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Sundance Hits ‘Late Night’ and ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Score at Specialty Box Office

This weekend brought welcome news for the specialty market as two well-reviewed narratives opened well.

Late Night

“Late Night”


The weekend brings upbeat news on the specialized front– and not just from documentaries. Two Sundance narrative titles, “Late Night” (Amazon) and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (A24) made strong platform starts. We’ll see if this translates into wider success.

Two documentaries also found audiences: “Pavarotti” (CBS) and “This One’s for the Ladies” (Neon). Ron Howard’s profile of the opera tenor started off decently in multiple cities, while the latter entry took the unusual route of launching with a single run in Harlem. Holdover documentaries “The Biggest Little Farm” (Neon) and “Echo in the Canyon” (Greenwich) are both showing unexpected interest.

Among narrative holdovers, specialty wide release “Booksmart” (Annapurna) managed to place in the Top Ten for the weekend.


Late Night (Amazon) – Cinemascore: 72; Festivals include: Sundance 2019

$249,654 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $62,414

The best platform opener of the year comes at a critical time for the lagging specialized world. This $13 million acquisition (from 30  West) out of Sundance arrives as questions lurk about what it takes to find an audience. This popular festival comedy about a cranky talk show host (Emma Thompson) who turns to her only woman writer (Mindy Kalin) to help save her career should be sure-fire success. Stars Thompson and Kalin give the movie commercial heft above other films such as the wide-release “Booksmart,” which earned slightly better critical response.

The original 1,500 wide theater release set for last Friday shifted following the disappointing opening weekend of the Annapurna release. Amazon  mounted an extensive series of smart promo screenings along with weekend shows in key theaters boosted by the usual Q & A sessions. The results are encouraging.

These numbers are not at the level of a high-end awards season release– or even the similar June Amazon release “The Big Sick” two years ago (PTA $84,000). But for today’s market, this is an encouraging showing. Unlike “Booksmart,” this movie had star cred and older audience appeal. Amazon has passed the first hurdle.

What comes next: 1,500 theaters are set for Friday.

"The Last Black Man in San Francisco"

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”


The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24) – Cinemascore: 84; Festivals include: Sundance 2019

$230,744 in 7 theaters; PTA: $32,963

Joe Talbot’s debut film was among the most acclaimed out of Sundance 2019 (including two jury prizes), followed by year-topping opening reviews. This movie is yet another product of the Bay Area’s prolific independent scene, many of which deal with long-time minority communities coping with gentrification and the vast wealth present in the region. “Last Black Man” opened in San Francisco as well as the usual New York and Los Angeles dates. This initial response is excellent, well ahead of other strongly reviewed dramas that have come along this year. A24 has enjoyed success with similar efforts such as “Moonlight.” But the specialty market is more challenging now, so this start is terrific news.

What comes next: Friday starts a gradual expansion, with more to come.

Pavarotti (CBS) – Cinemascore: 67; Festivals include: Seattle 2019

$142,500 in 19 theaters; PTA: $7,500

Ron Howard had a successful music documentary a few years back with “Eight Days a Week” ($3 million). Here he delves into opera with the legendary singer who dominated that world in the last decades of the 20th century. Opening in multiple cities after a Fathom Event pre-launch (grosses not reported), “Pavarotti” opened in more than a dozen cities to uneven results. The strongest by far was New York’s Paris Theater (close to $40,000). The Fathom dates likely decreased some results and also cost the film dates at prime Landmark theaters. Like Peter Jackson documentary phenomenon “They Shall Not Grow Old,” films that play at major chains as Fathom Events (the top chains own Fathom and claim clearance) won’t play the indie sector.

What comes next: This will expand week by week ahead, starting this Friday.

“This One’s for the Ladies”

This One’s for the Ladies (Neon) – Cinemascore: 48; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2018

$16,001 in 1 theaters; PTA: $16,001

A rare NC-17 documentary (because it delivers what patrons of male strip club shows get to see), this opened exclusively in Harlem at the Magic Johnson Theater to a terrific initial response. This strong number will build interest from theaters that don’t normally play documentaries or NC-17 films. Though its initial date shows interest from African-American audiences, Neon’s smart June roll-out will benefit from Pride month tie-ins as well.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday, with further dates starting the week after.

Framing John Delorean (IFC) – Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Tribeca 2019; also on Video on Demand

$9,106 in 1 theater; PTA: $9,106

John Delorean comes from the same era of early Donald Trump, with some of the same attitude and hustle. His car-building business met a different fate, but his name remains famous. This blend of documentary footage and dramatic recreations opened exclusively to a decent result in New York while also debuting on iTunes and other venues.

What comes next: This will have mostly home play.

Week Two

The Fall of the American Empire (Sony Pictures Classics)

$14,128 in 14 theaters (+5); PTA: $1,009; Cumulative: $2,759,066

Adding a handful of top cities and prime theaters, Denys Arcand’s Quebecois film (the most recent in a series launched by Oscar-winner “The Decline of the American Empire”) is finding little interest. (The total gross comes mostly from earlier Canadian dates.)



Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Booksmart (United Artists) Week 3

$1,577,000 in 1,134 theaters (-1,384); Cumulative: $17,815,000

As Olivia Wilde’s well-reviewed high-school senior comedy shed its weaker locations, it remains in the Top Ten. The per-theater average actually went up slightly. Though this will fall short of (somewhat unreasonable) expectations, it should still pass the specialty-hit $20 million mark.

The Biggest Little Farm (Neon) Week 5

$347,000 in 285 theaters (+10); Cumulative: $2,453,000

At about the same number of screens, this documentary about biodiverse agriculture continues to hold well with the potential for adding considerably more to its already strong total.

All Is True (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5

$237,587 in 328 theaters (+247); Cumulative: $752,634

Kenneth Branagh’s rendering of Shakespeare & Company during the height of the playwright’s fame is at its widest point yet, with minimal response.

Echo in the Canyon (Greenwich) Week 3

$205,337 in 43 theaters (+29); Cumulative: $501,081

This documentary about the roots and lives of L.A. rockers decades ago is finding national interest beyond its initial home-town opening. This looks like it has plenty of chance to push significantly higher.

The Souvenir (A24) Week 4

$169,500 in 145 theaters (+71); Cumulative: $696,190

The year’s best-reviewed release so far (despite strong support from A24) is only garnering modest interest from arthouse attendees.

The Tomorrow Man (Bleecker Street) Week 3

$144,437 in 211 theaters (+193); Cumulative: $219,327

Without a lot of current options for the usually reliable senior crowd, the pairing of Blythe Danner and John Lithgow might seem like a default marquee draw. But its national expansion (likely its widest, in its third week) failed to draw more than a minimal audience.

Non-Fiction (IFC) Week 6

$71,364 in 83 theaters (-1); Cumulative: $565,382

This Olivier Assayas/Juliette Binoche prime French offering is struggling to reach numbers equal to its pedigree.

The White Crow (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7

$52,404 in 69 theaters (-143); Cumulative: $1,658,000

The Rudolf Nureyev biopic is on its last legs with a better total than most recent non-documentary specialized releases, even if it’s not grossing as much as it would have in past years.

Also noted:

Amazing Grace (Neon) – $39,605 in 59 theaters; Cumulative: $4,302,000

The Spy Behind Home Plate (Ciesla) – $38,080 in 19 theaters; Cumulative: $84,091

Red Joan (IFC) – $23,621 in 32 theaters; Cumulative: $1,548,000

Halston (1091) – $19,191 in 19 theaters; Cumulative: $62,530

Meeting Gorbachev (1091) – $14,653 in 19 theaters; Cumulative: $213,807

Apollo 11 (Neon) – $11,960 in theaters; Cumulative: $8,780,000

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