Once again, with a huge opening in Los Angeles for music documentary “Echo in the Canyon” (Greenwich), the genre is playing a vital role in keeping arthouses healthy. With “The Biggest Little Farm” (Neon) leading the way among holdovers as it adds theaters, documentaries’ central role in the specialty market stands out in stark contrast to what should have been a strong narrative opener, smart-girl comedy “Booksmart” (United Artists).
Until recently, that well-reviewed SXSW breakout would have been likely to build buzz in limited and play at specialized theaters, but instead opened wide this weekend. Though many core theaters are able to play it, competing theaters lessen their grosses, and in many cases they find themselves replaced by major chain competitors.
Echo in the Canyon (Greenwich) – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Los Angeles 2018
$103,716 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $51,858
Boomer appeal, top theater placement in Los Angeles, and special appearances by producer-star Jakob Dylan and others added up to a spectacular opening for this documentary in its initial two theaters. These are among the top specialized initial numbers in some time. Jakob Dylan tells the story of musicians’ haven Laurel Canyon and surrounding communities in the late 1960s/early1970s, a subject which resonates with both older music fans and younger ones curious about a fabled time.
What comes next: New York opens this Friday. With these numbers expect much wider interest ahead.
The Tomorrow Man (Bleecker Street) – Metacritic: 48; Festivals include: Sundance 2019
$19,327 in 4 theaters; PTA: $4,832; Cumulative: $23,739
The latest example of the once reliable older audience becoming less so, this Sundance romance between two eccentric seniors (John Lithgow and Blythe Danner, both successful in recent similar films) failed to gain much traction in its initial New York/Los Angeles dates. The film landed top theaters and the usual strong push from Bleecker Street, but mediocre reviews hurt the cause.
What comes next: Five initial new cities open Friday, with further beyond.
The Proposal (Oscilloscope) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Tribeca, Hamptons 2018
$12,100 in 1 theater; PTA: $12,100
Another case of a niche topic documentary — preserving the archives of a leading Mexican architect — that finds an initial audience, this well-reviewed film opened at New York’s IFC Center to excellent initial results.
What comes next: Los Angeles this Friday starts the national roll-out.
Halston (1091) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Sundance, Tribeca 2019
$11,824 in 1 theater; PTA: $11,824
No matter how many documentaries are made about iconic fashion figures, the next one seems to find an audience. The latest, opening at New York’s Quad theater, is no different with a good debut in a limited-seated screen.
What comes next: This Friday sees Los Angeles and Boston as the initial new dates.
Diamantino (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 77; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2018
$6,412 in theaters; PTA: $6,412
This topical Portuguese comedy (about a fading soccer star who takes on the role of defending refugees and fighting the rise of neo-fascism) follows strong festival play with some initial attention in its exclusive New York date.
What comes next: This has planned dates in other top cities ahead.
The Spy Behind Home Plate (Ciesla)
$10,250 in 1 theater; PTA: $10,250
While many narrative films follow a well-received documentary, the process is reversed here. Last year saw “The Catcher Was a Spy” nab some specialized interest in its retelling of the post-baseball life of Moe Berg. This documentary opened in one theater in Washington, an unusual strategy that initially clicked with a strong initial gross.
What comes next: An exclusive New York date opens this Friday, with Los Angeles and San Francisco leading the wider expansion the following week.
Woodstock: The Days That Defined a Generation (PBS) – Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Tribeca 2019
$8,150 in 2 theaters; PTA: $4,075
The other counter-culture summer event a half century ago noted this year (Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has dibs on the second one) is recaptured in this documentary, which opened in two New York theaters to decent reviews and modest initial response.
What comes next: The Bay area is the next big city opening this week, with Los Angeles among those the following week.
The Souvenir (A24)
$141,496 in 23 theaters (+19); PTA: $6,152; Cumulative: $263,152
Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical story of a young filmmaker (Tilda Swinton sprig Honor Swinton Byrne) in a troubled relationship expanded to initial top cities. Continuing to earn top-end reviews, it is showing decent but not great early response.
$119,564 in 122 theaters (+109); PTA: $964; Cumulative: $169,965
The latest Mumbai-set film from the director of the popular “The Lunchbox” isn’t having the same response as it quickly widened nationally. The earlier 2014 effort grossed over $4 million.
Trial By Fire (Roadside Attractions)
$11,575 in 45 theaters (-64); PTA: $257; Cumulative: $136,255
Veteran director Edward Zwick’s latest, a death penalty drama, barely held on to a second weekend after its initial weak grosses.
Walking On Water (Kino Lorber)
$16,986 in 8 theaters (+6); PTA: $2,183; Cumulative: $45,536
Another documentary about a creative figure, the artist Christo, showed modest interest as it added two west coast cities.
Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)
The Biggest Little Farm (Neon) Week 3
$492,350 in 180 theaters (+135); Cumulative: $1,022,288
As is becoming the new normal, the top wider specialty release is a documentary. This study of a Southern California biodiverse farming community continues to show national interest as it adds theaters across the country.
The White Crow (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$357,361 in 356 theaters (+220); Cumulative: $1,182,000
Rudolf Nureyev and key moments of his early career are recreated in Ralph Fiennes’ biopic, which more than doubled its theaters. It has passed the $1 million mark, with a gross approaching $2 million likely.
Amazing Grace (Neon) Week 10
$145,200 in 152 theaters (-75); Cumulative: $3,958,000
Aretha Franklin, performing decades ago, remains a current force to be reckoned with. The documentary about a 1972 recording session still is adding gross at the end of its second month of release.
All Is True (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3
$138,207 in 64 theaters (+44); Cumulative: $295,062
Director-star Kenneth Branagh’s imagining of Shakespeare’s life and times (costarring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen) broadened to more major markets with a continued modest response.
Red Joan (IFC) Week 6
$128,732 in 132 theaters (-62); Cumulative: $1,390,000
Judi Dench, as the older British home office intelligence worker who gave secret information to the Soviets early in her career, has been the main draw for this older audience drama. Though it has outperformed most recent narrative specialized releases, the film has drawn less interest than the typical Dench release.
Non-Fiction (IFC) Week 4
$124,318 in 60 theaters (+35); Cumulative: $315,188
Olivier Assayas’ latest quintessential French adult drama with Juliette Binoche continues to perform at a level above the average of other recent subtitled films.
Apollo 11 (Neon) – $20,000 in 20 theaters; Cumulative: $8,709,000
The Chaperone (PBS) -$13,430 in theaters; Cumulative: $566,792