Narrative live action has struggled at the 2018 specialty box office; so far the top titles are either animated or documentary. But that has suddenly changed. “Eighth Grade” (A24) had a sensational two-city initial response. And “Sorry to Bother You” (Annapurna) expanded rapidly with continued strong results. Meantime serious drama “Leave No Trace” (Bleecker Street) successfully added more theaters to bring the indie count to three non-documentary hits.
Not that documentaries have peaked. “Three Identical Strangers” (Neon) is also breaking through to a wider public.
Yes, there were several major successes, but this summer lineup offered narrow appeal, leaving out more sophisticated fare. It’s too soon to celebrate. But after a worrisome first half of the year, summer brings upbeat news.
Eighth Grade (A24) – Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: Sundance, South by Southwest 2018
$252,284 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $63,071
Top level reviews (at the level of “The Rider” and “First Reformed”) clicked big time in initial four city dates. Among films to only open in New York and Los Angeles, “Eighth Grade” is the top specialized opener for the year (its PTA is better than “Isle of Dogs” and “Sorry to Bother You” because those films took more cities initially).
This marks another initial triumph for A24, which not coincidentally also plays to a younger rather than conventional older art house crowd. Its shared experience of late middle school trauma, particularly among women, clearly resonated initially.
What comes next: This looks like it has the credentials to quickly expand and face the sequel-dominated studio releases.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Amazon) – Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Sundance, San Francisco, Seattle 2018
$83,120 in 4 theaters; PTA: $20,780
This is veteran director Gus Van Sant’s best limited opening since “Milk” nearly a decade ago. The director returns to his roots for this adaptation of the autobiography of a Portland-based cartoonist with a drinking problem who resists change even after a catastrophic accident lands him in a wheelchair. A top cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, and Jonah Hill add to the appeal. Reviews were Van Sant’s best since “Milk.” This got top theater play in its initial New York/Los Angeles dates, with the certainty that Amazon will aggressively market this ahead. The initial results are a bit less than half of their earlier 2018 release of the Phoenix-starring “You Were Never Really Here.”
What comes next: The national expansion starts this Friday.
Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Cohen) – Metacritic: 55
$35,607 in 9 theaters; PTA: $3,956; Cumulative: $43,820
Veteran French actor Vincent Cassel portrays the artist in his South Pacific days. This film centers on his relationship as a middle-aged man with a teenage local girl. It opened last Wednesday in New York, with some added theaters Friday. The reviews were mixed at best, with grosses following suit.
What comes next: This opens at other top art houses over the next few weeks nationally.
Milford Graves Full Mantis (Cinema Guild) – Metacritic: 78; Rotterdam, South by Southwest 2018
$8,515 in 1 theater; PTA: $8,515
This week’s entry about an avant-garde jazz pioneer joins the array of documentaries about important but not widely known creative figures. It opened at Manhattan’s Metrograph Theater to some good reviews (including a New York Times critics’ pick) and positive initial gross.
What comes next: Los Angeles and San Francisco open on July 27 with limited engagements in other cities ahead.
Dark Money (PBS) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Sundance 2018
$8,100 in 1 theater; PTA: $8,100
This documentary about the impact of unrestricted campaign financing on Montana’s elections opened to a decent response in one Manhattan theater.
What comes next: Washington opens this Friday, with other large cities opening over the summer. It will eventually show on PBS, but seeing it in theaters is recommended since that outlet normally edits its films to fit a 90 minute slot (this film is 99 minutes).
Sorry to Bother You (Annapurna)
$4,258,000 in 805 theaters (+789); PTA: $5,289; Cumulative: $5,323,000
The quick expansion of Boots Riley’s genre-bending comedy a la “Get Out” managed to land at #7 overall despite playing in only 805 theaters. The gross is similar to that of another Oakland-set film, Ryan Coogler’s breakout “Fruitvale Station,” when it went national in its third weekend. These are strong numbers, but it will take another week before we get a sense of its ultimate appeal.
Whitney (Roadside Attractions)
$535,385 in 408 theaters (-43); PTA: $1,115; Cumulative: $2,358,000
One documentary not getting top results, the second weekend for this close look at Whitney Houston’s life is performing at a level that suggests it has taken in most of its gross.
Yellow Submarine (Abramorama) (reissue) Week 2
$84,739 in 79 theaters (-109); PTA: $1,068; Cumulative: $460,961
50 years after its initial release, the classic Beatles animated movie was released as a special event last Sunday, with this weekend seeing some holdover dates adding revenue.
Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Focus) Week 6
$1,885,000 in 868 theaters (-25); Cumulative: $15,823,000
The Fred Rogers documentary continues to hold well, falling only about 25 percent as it settles in at theaters, down slightly from its widest point. This will easily top $20 million.
Three Identical Strangers (Neon) Week 3
$1,181,000 in 170 theaters (+119); Cumulative: $2,518,000
The third-week expansion for this documentary about separated triplets continues strong. The number is close to the second weekend for “RBG” at the same number of theaters. This looks like it is already breaking out with a shot at becoming the third documentary of the year to top $10 million.
Leave No Trace (Bleecker Street) Week 3
$1,159,000 in 311 theaters (+274); Cumulative: $2,122,000
Debra Granik’s first film since “Winter’s Bone” in only its third weekend goes to more than double the widest point since that Best Picture nominee. It had a decent Saturday night uptick, which suggests it is finding its core older audience. Bleecker quickly expanded, with major competition from other recent openers ahead. This looks like Bleecker’s best limited opening title since “The Lost City of Z” last spring.
RBG (Magnolia) Week 11 12518 in 176
$(est.) 240,000 in 125 theaters (-51); Cumulative: $(est.) 12,757,000
Nearly three months into its release, the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary continues to find new viewers.
Hearts Beat Loud (Gunpowder & Sky) Week 6
$131,025 in 131 theaters (-38); Cumulative: $2,116,000
Another Sundance premiere had some impact, as this father/daughter musician story should top $2.5 million.
The Cakemaker (Strand) Week 3
$(est.) 95,000 in 23 theaters (+13); Cumulative: $(est.) 246,000
The early stages of this poignant Israeli film with a gay twist are showing signs of real interest and the chance that this could end up among the top specialized subtitled releases of the year.
American Animals (The Orchard) Week 7
$78,408 in 78 theaters (-57); Cumulative: $2,714,000
The late stages of this true crime recreation look to get it close to a $3 million take.
Boundaries (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4
$77,667 in 145 theaters (-79); Cumulative: $557,169
Christopher Plummer’s west coast family caravan is having a quick fade with a gross below a million looking likely.
The Catcher Was a Spy (IFC) Week 4
$52,178 in 46 theaters (-6); Cumulative: $578,104
Based on a true story, this thriller about the major league player who worked undercover during World War II took a big drop after some steady numbers at limited theaters.