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‘1917’ Starts Strong, ‘Just Mercy’ Shows Promise, but ‘Uncut Gems’ Dominates Box Office

Sam Mendes' one-take war drama should have a long and healthy life, while death-row dramas "Clemency" and "Just Mercy" battle for primacy.

George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.

“1917”

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

1917” (Universal) is the standout new limited release, placing it among the best of the year and boosting its upcoming dates and awards chances. “Just Mercy” (Warner Bros.) and “Clemency” (Neon), both serious dramas focusing on the death penalty, weren’t as strong but each performed at the levels expected.

Uncut Gems” (A24), hardly typical wide-release holiday fare, also stood out, with $20 million so far with five days of wide release added to its initial strong limited start.

Of note: “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” and “The Two Popes” — Netflix’s three awards contenders — are all down to minimal theater play (though New York and Los Angeles full-page newspaper ads convey otherwise). Spot-checking grosses, it appears all are now getting all their viewing via streaming. By comparison, “Roma” was adding theaters at this point (with a slightly later debut). Initial polling resulted in an outstanding A+ Cinemascore.

Opening

1917 (Universal) – Metacritic: 80

$570,000 in 11 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $51,818; Cumulative: $1,008,000

Universal took a chance with a seven-city initial platform release for Sam Mendes’ World War I-set film in advance of its January 10 wide break and to position it for high-end Oscar chances. The weekend totals are outstanding when seven theaters outside New York/Los Angeles are added — even more when they come after two days of initial holiday play.

With an A Cinemascore and strong holds confirming positive word of mouth, a drill down of the numbers places its performance at its four core New York/Los Angeles theaters a little under $90,000 for three days. Again, that’s lower than if it opened conventionally on Friday. But it also comes at a time of maximum demand on screens and seats. So although it isn’t a year’s best (both “Parasite” and “Uncut Gems” started better) it’s still impressive.

Among its 11 theaters, it bested “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” at some of the top locations, suggesting this is no big-city limited audience-only film.

War films have platformed at Christmas before – Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” on its way to a $400 million domestic run, but also the $100 million+ “Lone Survivor.” These initial numbers don’t guarantee a result in that range, but particularly with its Oscar boost ahead, prospects are excellent.

What comes next: January 10 sees the wide break.

Just Mercy

“Just Mercy”

Just Mercy (Warner Bros.) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Toronto 2019

$110,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $27,500; Cumulative: $228,000

Warner Bros. platformed this death-row defense true story with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx for two reasons. First is to qualify for awards, with Foxx a serious contender for a supporting actor nomination. The second is to get initial attention ahead of its January 10 wide release.  Playing at top New York/Los Angeles theaters, this didn’t have the impact of “1917” but hit its marks even with good-not-great reviews. The star power as well as Foxx’s potential nomination both should help it get it significant attention when it widens.

What comes next: The national break for this also is January 10.

Clemency (Neon) – Metacritic: 77; Festivals include:  Sundance,  Toronto 2019

$37,078 in 2 theaters; PTA: $18,539

The Sundance Grand Jury Dramatic film prize winner from last January (with some prime festival exposure since) opened in two New York/Los Angeles theaters Friday to a modest number, but still with enough initial response to launch its slower rollout ahead. One key thing it accomplished was getting Alfre Woodard, acclaimed for her performance as a warden at a death-row prison, qualified for a possible Oscar nomination (her performance, though not yet recognized by groups, has received as strong critical attention as any contender).

In its two theaters (the Angelika in New York and The Landmark in Los Angeles), this had the disadvantage of opening after all other releases. It faces competition both for seats and for screens. That makes this initial number for a film with a heavy subject and like “Just Mercy” good but not exceptional reviews more impressive.

What comes next: This adds theaters in its first two markets this Friday, top markets on January 10, then adding dates in the weeks after.

The Song of Names (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 55; Festivals include: Toronto 2019

$41,156 in 10 theaters; PTA: $4,116; Cumulative: $78,770

Francois Girard, who directed the arthouse hit “The Red Violin” in 1998, directed this film with Clive Owen and Tim Roth about a prodigy son of Holocaust victims who disappears just as he is about to score as a performer and his friend who tracks him down. This Canadian production (Girard is Quebecois, though this is in English) opened in New York, Los Angeles, and three cities north of the border to mediocre reviews and modest interest.

What comes next: The story and cast should gain this a toehold ahead, enhanced by SPC backing which ensures it maximum appropriate theater play.

Ip Man 4: The Finale (Well Go USA) – Metacritic: 62

$1,034,000 in 70 theaters; PTA: $14,771; Cumulative: $1,444,000

The conclusion of this popular Chinese franchise starring Donnie Yen, directed by Wilson Yip, is set in the U.S. At home it was positioned to play at the prime year-end date, with parallel North American release yielding at excellent five-day result at appropriate theaters nationwide.

What comes next: This likely remains limited, but it should gain some further interest.

Week 2

Invisible Life (Amazon)

$6,202 in 2 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,101; Cumulative: $21,137

Karim Ainouz’s well-regarded Brazilian family drama continues to struggle to get attention despite holiday play at two prime New York and Los Angeles specialized theaters.

"Uncut Gems"

“Uncut Gems”

A24

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Uncut Gems (A24) Week 3

$9,553,000 in 2,341 theaters (+2,336); Cumulative: $20,002,000

Here’s a bet no one would have taken a month ago: The Safdie Bros. made a film that outgrosses “Cats,” “Bombshell” and “Richard Jewell” on Christmas week. However, anyone would now believe that it will best the domestic total for all of those films. The gross comes with a C+ Cinemascore, but one that likely came from a combination of polarized reactions. This has some ways to go to becoming A24’s biggest domestic success (“Hereditary” at $44 million), but that is no longer impossible. All of this will also help its Oscar chances.

Bombshell (Lionsgate) Week 3

$4,700,000 in  1,480 theaters (no change); Cumulative: $15,631,000

This is a weekend when older-audience releases often see an increase over their pre-holiday numbers. However, this dropped 8% from its initial numbers, which were adequate but not stellar. The film is lagging behind “Vice,” which opened on Christmas Day last year.

Parasite (Neon) Week 12

$552,957 in 170 theaters (-57); Cumulative: $22,329,000

Though competition for top screens is fierce, and many of its theaters had less-than-full show times, this South Korean crossover success scored an over-$3,000 PTA this weekend after three months in play. And it has the boost of certain Oscar notice ahead.

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Week 11

$250,000 in 155 theaters (-85); Cumulative: $20,917,000

Taika Waititi’s controversial film also has retained some screens late in its runs; it hopes to rebound with awards attention.

RG-10_00660.NEF

“A Hidden Life”

Reiner Bajo

A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight) Week 3

$208,000 in 118 theaters (+12); Cumulative: $756,065

Unfortunately, this might be the high-water mark for Terrence Malick’s most recent film. This World War II story of religious-based resistance to the Nazis has gained passionate support among some critics and the director’s core fans. But the general interest is negligible, despite opening at the best possible time and top placement across the country.

Dark Waters (Focus) Week 6

$175,000 in 140 theaters (-331); Cumulative: $10,532,000

Todd Haynes’ dark business drama starring Mark Ruffalo hasn’t gotten the attention of some other late-year releases, but has seen some delayed positive social media response as people catch up with titles. It still has enough theater exposure to add to its over $10 million total.

Harriet (Focus) Week 9

$130,00 in 112 theaters (-91); Cumulative: $42,481,000

Also maintaining a presence, and waiting for the Oscar nominations to confirm a likely Cynthia Erivo Best Actress nod, “Harriet” is already a big success. Opening early in the season was a smart move.

Also noted:

Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – $47,899 in 41 theaters; Cumulative: $3,855,000

63 Up (Britbox) – $33,810in 17  theaters; Cumulative: $229,279

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