Specialty films seek holiday heat

Memorial Day weekend has been kind to artpix

For the past three weekends, Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has successfully circumvented this year’s early summer tentpoles by keeping a relatively low profile at fewer than 400 locations. But Searchlight will test the pic’s holiday grit this weekend, expanding it to more than 1,200 Stateside engagements.

“Hotel” has cumed almost $10 million domestically, with anoverseas tally approaching $80 million thanks to standout perfs in Australia and the U.K.

Several fresh titles are looking to take advantage of the Memorial Day weekend, which has proven to be prime real estate for specialty counterprogrammers (consider last year’s “The Tree of Life”).

“Hotel” is joined by newcomers including Focus Features’ Cannes opener “Moonrise Kingdom” and the Weinstein Co.’s overseas box office sensation “The Intouchables.” Both launch at four locations each in New York and L.A.

“Moonrise,” starring Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton, marks the first Memorial Day weekend release for Focus and helmer Wes Anderson. Last year’s Cannes opener, Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” bowed the weekend before Memorial Day with 2011’s best opening per-screen average of $99,834.

Anderson’s past films have typically opened in the fall, so they don’t provide equal comparisons. But Fox Searchlight’s “Tree of Life,” which bowed this same weekend in 2011, should provide a fair comp — that pic earned last year’s second-highest per-screen average of $93,230.

“In light of what ‘Marigold’ has been doing to stir up the market, it would be nice to take part in that high-end film momentum,” said Focus distribution prexy Jack Foley.

For comedy “Intouchables,” the story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy handicapped Frenchman and the poor black man he hires as his caretaker, TWC is leaning on word of mouth. A blockbuster in France, pic turned in excellent perfs in Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea for an international total of $340 million.

“It has a lot of obstacles to overcome, being a French-subtitled film,” said TWC distribution exec Erik Lomis. “But we’re going to give America every opportunity to discover the movie.”

Two weeks ago, TWC sneaked “Intouchables” alongside several screenings of “The Artist.” While the sneaks saw middling success, the film did well in exit polls, with viewers unanimously rating the film “excellent” or “very good.”

“Hopefully, it’ll play throughout the summer as smart adult counterprogramming,” Lomis said of “Intouchables.” That demo has been supporting Searchlight’s “Marigold Hotel” in a big way. It’s played especially well to seniors in markets like Phoenix and Tampa, Fla., but it also gained support so far from over-50 auds in markets outside of New York and L.A. including Boston, Denver and Atlanta.

There are plenty of specialty hopefuls beyond this weekend: A trio of titles enter the market on June 8, FilmDistrict’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” Fox Searchlight’s “Lola Versus” and IFC’s “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.” Meanwhile, Focus and Sony Pictures Classics try their luck the weekend of June 22 with “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and “To Rome With Love.”

Searchlight launches Sundance hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild” midweek on June 27, followed two days later by Magnolia’s “Take This Waltz.” Other specialty summer highlights include Fox Searchlight’s “Ruby Sparks” (July 25), LD Entertainment’s “Killer Joe” (July 27) and Sony Classics’ “Celeste and Jesse Forever” (Aug. 3).

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