Specialty Box Office: Wes Anderson's 'Isle of Dogs' Barks Up Career-Biggest Bow

Isle of Dogs Still 2- Berlin International Film Festival - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Conversely, Steven Soderbergh's new indie film, 'Unsane,' marks the lowest opening of the director's career.

The combination of filmmaker Wes Anderson and dogs proved irresistible at the specialty box office over the weekend.

Anderson's stop-motion animated feature Isle of Dogs debuted to an estimated $1.57 million from 27 theaters in six North American cities, the biggest opening of the director's career. Nearly all of his movies have first bowed in four or fewer theaters in New York and Los Angeles, the typical course for an arthouse-minded title. (The one exception was his first film, Bottle Rocket, which opened to $124,118 from 28 theaters in 1996.)

From Fox Searchlight, Isle of Dogs impressed in delivering a theater average of $58,148 — the best ever for a title opening in 25 or more theaters. The Blair Witch Project (1999), which likewise launched in 27 cinemas, was the previous record-holder ($56,002).

Isle of Dogs also secured the top average of the year to date, despite playing in far more theaters than most specialty releases, such as the Stanley Tucci-directed Final Portrait, which opened in three theaters over the weekend, earning $28,214 for a theater average of $9,405. Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer star in Final Portrait, from Sony Pictures Classics.

Set in the near future in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a young boy who tries to rescue his pet after the ruthless mayor of Megasaki blames dogs for a flu outbreak and exiles all canines to Trash Island. (In recent days, Anderson's decision to have the dogs speak English and the residents of Megasaki speak Japanese has sparked a debate over cultural appropriation.)

The star-studded ensemble voice cast includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Yoko Ono, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber and Courtney B. Vance.

Fox Searchlight opted to open Isle of Dogs in 27 theaters — versus the usual four in L.A. and N.Y. — in order to give more of Anderson's followers a chance to see the film immediately. Plus, the distributor knew it would likely be impossible to match the record-setting theater average of Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which opened to $811,166 from four locations for an average of $202,712, the best ever for a specialty title opening in more than one cinema.

In addition to L.A. and N.Y., Isle of Dogs also launched in Washington, San Francisco, Toronto and Austin, Texas, where the movie recently screened at SXSW.

"We thought the average would be $45,000 to $50,000. To get to nearly $60,000 proves that we were right in giving fans an opportunity to come out as soon as possible," says Fox Searchlight distribution chief Frank Rodriguez, noting that the pic played just as well in mainstream multiplexes as it did in arthouse locales.

Isle of Dogs opened on National Puppy Day (March 23). Fox Searchlight's marketing campaign for the film included promoting it during the recent Westminster Kennel Show, as well as hosting screenings where people were invited to bring along their dogs.

Isle of Dogs received a glowing A CinemaScore from ticket buyers, with 60 percent of the audience under the age of 30 (many specialty films skew older). However, it isn't a family film and was intentionally rated PG-13. Anderson's other stop-motion film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was rated PG and was far more family-friendly. (In 2009, Fantastic Mr. Fox posted a screen average of $66,475 upon opening in four cinemas.)

Next weekend, Isle of Dogs expands into an additional 22 markets and a total of 150 to 175 theaters. It doesn't begin rolling out overseas until next month.

The pic made its world premiere in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Anderson won the Silver Bear for best director.

Another movie from a high-profile filmmaker that made a stop in Berlin likewise opened over the weekend — Steven Soderbergh's Unsane — albeit to much different results.

Unsane took in $3.9 million from 2,023 theaters, the worst start of the director's career for a film opening nationwide, despite generally strong reviews and the popularity of star Claire Foy (The Crown). Audiences liked the pic decidedly less than critics, giving it a B- CinemaScore.

Bleecker Street and Soderbergh's Fingerprint Releasing partnered in releasing the indie psychological horror-thriller, which was shot with an iPhone 7 and cost just north of $1 million to produce. Fingerprint and Bleecker Street also released Logan Lucky, Soderbergh's last film. Logan Lucky also was a box-office disappointment, opening to $7.6 million in August 2017 on its way to topping out at $47 million globally.

Overseas, Unsane debuted to a meek $805,000 from its first five markets, including a seventh-place finish in the U.K. ($675,000).