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‘Free Solo’ Soars Ahead of Slower ‘The Old Man & the Gun’ at Strong Specialty Box Office

Made for the big screen, "Free Solo" marks the strongest opening of any documentary in 2018.

free solo alex honnold review

“Free Solo”

Fall releases continue to show promise for a strong fall season. “Free Solo” (National Geographic/Greenwich) is the standout, with exceptional initial results for this documentary about a perilous Yosemite mountain wall climb. While the Robert Redford vehicle “The Old Man & The Gun” opened to lower initial figures, Fox Searchlight should be able to push it to upcoming success as it goes wider.

“Solo” wasn’t the only documentary draw, as two initial runs for “Matangi/Maya/M.I.A” (Abramorama) did excellent initial business in New York and Los Angeles. Meantime, holdovers “Colette” (Bleecker Street) and “The Sisters Brothers” (Annapurna) found more interest in their second weekends, and “The Wife” (Sony Pictures Classics) continued to set a strong pace in wider release.


Free Solo (Greenwich) – Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2018

$300,804 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $75,201

Toronto’s documentary audience award-winner showed major audience appeal. “Meru” filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s  documentary of the first solo climb of El Capitan’s 3,000 foot height drew huge results in four theaters — one each in New York and Los Angeles and two in Denver — the best 2018 initial figures for any documentary in what has been an outstanding year for similar films.

This massive number compares to previous blockbusters like “An Inconvenient Truth” (about $100,000 in adjusted numbers in 2006).  While top grosses usually come from the two major coast cities, contributing to the total were two theaters in Denver (a center for rock climbing enthusiasts) that totaled nearly $100,000 themselves.

This documentary will boast strong crossover and wider audience appeal, particularly with the mighty marketing backing of National Geographic. Clearly, this film is meant to be experienced on a big screen rather than at home.

What comes next: What should be a major expansion ahead starts this Friday, with exhibitors likely chasing this for major theaters everywhere.

"The Old Man and the Gun"

“The Old Man & the Gun”

Fox Searchlight

The Old Man & the Gun (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2018

$150,000 in 5 theaters; PTA: $30,000

Robert Redford’s latest (and possibly final) lead role opened to strong reviews, great theater placement, and significant support from Fox Searchlight as its initial fall release. (This is their first specialized release since “Isle of Dogs” last March.) These are decent initial numbers, particularly compared to the opening of Redford’s previous platform opener “All Is Lost” (around $18,000 in adjusted PTA). It comes in about $10,000 per theater– under “Colette” last weekend and over “The Wife” last month. Expect “The Old Man” to perform well above the  “All is Lost”$7 million total. This story (about an elderly bank robber) has a shot of appealing even more to older audiences across the country.

What comes next: This adds eight more cities as it rapidly expands in coming weeks.

Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam appears in <i>MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.</i> by Steve Loveridge, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Steve Loveridge. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Matangi / MAYA / M.I.A.”  Courtesy of Sundance Institute


Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (Abramorama) – Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Sundance, Berlin 2018

$51,373 in theaters; PTA: $25,687

Bolstered by in-theater appearances by the Sri Lankan electronic hip hop performer M.I.A. on both coasts, this documentary on her work and social activism, this had a terrific start at New York’s IFC Center and Los Angeles’ Arclight Hollywood. Once again, fans of an artist show they will go to movies of a creative figure.

What comes next: A combination of one day showings and regular engagements (mostly calendar) begin during the week.


Monsters and Men (Neon) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Sundance, Toronto 2018

$130,979 in 18 theaters; PTA: $7,277

A Brooklyn story of a police shooting event and its aftermath (featuring “The BlackKklansman” star John David Washington), this Sundance drama opened in multiple cities. That lowered the PTA, but even so the results are positive. Even more impressive is the second-day increase of 84 percent, which suggests this is having an initially strong response.

What comes next: Further expansion begins this Friday.

All About Nina (The Orchard) – Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2018

$30,164 in 4 theaters; PTA: $7,541

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as a troubled comic in this fall festival film that opened in New York and Los Angeles. The results were in the middle range on a weekend with some major openings.

What comes next: This is slated for significant expansion starting this Friday.

Bad Reputation (Magnolia) – Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Sundance, San Francisco 2018; also streaming

$(est.) 35,000 in 7 theaters; PTA: $(est). 5,000

Joan Jett’s musical legacy is the subject of this documentary, which also played one night shows last week at about 200 theaters. Those grosses are unreported but likely much bigger than the decent results for the regular initial runs.

What comes next: This is likely to find attention on its streaming platforms ahead.

306 Hollywood (El Tigre) – Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Sundance 2018

$8,150 in 1 theater; PTA: $8,150

A decent start for this documentary about an excavation of an old woman’s home by her grandchildren. This only played in one 110-seat theater in New York, limiting its gross.

What comes next: Its national expansion starts this Friday, with Los Angeles the following week.

Black 47 (IFC) – Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: Berlin, Toronto 2018 – also streaming

$9,006 in 1 theater; PTA: $9,006

This 19th-century Irish revenge tale opened well in Manhattan, day and date with its home video availability.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday among other upcoming theatrical dates.


Week Two

Colette (Bleecker Street)

$418,501 in 38 theaters (+34); PTA: $11,013; Cumulative: $638,932

Excellent results for the second weekend of this biodrama carried by Keira Knightley as the French novelist. The per theater average is about the same as “The Wife” in twice as many theaters at the same point. That suggests significant interest and strong potential ahead.

The Sisters Brothers (Annapurna)

$244,091 in 27 theaters (+23); PTA: $9,040; Cumulative: $404,814

Jacques Audiard’s criminal gang western expanded decently to top cities in advance of an expected wider national break. The stellar cast (including Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, and Jake Gyllenhaal) should aid its cause to broader appeal.

Tea With the Dames (IFC)

$45,872 in 20 theaters (+19); PTA: $; Cumulative: $69,011

With Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in tow with two other venerable British actresses, this recording of their conversations spanning their lifetimes is gaining interest as it expands to top cities.

Gary Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Greenwich)

$8,302 in theaters (no change); PTA: $8,302; Cumulative: $28,241

The second weekend for this documentary about the groundbreaking photographer held up close to its initial weekend in its still single run in Manhattan.

The Wife - Production & Publicity Stills 10.11.16 sc 5 pt 1/2 - CASTLEMAN HOME- LIVING ROOMFriends and family are gathered at the housePRODUCTION OFFICESuite 6, 1st Floor, Alexander Stephen House, 91 Holmfauld Rd, Glasgow, G51 4RYTel: 0141 428 3776credit Graeme Hunter Pictures,Sunnybank Cottages. 117 Waterside Rd, Carmunnock, Glasgow. U.K. G76 9DU. t. 01416444564 m. 07811946280 e. graemehunter@mac.com"

“The Wife”

Graeme Hunter Pictures

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

The Wife (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7

$777,386 in 437 theaters (-32); Cumulative: $6,104,000

Interest remains strong in Glenn Close’s acclaimed role as a Nobel Prize winner’s spouse. The hold suggests this could add up to $4 million to its impressive total so far.

Mandy (RLJ) Week 3; also streaming

$(est.) 140,000 in 53 theaters; Cumulative: $(est.) 836,000

Exceptional continued business (the Video on Demand distributor refuses to provide numbers) for perhaps the ultimate over-the-top Nicolas Cage release. This is getting terrific word of mouth and finding ticket buyers despite its parallel availability.

Blaze (IFC) Week 7

$96,748 in 89 theaters (+46); Cumulative: $578,707

Ethan Hawke’s film about a 70s Texas musician is at its widest point, with a modest average.


Lizzie (Roadside Attractions) Week 3   80

$ in 206 theaters (-34); Cumulative: $

Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart in this recreation of the Lizzie Borden story are attracting minimal patronage in its third weekend.

The Bookshop (Greenwich) Week 6     72-1403   67

$70,834 in 74 theaters (+2); Cumulative: $1,473,000

The impressive run for this low-profile England-set period piece continues to get interest from older audiences.

Pick of the Litter (IFC) Week 5; also streaming

$74,628 in 74 theaters (+25); Cumulative: $366,531

The theater component of this multi-platform release for this service dog training documentary continues to spark some interest.

Juliet, Naked (Roadside Attractions) Week 7

$ in 71 theaters (-40); Cumulative: $

This music-world romantic comedy nears the end of its run somewhere short of $4 million even though it reached a maximum run of 467 theaters.

Science Fair (National Geographic) Week 3

$62,160 in 27 theaters (+22); Cumulative: $110,844

This year’s Sundance Festival favorite documentary winner expanded further this week with continued steady interest.

Also noted:

Puzzle (Sony Pictures Classics) – $36,785 in theaters; Cumulative: $1,976,000

Bisbee ’17 (4th Row) – $10,457 in 10 theaters; Cumulative: $74,907

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