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Documentaries Rock the Specialty Box Office: ‘Gotti’ Ain’t Got It

Documentaries are a better bet these days than conventional narratives, even with festival cred.

wont you be my neighbor

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Three documentaries are kings of the specialty box office. “Eating Animals” (IFC) had a stellar Manhattan opening, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus) continued to pack houses on its  second weekend, and “RBG” (Magnolia) is now over $10 million and looking for more.

The question is how the two established hits will expand to general audience theaters. Still, documentaries remain a stronger bet than conventional narrative films these days, even with a festival pedigree. Even the promising “First Reformed” (A24) faded as it went wider; in this market it’s tough to get to $3 million.

Gotti” (MoviePass/Vertical) is the odd man out here, a star-driven biopic that thanks to its Cannes premiere tested the theatrical waters rather than take its planned streaming release. Despite terrible reviews, “Gotti” wasn’t a total disaster, but hardly marked the return to prominence producer-star John Travolta had hoped for.

Gotti John Travolta


Gotti (Vertical) – Metacritic: 27; Festivals include: Cannes 2018

$1,670,000 in 503 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $3,320

Yes, the reviews are bad. The gross at national top-grossing theaters was modest, but did get some sampling at most locations.

Still, the question is whether the expense of this limited theatrical play will realize better returns than the original plan. Rights to the film switched after Lionsgate planned to give this a token release parallel to streaming.

What comes next: In the heart of the summer at the level of theaters at which this is playing it will be a struggle to hold more than token shows.

Eating Animals (IFC) – Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Telluride 2017

$35,215 in 2 theaters; PTA: $17,607

Another example of the elevated appeal, at least initially, in documentaries at the moment. This expose of mass animal farming makes a larger case for the damage meat eating does to the world. It opened in two Manhattan theaters to excellent numbers. This could be a case of elevated interest among activists. But if so, that isn’t limited to just New York and this could find at least initial specialized theater response across the country.

What comes next: More cities open this Friday, including the Landmark in Los Angeles.

Week Two

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Focus)

$985,000 in 96 theaters (+67); PTA: $10,253; Cumulative: $1,693,000

Very strong numbers for this documentary on Fred Rogers in its second weekend. The PTA is roughly on par with the same frame for “RBG.” The lack of a tribal political context for this might make the future appeal less intense on one level, but could bring wider interest. That will be further tested as it expands to over 300 theaters this Friday. Meantime, a gross similar to “RBG” seems likely.

Nick Offerman and Toni Collette in "Hearts Beat Loud"

“Hearts Beat Loud”

Jon Pack

Hearts Beat Loud (Gunpowder & Sky)

$249,581 in 83 theaters (+79); PTA: $3,007; Cumulative: $348,453

Musician dad and college-bound daughter expand their at home jam sessions into surprise popular success. Nick Offerman in a rare lead (“Hereditary” star Toni Collete lends support) adds to the appeal for this Sundance buy that quickly expanded to numbers. Whether it can hold at this level will determine its position for a lengthy run or wider exposure. That’s the gamble distributors are increasingly taking — get a film out aggressively shortly after opening and hope that word of mouth does the trick.



Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

RBG (Magnolia) Week 7

$483,000 in 290 theaters (-85); Cumulative: $10,102,000

This Magnolia/Participant Media documentary has passed the $10 million mark. That’s rare, and puts it puts ahead of uber-hits “Amy,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” and “Waiting for Superman.” The next target: beat recently-pardoned Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America,” which is currently $4 million ahead.

First Reformed (A24) Week 5

$329,500 in 273 theaters (-61); Cumulative: $2,405,000

The wider break for Paul Schrader’s acclaimed crisis of faith drama isn’t yielding results similar to the early weeks. Remaining theaters did hold their drop to around 25 per cent.

American Animals (The Orchard) Week 3

$216,731 in 72 theaters (+30); Cumulative: $760,617

This recreation (with participation from the actual perpetrators) of a Kentucky college library rare book heist continues to add top markets. It’s nabbing a modest response so far, with numbers at a similar level to “First Reformed.”

Saoirse Ronan

“The Seagull”

Sony Pictures Classics

The Seagull (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6

$144,760 in 211 theaters (+122); Cumulative: $873,596

The trio of Bening, Ronan, and Moss in Chekhov continues to struggle to gain much traction as SPC gets it out to most of the country.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner Bros.) Week 5  (reissue)

$80,000 in 13 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $853,000

The 70mm reissue expanded to more cities in what will continue to be a very limited run (because of few theaters with capacity to play).

The Rider (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10

$72,802 in 94 theaters (-94); Cumulative: $2,118,000

Late in its run, Chloe Zhao’s high-end acclaimed contemporary Western has passed $2 million but never seemed to find an audience equal to its acclaim. These days $2-3 million has become the default  likely gross for all but a few breakout titles.

Also noted:

Beast (Roadside Attractions) – $29,100 in 49 theaters; Cumulative: $763,410

On Chesil Beach (Bleecker Street) – $27,060 in 73 theaters; Cumulative: $677.257

Summer 1993 (Oscilloscope) – $20,500 in theaters; Cumulative: $98,624

Pope Francis – A Man of His Word (Focus) – $15,000 in theaters; Cumulative: $1,840,000

The Guardians (Music Box) – $10,256 in 8 theaters; Cumulative: $10,256

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