By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 21, 2013 at 2:23PM
A critically acclaimed but incredibly challenging documentary stole the thunder from A-list stars at the specialty box office this weekend, with Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" finding the best opening per-theater-average of any documentary in 2013 thus far. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling's "Only God Forgives" and Kristen Wiig's "Girl Most Likely" both found mildly disappointing numbers on considerably more screens.
"The Act of Killing" had exclusive opening at the Landmark Sunshine in New York City, and its grosses topped 2013's top docs so far in terms of per-theater-average, including "56 Up" ($22,088 PTA), "The Gatekeepers" ($20,517 PTA) and "20 Feet From Stardom" ($18,199 PTA). It also made for one of the top 15 all-time per theater averages for a documentary. The film played in the largest theater at Sunshine and sold out enough shows that they added additional screenings to meet demand, and those screenings also sold out.
"I am thrilled by the record-breaking opening of 'Act of Killing' and how powerfully it is resonating with audiences," said Drafthouse Films CEO Tim League. "When we acquired the film, the hope was to build awareness about a the horrible unpunished crimes in Indonesia and bring about change. We are well on our way to accomplishing this mission."
The film re-tells the story of the little-known massacre in Indonesia in the 1960s and ’70s through Hollywood-style re-enactments of the crimes by the killers themselves. It will expand to exclusive engagements in LA and DC next weekend.
Also opening was RADiUS-TWC's "Only God Forgives," Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's follow-up to "Drive." In 78 theaters, the film managed a $315,000 gross, averaging $4,038. Certainly not a bad number (particularly for that aggressive screen count), but considering the success of "Drive" and marketability of Gosling it's mildly disappointing. Though that said, the film was released day-and-date on VOD, and early numbers suggest it's a huge hit there. RADiUS-TWC said it reached the number 2 spot on iTunes in record time, and is on a better track than last year's "Arbitrage," which was a breakout success on that platform. When all is said and done, the film could still end up being a success story for The Weinstein Company's new division.
Roadside Attractions opened Kristen Wiig-Annette Bening vehicle "Girl Most Likely" (formerly known as "Imogene") in 353 locations and saw similarly so-so theatrical numbers. The film $736,000 for a $2,085 average, enough for a debut in the overall top 20 though its average was below many studio holdovers playing on 5 or 6 times the screens (like "Monster's University" and "World War Z," for example). How the film holds up in the next weekend or two will be the true test, though "Girl" is unlikely to end up a hit at this point.
The weekend's other openers were Gabriela Cowperthwaite's "Blackfish" and Andrew Bujalski's "Computer Chess." The former -- about the danger of keeping killer whales in capacity -- hit 4 theaters and managed strong numbers, grossing $66,500 for a $16,625 average. The latter opened exclusively at NYC's Film Forum, taking in a decent $11,000 to bring its total since opening Wednesday to $18,322.2.
As far as indie holdovers went, "Only God Forgives" distributor continued to see fantastic numbers from crowdpleasing doc "20 Feet From Stardom," which grossed another $398,000 in its six weekend to hit $2,426,000, now making it the highest grossing doc of 2013.
Two other notable holdovers -- both of which, like "Stardom," were alums of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival -- were the second weekend of "Fruitvale Station" and the third of "The Way, Way Back." Released by The Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight, respectively, both are clearly turning into breakout hits and should end up being the highest grossing films to debut at Sundance this year.
"Fruitvale" went from 7 to 34 theaters and jumped 92%, grossing $742,000 for an excellent $21,824 average. That takes the film to a $1,334,000 before even expanding beyond 50 theaters, setting up a lot of potential for expansion. The film -- which won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance -- is tracking slightly ahead of last year's Sundance breakout "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which averaged $19,687 from 19 theaters in its second weekend to bring its total to $743,846.
"The Way, Way Back," meanwhile, added 225 theaters in its third weekend to bring its total to 304. The coming of age comedy -- which Fox Searchlight nabbed for a pricy $10 million -- continued to show it was worth its cost as a result. Grossing $2,240,000, the film landed just outside the overall top 10 with a $7,368 average. The film's total now stands at $4,632,270 before next weekend's national expansion, taking it to somewhere between 650-750 theaters.
Complete list of grosses on the next page.