One of the big box office surprises from this weekend was the success of the corporate finance thriller “Arbitrage.” It grossed an estimated $2.07 million at under 200 locations (around a $10,500 per-theater average). What makes this hit bypass many pundits, even me who calls out box office surprise hits left and right, is the fact “Arbitrage” is available in the VOD format. Movies released in theaters and on VOD rarely perform well. This might be changing.
No doubt in “Arbitrage” does Richard Gere deliver a solid dramatic, Oscar nominee worthy comeback performance, where stress wears on him and his relationships. You can see it in his sad face. He is a man chasing after more profits, to close the next big sale, and to be the best a capitialist society wants him to be…all while cheating. It directly speaks to our “greed-is-good” times where the super wealthy get what they want…at a price, of course. The political/social themes are boiling at a simmer during the entire running time. Many viewers might not realize they are watching a politically charged film on class-ism. In a telling scene when a vital character tells Richard Gere that he wants to purchase an Applebees, in which Gere responds “What’s an Applebees?” The rich 1% in Mathattan wouldnt step foot in an Applebees let alone know what one is. Recent newcomer Nate Parker (“Red Tails”) makes a stunning breakout performance as a man unwillingly brought into the complicated situations. Tim Roth and Susan Sarandon are mature actors who provide key dramatic tension. All round, there are plenty of impressive acting and surprising third act twists in “Arbitrage.”
Lionsgate/Roadside Attraction, the same distributor as “Arbitrage” tried to be succesful last year with the finance thriller “Margin Call.” Eventhough numerous critics raved about the movie, I found it underwhelming; a medicore film with moments of greatness courtesy of the screenplay and a diabolical performance from Jeremy Irons. Both ‘Margin’ and “Arbitrage” were corporate finance thrillers primed for CNBC viewers, both were purchased at the Sundance Film Festival, both were availabe in theaters and VOD and both had aging, former A-List stars lookng for a comback. Yet, “Margin Call” didn’t connect with audiences like “Arbitrage” currently has. And if word of mouth is any indication, it will continue to perform decently in the coming weeks.
“Arbitrage” was perfect counter programming for highly educated, older adult audiences who weren’t going to give the new “Resident Evil” movie or “Finding Nemo” in 3D a snowballs chance in hell. Despite the theatrical success of “Arbitrage,” consumers had an option to watch it at home or at the theater. Older audiences, who might not be familiar with the VOD technology, might have preferred the familiarity of the theater instead of staying at home. Though if my opening night, sold out showing in Denver was any indication, many people still like to go out to their local theater. People in smaller towns where “Arbitrage” didn’t open also have an opportunity to watch the movie at home. Finally, the VOD format scored a victory and can now cite the success of “Arbitrage” as proof the format isnt boxoffice poison.