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Indie Box Office: ‘The Farewell’ Hits Top 10 as Non-Fiction ‘Honeyland’ Builds Buzz

Narrative breakout "The Farewell" is bucking the current documentary box office trend.




It was more of same at specialized theaters this weekend. Documentaries dominated the openings, led by buzzy “Honeyland” (Neon), while response continues strong for family movie “The Farewell” (A24). Lulu Wang’s Sundance narrative dramedy starring Awkwafina bucked the current documentary trend by landing among the weekend’s Top 10 grossers, even in limited release.

Among the newbies, three Sundance non-fiction debuts opened decently with solid reviews: “Mike Wallace Is Here” (Magnolia), “For Sama” (PBS), and Netflix’s day-and-date title “The Great Hack.” A24 also threw “Skin” starring Jamie Bell as a neo-Nazi into a few theaters along with home availability, with grosses not reported. “The Mountain” (Kino Lorber) was the sole narrative debut to show positive reaction and possible further interest.


Honeyland (Neon) – Metacritic: 86; Festivals include: Sundance, New Directors/New Film 2019

$30,000 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $15,000

This marks the best opening PTA among documentaries in recent weeks. Neon has enjoyed significant success this year with several non-fiction films, led by “Apollo 11.” On paper, the fight to keep traditional beekeeping practices alive in rural Macedonia doesn’t seem like an easy draw. This well-placed film opened in one theater each in New York and Los Angeles, earned top-end reviews, and showed an impressive initial result which will encourage further interest ahead. Like Neon hit “The Biggest Little Farm,” “Honeyland” suggests that proactive show-and-tell environmental documentaries have appeal.

What comes next: Neon should be able to maximize the appeal shown here as it rolls out in an appropriate likely slower than usual expansion ahead.

The Mountain (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Venice 2018, Sundance 2019

$16,013 in 2 theaters; PTA: $8,007

Jeff Goldblum and Tye Sheridan star in this biopic of a midcentury American doctor who popularized lobotomies as a medical treatment. (Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was written in part to expose the horrific procedure.) Rick Alverson’s drama opened in two exclusive New York/Los Angeles runs to mid-level initial results. It’s an unusual American independent narrative release for Kino Lorber, normally known for foreign language films, but consistent with its overall interest in distinctive titles.

What comes next: This should find appeal at core specialized theaters across the country in coming weeks.

A still from Mike Wallace Is Here by Avi Belkin, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by CBS NewsAll 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.

“Mike Wallace Is Here”

Mike Wallace Is Here (Magnolia) – Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Sundance 2019

$19,500 in 3 theaters; PTA: $6,500

Journalists are not the among the usual notable figures to get the documentary treatment. “60 Minutes” star Mike Wallace was memorably portrayed by Christopher Plummer in Michael Mann’s “The Insider” 20 years ago. Acquired by Magnolia at Sundance, this documentary opened at three New York/Los Angeles locations to mixed initial results.

What comes next: Eight more cities open this Friday, with other top markets following in upcoming weeks.

For Sama (PBS) – Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2019

$9,350 in 3 theaters; PTA: $3,117

The week’s best-reviewed film, among the best of the year overall, focuses on one woman’s experience over several years in wartime Syria. The documentary opened in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco exclusive runs to modest initial response.

What comes next: This will play in top cities limited runs ahead before its future PBS showing some months from now.

Week Two

David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics)

$29,396 in 11 theaters (+7); PTA: $2,672; Cumulative: $86,247

The initial top-city expansion for this latest musical-world documentary yielded modest results.

L to R: "Jiang Yongbo, Aoi Mizuhara, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Xiang, Lu Hong, Zhao Shuzhen." Courtesy of Big Beach.

“The Farewell”

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

The Farewell (A24) Week 3

$1,554,000 in 135 theaters (+100); Cumulative: $3,692,000

Making it into the overall Top Ten in only 135 theaters, Lulu Wang’s compelling family drama is so far running ahead of A24’s “Eighth Grade” last summer in a similar release pattern. “The Farewell” added many high-end multiplexes this weekend, which reduced the stratospheric PTA. But at $11,510 for this number of theaters it continues to be a strong showing, with signs of some significant crossover appeal.

The Art of Self Defense (Bleecker Street) Week 3

$311,317 in 541 theaters (-9); Cumulative: $2,060,000

Jesse Eisenberg transitioning into someone able to stand up for himself if needed after a mugging took a steep drop in its second wide weekend despite holding at most theaters.

Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5

$204,858 in 113 theaters (+29); Cumulative: $1,160,000

This documentary about a group of women circumnavigating the world by sea continues to expand, buoyed by positive word of mouth.

Booksmart (United Artists) Week 10

$(est.) 190,000 in 555 theaters (+472); Cumulative: $(est.) 22,433,000

United Artists brought this back for mostly single showing late in its release. That adds more to a mixed result gross, but still one that places it at the head of all 2109 festival showcased specialized releases, and by some distance.

Pavarotti (CBS) Week 8

$135,000 in 135 theaters (-8); Cumulative: $4,235,000

Another case of a documentary about a major creative force finding a strong response. Ron Howard’s film about the opera icon continues to maintain interest nearly two months into its run.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24) Week 8

$133,800 in 114 theaters (-35); Cumulative: $4,106,000

High among acclaimed films, this idiosyncratic Bay Area portrait has remained a specialized niche item without a wide release. Which is fine. Not all films benefit from playing hundreds of theaters. The movie will be available on other venues ahead, and more limited play supports core arthouses. This long-running film could still reach $5 million, and that would be ahead of most narrative specialized releases this year.

“Echo in the Canyon”


Echo in the Canyon (Greenwich) Week 10

$118,000 in 118 theaters (-15); Cumulative: $2,906,000

Laurel Canyon musicians from five decades ago continue to draw interest with this documentary closing in on $3 million.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Roadside Attractions) Week 4

$95,125 in 83 theaters (+28); Cumulative: $561,216

Leonard Cohen and his muse gained some interest but not at the level of the similar-period music documentary “Echo in the Canyon.”

Late Night (Amazon) Week 8

$71,515 in 118 theaters (-28); Cumulative: $15,291,000

Despite its high-end Sundance deal, critical acclaim, and a wide release in appropriate theaters, this will end up with an under $16 million gross. That’s only about two-thirds of “Book Smart,” itself not as successful as predicted.

Wild Rose (Neon) Week 6

$77,800 in 144 theaters (-51); Cumulative: $1,388,000

Jessie Buckley as a struggling Scottish country singer in Nashville is entering the late stages of its modest run.

Sword of Trust (IFC) Week 3; also on Video on Demand

$55,683 in 55 theaters (+43); Cumulative: $156,012

Lynn Shelton’s Southern comedy starring Marc Maron is getting an above average number of theatrical dates parallel to home-viewing availability.

Also noted:

The Biggest Little Farm (Neon) – $36,480 in 61 theaters; Cumulative: $4,142,000

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