In the crowded fall awards corridor, there’s no one size fits all, but multiple routes to success. Take Martin Scorsese’s sprawling epic “The Irishman,” which would not have been produced without Netflix’s backing. It marks the streamer’s best opening yet for a theatrical pre-release, despite blocked access to top theaters, a three-and-a-half hour running time, and limited seating in several locations. We estimate a strong $350,000 initial response.
Focus Features’ decision to open “Harriet” wide on over 2000 screens paid off with a #4 overall placement and strong initial audience response.
Meantime, limited openers “Parasite” (Neon), “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight), and “The Lighthouse” (A24) are all performing well with differing expansion strategies. All three are just under the Top Ten despite still playing in under 1,000 theaters. This portends a robust awards season.
The Irishman (Netflix) – Metacritic: 95; Festivals include: New York 2019
$(est.) 350,000 in 8 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 43,750
Martin Scorsese’s lengthy mobster epic, ranking with “Parasite” and “A Marriage Story” as the year’s best-reviewed release, opened in a hodgepodge assortment of eight New York and Los Angeles theaters ahead of a staggered theatrical release before its Netflix debut on November 27. (Many theaters will continue to play the film.) While Netflix will not release numbers, by looking at individual theater websites, we are estimating a weekend gross of $350,000 (within a +/- range of $25,000).
This includes some theaters with minimal seating (L.A.’s Alamo Drafthouse initially had only two shows in one 50-seat theater; the Laemmle Monica with three shows on two screens only had 600 seats for the full day). But the IFC Center in New York sold out two screens all weekend. The 1,200-seat upgraded Belasco Theater had some sellouts (along with reports of excellent presentation) as second-hand resale ticket sites offered seats at close to $100.
Needless to say, a normal Scorsese release with a marquee cast and stellar reviews, presented in top theaters with multiple screens and public appearances, would have done substantially more. So far the response is as good as Netflix could want for a film that the streamer’s customers will watch at home later this month.
To some extent moviegoers are willing to see in-demand movies in theaters. But pity the movie fans in much of the country who are denied this theatrical experience because stuck-in-the-past theater chains refuse to adapt to new realities. While Netflix has made an attempt to compromise, theater owners are refusing to budge and denying their customers high-quality movies they want to see.
What comes next: “The Irishman” expands in initial theaters and a few more this Friday and in weeks after, with most big cities getting showings. But the reach will be far less than it deserves.
Harriet (Focus)- Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Toronto, Mill Valley 2019
$12,000,000 in 2,059 theaters; PTA: $5,829
This $17-million festival premiere from an arthouse distributor starring Best Actress Oscar candidate Cynthia Erivo qualifies as as a specialized release. Its $12-million gross in just over 2,000 theaters justifies the strategy to hit a wide audience without platform play. Indie veteran Kasi Lemmons breaks out with “Harriet,” an origin story about underground railroad hero Harriet Tubman (Erivo) who became a leader in the abolitionist movement. The movie’s A+ Cinemascore far exceeds its modest reviews, and strong early placement ahead of the holidays sets it up for substantial success ahead. This awards entry looks even stronger than last year’s sleeper hit “On the Basis of Sex,” a Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s biopic which did not register with Oscar voters, and follows Focus’ big score with “Downton Abbey,” which is nearing $100 million domestic.
What comes next: This gross will propel even more interest beyond its strong theater placement.
American Dharma (Utopia) – Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Toronto, New York 2018
$7,522 in 1 theater; PTA: $7,522
Errol Morris’ latest documentary about political provocateur Steve Bannon opens a year after its festival premiere at New York’s Film Forum. Thanks to the director’s Q&As, the film played on one small screen to some interest.
What comes next: Los Angeles opens next this Friday.
Western Stars (Warner Bros.)
$(est.) 155,000 in 553 theaters (+16); PTA: $(est.) 280,000; Cumulative: $(est.) 1,405,000
The second weekend of Bruce Springsteen’s co-directing pastiche of documentary and drama, which debuted well as a Fathom event, showed minimal response.
Frankie (Sony Pictures Classics)
$26,259 in 11 theaters (+7); PTA: $2,387; Cumulative: $52,360
Ira Sachs’ Portugal-set drama starring Isabelle Huppert added additional top cities, yielding the same tepid response as its opening week.
Synonyms (Kino Lorber)
$22,776 in 5 theaters (+3); PTA: $4,591; Cumulative: $72,956
This Israeli film about a Jewish man’s experience in France added new dates include Los Angeles after its initial positive New York response.
No Safe Spaces (Atlas)
$35,000 in 2 theaters; PTA: $17,500; Cumulative: $123,366
This right-wing targeted documentary about free speech repression opened in exclusive runs in San Diego and Denver, building on even stronger initial response in Phoenix. This continues to have appeal and should be steady as they go.
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Matson)
$9,727 in 11 theaters; PTA: $884; Cumulative: $26,100
After some top festival showings (including Cannes), this niche documentary is getting some big-city play but not a strong response so far from audiences.
Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)
Parasite (Neon) Week 4
$2,630,000 in 463 theaters (+334); Cumulative: $7,531,000
These remain phenomenal numbers for a subtitled film as this South Korean Oscar entry went wider into midstream theaters with a PTA of around $5,600. Unusually, Neon is placing cable and other TV ads, and along with already-strong word of mouth, this is clearly playing off. With a strong awards push ahead and more theaters to come, “Parasite” should wind up the biggest foreign-language release in many years.
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Week 3
$2,401,000 in 256 theaters (+201)); Cumulative: $4,286,000
Taika Waititi’s story of a German boy and his imaginary friend Hitler continues to do well. But it is falling short so far of initial indications of strong crossover interest. The third weekend of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” a popular awards performer, grossed over $10 million on its third weekend in 304 theaters (adjusted), with a more than triple per-theater average.
The Lighthouse (A24) Week 3
$2,021,000 in 978 theaters (+392); Cumulative: $7,001,000
A24 has capitalized on Robert Pattinson’s starpower as well as Willem Dafoe’s acclaim to push what is fundamentally a specialized film (in black and white no less) to wider play. Adding hundreds more theaters brought down the theater average about 60% from last weekend, but this is still a decent response for a film that should end up around $10 million.
Judy (Roadside Attractions) Week 6
$582,625 in 604 theaters (-527); Cumulative: $22,929,000
Most of the lowest-grossing theaters fell away this weekend, with the remaining ones maintaining close to the same theater average. This is going to be at the high end of non-studio awards contender gross totals before the cavalcade of events starts.
Sony PIctures Classics
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$348,315 in 111 theaters (-6); Cumulative: $2,171,000
Pedro Almodovar’s latest is holding extremely well in about the same number of theaters as last week. It dropped only about 10% this weekend while still limited. The plan to release slowly, build on word of mouth and awards attention ahead is working quite well so far.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Saban) Week 3
$225,925 in 15 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $1,926,000
With Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes appearances boosting showings in Texas and Kansas City this weekend (prices reaching $100 in some venues) their successful if unconventional limited release of this sequel continues. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia come next, followed by a string of dates into the new year.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) Week 13
$110,425 in 122 theaters (-44); Cumulative: $20,245,000
After three months in theaters, this sleeper about a young-adult special-needs aspiring wrestler won’t go away.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich) Week 9
$90,374 in 94 theaters (-40); Cumulative: $3,969,000
The movie is about to become the fifth specialized documentary to pass $4 million. “Pavarotti,” the second best, is just under $4.6 million.
Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Sony Pictures Classics) – $36,210 in 64 theaters; Cumulative: $646,105
Official Secrets (IFC) – $13,162 in 25 theaters; Cumulative: $1,981,000