By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Summer moviegoers who grouse that there's nothing but sequels and superheroes in theaters have nothing to complain about this weekend.
"Salinger," the Shane Salerno documentary about the reclusive author, the biopic "Winnie Mandela" starring Jennifer Hudson as the South African icon's wife, and the faith-based melodrama "The Ultimate Life" are among a whopping 23 films that will debut at the specialty box office on Friday.
"It's because at one point, ‘Riddick' was the only movie on that date," Fox Searchlight distribution chief Frank Rodriguez told TheWrap. "It's not that easy to find slots in the fall and people saw a chance to make some noise with their films, and hopefully build on that. But then the list just kept growing."
Searchlight's coming-of-age tale "The Way Way Back" remains in more than 500 theaters and should cross $20 million Thursday or Friday. Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," TWC's "Fruitvale Station" and the Shailene Woodley-Miles Teller comedy "The Spectacular Now" are also still playing, so it's not like there's been a dearth of small movies out there.
The majority of the new films will be opening in just a handful of theaters, and most of those will be in New York and Los Angeles. Still, there will be a lot of options for moviegoers who've been bombarded for the past four months by franchise fare and follow-ups.
The Weinstein Company already has the nation's No 1 film for three weeks running, "Lee Daniels' The Butler," and Wang Kai-war's martial arts film "The Grandmaster" in theaters. So with "Salinger" and the French import "Populaire," TWC alone will have four films in release.
And there's no lack of variety.
"Populaire," which stars Berenice Bejo of "The Artist," is about competitive speed typing. Millennium Entertainment is rolling out the horror comedy ‘Hell Baby." Participant Media is premiering its documentary "99% — The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film." Or how about Magnolia Pictures' "Touchy Feely" - the Sundance hit about a massage therapist unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact?
"Anybody who says they're bored with the same old stuff at the multiplexes has their head in the sand," BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap, "at least this weekend."
Here's a look at a few of the weekend's more intriguing offerings:
Hudson plays the woman who became the public face of the fight against apartheid in South Africa while her husband Nelson Mandela, played by Terrence Howard, was in prison for 27 years. It's the first of two films about the Mandelas scheduled to arrive in theaters this year. The Weinstein Company has set "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which features British actors Idris Elba as Nelson and Naomie Harris as Winnie, for November 29. Part of the reason distributor RLJ Entertainment scheduled the R-rated film for fall was to give Hudson a chance to win her second Best Actress Oscar. The former "American Idol" star won in 2006 for "Dreamgirls." It will be in 32 theaters.
The Weinstein Company had hoped to release "Salinger" prior to the release of the Salerno's nine-years-in-the-making book of the same name, but it wasn't completed in time. That may actually have helped, as the docu has received a ton of publicity following its premiere in Telluride last weekend. Most of that centered on the movie's explosive claim that the reclusive author wrote five more books after going into seclusion. It will be in two theaters in New York and two in L.A.
"The Ultimate Life"
Director Michael Landon Jr.'s follow-up to the "The Ultimate Gift" stars Jason Bartholomew as a billionaire with questionable priorities who re-examines his life after discovering his grandfather's journal. As with the original film, the faith-based drama will target Heartland audiences, and be in roughly 400 theaters. Peter Fonda co-stars.
The R-rated French comedy, co-written and directed by Regis Roinsard, is the tale of Rose (Deborah Francois), a lousy secretary but a great typist. Her boss (Romain Duris) makes the most of the situation. TWC has it in three theaters.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton's R-rated comedy premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is her follow-up to last year's "Your Sister's Sister," which also starred Rosemarie DeWitt. The ensemble cast also includes Josh Pais, Ellen Page, Scoot McNairy, Allison Janney and Ron Livingston. Magnolia Pictures has it in two theaters.
The R-rated crime drama, written and directed by Bryan Ramirez, is the first film from Montelongo Productions, founded by the former star of TV's "Flip This House." Jeremy Valdez, Walter Perez, Joseph Julian Soira and Will Rothhaar star in "Mission Park," which follows a group of four friends, two of whom fall into a life of crime, two who become FBI agents. As part of the AMC Independent program, it will be in 14 theaters in New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Antonio.
Written and directed by Hannah Fidell, it's a non-sensational but emotionally intense look at the slow disintegration of the life of a high school teacher (Lindsay Burge) who has an affair with a student. Oscilloscope Pictures has the unrated drama in two theaters.