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,"
Focus is coming off last week's disappointing opening for the Tina Fey-Paul Rudd comedy "Admission," and hasn't had a box-office breakout since "Moonrise Kingdom" debuted last May and went on to make $45 million.
Since then, the animated kids film "ParaNorman" made $56 million domestically, but it had a $60 million production budget. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," "Hyde Park on Hudson," "Promised Land" and even "Anna Karenina, which earned four Oscar nominations, all failed to gain box office traction.
The cast of "The Place Beyond the Pines" also includes Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan, Gabe Fazio, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, and Harris Yulin.
The movie was produced for around $15 million by Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell through their Electric City Entertainment, Alex Orlovsky through his Verisimilitude, and SKE's Sidney Kimmel.