Universal Pictures is giving Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans a platform release starting with four locations in NYC (Lincoln Square, Union Square) and LA (The Grove, Century City) with a robust media campaign aimed at cinephiles, but also capitalizing on the broad appeal of a Spielberg production, testament to unusual pedigree of the semiautobiographical film.
It premiered in Toronto, with Spielberg’s first ever appearance at the fest. Reviews were great. Deadline’s here called it “a glorious tribute to art and family.” TIFF’s audience handed it the People’s Choice Award. Like other well-reviewed specialty fare, it is starting small to let word of mouth build before expanding to about 600 screens, a mix of arthouse and commercial theaters, on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. Initial response to the film indicates appeal across demographics — a good film to see with family over the holiday.
Schindler’s List (1993), Lincoln (2012) and The Post (2017) also had limited openings, but leading to wide releases. It was unknown if the force behind Jaws, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and so many other iconic films will appear at opening weekend.
The media campaign included a heavy presence in NY/LA with a high profile out-of-home, social, local TV, newspaper and trade presence and spots across premium linear and streaming dramas from new seasons of Yellowstone to The Handmaid’s Tale. Broader reach included NFL, the World Series and connected TV takeovers on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Vizio and Samsung. Spielberg and cast have been out and about, hitting CBS Sunday Moring, The Today Show, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and Live With Kelly.
Written by Spielberg and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, The Fabelmans stars Gabriel LaBelle as 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker Sammy Fabelman. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are his parents Mitzi and Burt, Seth Rogen his dad’s best friend and honorary “uncle” to the Fabelman children, and Judd Hirsch is Mitzi’s Uncle Boris. Music by five-time Academy Award winner John Williams.
This wasn’t an easy week to book screens with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sucking up oxygen and a dozen or more festival favorites and Oscar hopefuls currently in theaters from Tar and Triangle of Sadness, to The Banshees of Inisherin, Holy Spider and Aftersun. That’s good, however. The stream of product has been bucking up the indie space even as the broader market is set for one of the biggest openings of the year.
Elsewhere in specialty: Streamers bring a few notable films to the screen this week. Netflix debuts Sally El Hosaini’s The Swimmers in 20+ theaters in as many markets, including IFC Center in NYC and Landmark Westwood and the Bay in LA. The TIFF official selection and opening night film — which won El Hosaini won the TIFF Tribute Emerging Talent Award — follows the harrowing true journey of two sisters and champion swimmers from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Written by El Hosaini and Jack Thorne. Produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner alongside Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole with Stephen Daldry executive producing. On Netflix Nov. 23. Deadline review here.
Also from Netflix, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio opened Wednesday at the Laemmle Royal in LA, expanding today to Los Feliz and the Bay in LA, Landmark Opera Plaza in SF and TIFF Bell LIghtbox in Toronto. Expansion continues next week. A stop-motion animated reimagining of the classic Carlo Collodi tale of the fabled wooden boy, directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. Written by del Toro and Patrick McHale. With Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson and Burn Gorman. Streaming Dec. 9. See Deadline’s London Film Festival review.
In Her Hands, the first project from Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s HiddenLight Productions, opens at IFC Center in NYC. The documentary from directors Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen tells the story of Zarifa Ghafari, who at 26 became one of Afghanistan’s first female mayors and the youngest to ever hold the position. The film documents her fight for survival against the backdrop of her country’s accelerated unraveling as Western forces announce their retreat and the Taliban start their sweep back to power. Premiered at TIFF. Streaming Nov. 16.
Noting: Netflix’ BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths by Alejandro G. Iñárritu moves to about 25 theaters in 15+ cities, continuing to expand next week. The film premiered at Venice and opened last week at the Paris and Village East in NYC and the Nuart in LA. A renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles, wins a prestigious international award and returns to his native country and an existential crisis.
Apple TV+ presents Sean Anders’ Spirited at 11 locations across 10 markets, expanding to 725+ locations across the U.S. and U.K. next weekend. A re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer and huge musical numbers. Deadline review here. Streaming Nov. 18.
To the other extreme, Zipporah Films presents Frederick Wiseman’s one-woman film Un Couple starring Nathalie Boutefeu as Sophia Tolstoy. At the Film Forum in New York with a limited expansion planned in upcoming weeks. Leo and Sophia Tolstoy, married for 36 years and with 13 children, each kept a diary. This is Sophia’s monologue about the joys and struggles of their life together, loosely drawn from her diary and their letters to each other. Premiere at Venice. Deadline review here.
Vertical Entertainment presents Sam & Kate in 50 theaters in top markets. On VOD next Friday. A family dramedy with Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek and, unusually, their offspring in life and in the film, respectively Jake Hoffman and Schuyler Fisk. Jake Hoffman plays Sam, who’s returned home to small town mid-America to take care of his ailing dad Bill (Dustin Hoffman). Sam falls for a local woman, Kate (Fisk) even as Bill starts to fall for her mom, Tina (Spacek).
IFC Films presents Bar Fight! from writer-director Jim Mahoney in theaters in limited release and on-demand. Starring Melissa Fumero, Rachel Bloom, Luka Jones and Julian Gant. There’s only one way to settle the score after a break-up and for Nina (Fumero) and Allen (Jones) it’s a turf war for their favorite local bar.
Apropos of arthouse, closing with The Film Collaborative’s presentation of Raphael Sbarge’s documentary Only In Theaters on the history of Laemmle Theatres, the 84-year-old Los Angeles arthouse cinema chain and the three generations of family behind the business, which is currently run by CEO Greg Laemmle. Premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It’s playing in six of the circuit’s seven locations, moving to the New Plaza Cinema film society in NYC. Filming started in early 2019, with the last day of shooting on the day theaters reopened after Covid.
Noting: You Resemble Me by Dina Amer, executive produced by Spike Lee, Riz Ahmed, Spike Jonze, Alma Har’el, reported opening grosses of $14.39k at the Angelika Film Center. The filmmakers are independently releasing the pic, which expands to Laemmle NoHo in LA on 11/11 and to over 35 markets including major chains such as AMC, Harkins, Regal and leading independent cinemas. Premiered in Venice.