Never in the recent specialized film era has a non-holiday weekend achieved such exciting box office. Arriving after last weekend’s sensational record-breaking opening of Neon’s “Parasite” (which expanded well) are strong debuts for both Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight) and Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” (A24). And top awards contenders “Pain and Glory” (Sony Pictures Classics) and “Judy” (Roadside Attractions) continue steady as they go.
In the same crowded four week period in 2018, only “Free Solo” went on to specialized success (“Beautiful Boy” started strong with a $70,000 PTA before a tepid expansion). Why are things so much better this year? The films themselves are a factor, but the earliest awards calendar season ever has forced smart distributors to recalibrate. Getting started now allows for gradual growth heading toward maximum attention over the Thanksgiving holiday. Also, opening early allows the option of home-viewing availabilities around the time of the Oscar nominations.
Whatever the reasons, it is working. After a grim specialized year with most early festival finds falling short of expectations, a bounty has arrived. Each of these unique films garnered an initial strong reaction — with no future guarantees — but so far these five titles have scored big.
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Toronto 2019
$350,000 in 5 theaters; PTA: $70,000
First “Joker,” then “Jojo Rabbit” rode festival premieres and prizes amid mixed critical reaction to enthusiastic audiences. “Joker” was an immediate global box-office success, while Waititi’s black comedy about a German boy’s friendship with an imaginary Adolf Hitler opened in only five theaters. But so far, very good.
Even though “Jojo” faced a more crowded marketplace than last weekend’s opener “Parasite,” with fewer available seats, “Jojo Rabbit” still packed a major punch at its locations. The movie topped “The Lighthouse” at New York’s Lincoln Square and The Landmark in Los Angeles (the latter also has “Parasite” in its second week), and placed best at Manhattan’s commercial Union Square. At the Arclight Hollywood, “Jojo” was beaten out by “The Lighthouse,” which benefited from multiple appearances from Robert Pattinson.
One major development is the two-day showing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, which placed second among all theaters. Theaters in Brooklyn have rarely opened platform dates, and never before with these numbers. Expect to see more of this for select films.
“Jojo” marks a much-needed return to form for Fox Searchlight, looking to perform under demanding new owner Disney. “Jojo” scoring big will shore up Searchlight’s willingness to take risks.
What comes next: Eight new markets, raising the theater count to as many as 60, open this week ahead of much wider play ahead.
The Lighthouse (A24) – Metacritic: 82; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2019
$419,764 in 8 theaters; PTA: $52,471
The robust opening for Eggers’ black-and-white, narrow-aspect-ratio, period-piece two-hander shows the strength of the market. Strong reviews for the challenging art film (backed by New Regency) and stars Pattinson and Willem Dafoe boosted box office, but “The Lighthouse” is not a mass-appeal picture.
The total is even more impressive because the movie played beyond the normal core New York/Los Angeles theaters, including four theaters in three other cities.
The PTA for the four New York/Los Angeles theaters will be around $75,000 (above “Jojo Rabbit,” which played in five). The numbers in other top crossover theaters in other markets were more than respectable: a Boston AMC theater was best at around $40,000.
What comes next: This expands quickly to around 500 theaters this Friday.
The Cave (National Geographic) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Busan 2019
$22,100 in theaters; PTA: $11,050
A year ago National Geographic opened “Free Solo” in October to a stunning over $100,000 PTA, wider success, and an eventual Oscar. This year, they have this documentary about an underground hospital in Syria, from the director of nominated “Last Men in Aleppo.” It’s a tough subject, which makes its gross (bolstered by strong initial reviews) even more impressive.
What comes next: This begins a multi-week expansion this Friday.
By the Grace of God (Music Box) – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Berlin, Mill Valley, Hamptons 2019
$8,188 in 2 theaters; PTA: $4,094
Francois Ozon shares with Pedro Almodovar the distinction of a European director who not only shoots nearly all his films in his home country in his native language, but then lands a stateside release. But his last U.S. hit was “8 Women” in 2002 (adjusted gross: $5 million).
What comes next: Music Box will ride Ozon’s name to more interest in select arthouses.
Greener Grass (IFC) – Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Sundance, South by Southwest 2019; also on Video on Demand
$14.143 in 2 theaters; PTA: $7,056
This Sundance comedy about competing soccer moms opened exclusive in New York and Los Angeles parallel to iTunes and other platforms. Given that context, this is a decent gross.
What comes next: While it continues to show on VOD, this also will get select additional theater play.
Cyrano, My Love (Roadside Attractions) – Metacritic: 61
$7,107 in 3 theaters; PTA: $2,389
This French film, with a comic twist on the story behind the writing of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” opened in New York and Los Angeles to minor response after a previous release in French Canada adding $300,000 to the total.
What comes next: Expect some additional big city play.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Saban) – Metacritic: 46
$93,520 in theaters; PTA: $93,520; Cumulative: $1,105,000
After Fathom event weekday showings that took in just over $1 million, Kevin Smith’s most recent revival of two perennial characters launched a multi-month series of in-person film events featuring the director and costar Jason Mewes. With ticket prices several times higher than normal movie admission, the first showing took place on Saturday with two impressive shows at an Asbury Park, New Jersey theater. Fathom numbers reveal what is becoming more common: event presentations of films that no longer make sense for conventional release can get attention in theaters, particularly if they have a pre-sold brand.
What comes next: Expect to see more positive results from this across the country.
The Captain (WellGo USA)
$(est.) 350,000 in 47 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 7,447
Among the many Chinese imports that land a U.S. limited release, this massive China hit (on the far side of $300 million in about three weeks) could interest a wider audience. Directed by Hong Kong master Andrew Lau, whose “Infernal Affairs” turned into Scorsese’s “The Departed,” the movie about a pilot who guides his jet to safety with a shattered windshield compares to “Sully.” It opened decently at theaters nationwide.
What comes next: Likely to remain at mainly theaters catering to fans of Chinese films.
$1,241,000 in 33 theaters (+30); PTA: $37,616; Cumulative: $1,822,000
10 days into its release, this rave-reviewed South Korean film has already topped all 2019 foreign-language releases. The over $37,000 PTA is behind only “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for all-time best second weekend subtitled PTA. Ang Lee’s film adjusted in 1999 took in an average $58,000 in 31 theaters on its way to an over $200 million gross.
Rarefied territory indeed. For a second weekend performance, the stratosphere would be “The Grand Budapest Hotel” ($62,000 PTA in 66 theaters, a level hard to imagine). But for a South Korean movie? Unbelievable.
Last weekend’s $128,000 three theater PTA was amplified by festival momentum, lots of promotions and less competition, a high number of screens and plenty of seats. Finally, “Parasite” is performing at each stage as though it were an English-language specialized success, and one of the biggest of the year.
Among many strong grosses is the “Parasite” performance at top chain theaters such as AMC theaters in San Francisco and Burbank. AMC Times Square looks to do $40,000 or more, competing with Landmark and other specialized theaters for high-end results. “Parasite” is already — without the normal boost of awards — crossing over to the mainstream.
Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)
Judy (Roadside Attractions) – Week 4
$2,056,000 in 1,418 theaters (-209); Cumulative: $19,018,000
Another top-ten placement and continued healthy results for Renée Zellweger’s bravura portrayal of Judy Garland. This will hit $20 million in a week, and could easily top $25 million before many other Oscar contenders open.
Sony PIctures Classics
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3
$463,532 in 67 theaters (+44); Cumulative: $1,130,373
Pedro Almodovar’s latest continues to show strength as it expands. Its gross is close to successful “Amour,” when it played at 64 theaters– and that came with the boost of multiple top Oscar nominations. This is looking very healthy as it expands.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) – Week 11
$225,950 in 248 theaters (-56); Cumulative: $19,879,000
Heading to an impressive $20 million total, this box-office sleeper could wind up ahead of the top fall players.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich Entertainment) – Week 7
$188,253 in 147 theaters (-21); Cumulative: $3,501,000
The per theater average actually increased as this documentary continues its push to the $4 million mark seen by this year’s top non-fiction films.
Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5
$96,513 in 66 theaters (+9); Cumulative: $493,746
This documentary continues steady at a modest level, with likely continued growth with more theaters ahead.
Lucy in the Sky (Fox Searchlight) – Week 3
$58,000 in 231 theaters (+33); Cumulative: $272,095
Though it has been a fiasco, this astronaut romance film still added more theaters. The per theater average was $251, with the ultimate gross looking to reach little more than $300,000.
Official Secrets (IFC) – $27,336 in 34 theaters; Cumulative: $1,922,000
Monos (Neon) – $20,688 in 40 theaters: Cumulative: $367,496
First Love (WellGo USA) – $15,880 in 34 theaters; Cumulative: $195,548
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Abramorama) – $14,923 in 18 theaters; Cumulatie: $555,631