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Docs ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Summer of Soul’ Make Big Box Office Noise, Even with At-Home Streaming Options

Both fact-based films are theatrical hits, even when streaming options are available for at-home viewers (now and in the immediate future).

"Roadrunner"

“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”

Focus Features

The multiplex may be steadily beefing up its usual summer fare as more theaters open — from “F9” to “Black Widow,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” to “A Quiet Place Part II” — but speciality titles are enjoying their own return to the big screen, including a pair of high-earning documentaries that prove that the appetite for silver screen fare doesn’t always run toward things that go boom and spaces that get jammed. But while theaters, studios, streamers, and everyone in between are still bickering about what sort of bite streaming services are chomping out of theatrical takes, these fact-based features are making big bucks, even while having streaming options available now or in the future.

Last weekend, Morgan Neville’s documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” became not just the highest-earning documentary of the pandemic era, but one of the true success stories of this wacky new time at the box office. It’s also going to land on HBO Max at some point, which didn’t seem to tamp down audiences that drove it to a nearly $2 million take on its first weekend in release. While specific plans for both the HBO Max rollout and PVOD platforms have yet to be announced, the doc was co-produced by both HBO Max and CNN Films, who teamed up with distributor Focus Features to release the film.

Neville’s film just barely edged out another high-performing doc: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s lauded “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” which Searchlight Pictures and Hulu picked up in January 2021. The documentary, made from mostly archival footage, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Documentary Competition section. In its fourth week of both theatrical release and Hulu availability, the film has earned over $1.8 million, placing it just one slot below “Roadrunner.”

Our list includes domestic (U.S. and Canada only, unless otherwise indicated) grosses for specialty films — which we define as independent, foreign (including Bollywood films), and/or documentary films — that opened in limited release (599 screens and under) in 2021. They also may include titles acquired or produced for 2021 distribution by an independent distributor (including but not limited to STX Films, Annapurna, United Artists Releasing, A24, Entertainment Studios, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, Open Road, and Bleecker Street) or a studio’s specialty division (including Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, and Focus Features).

Given the rapidly changing state of the box office world (and its attendant reporting), this list only includes movies that opened in theaters during 2021, including brick-and-mortar businesses and drive-ins. For more information on streaming and VOD box office takes, please check out our weekly updates in those markets right here. When provided, this list also includes budgets for each film. Last year’s list can be found here.

Grosses include all reported grosses (via BoxOfficeMojo or as provided by a film’s representative) up to July 20, 2021. This chart is updated every Tuesday afternoon (or Wednesday afternoon after holiday weekends).

1. “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train”
Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: April 23
Opening Theater Count: 1,600
Opening Average: $13,215
Current Gross: $47,700,000

2. “Wrath of Man”
Distributor: United Artists Releasing
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 5
Opening Theater Count: 2,875
Opening Average: $2,890
Current Gross: $27,454,233

3. “The Marksman”
Distributor: Open Road Films
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: January 15
Opening Theater Count: 1,975
Opening Average: $1,571
Current Gross: $15,566,093

4. “The Courier”
Distributor: Roadside Attractions (acquired at Sundance 2020)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: March 19
Opening Theater Count: 1,443
Opening Average: $1,313
Current Gross: $6,613,432

5. “Separation”
Distributor: Open Road Films
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: April 30
Opening Theater Count: 1,751
Opening Average: $1,028
Current Gross: $4,509,143

Riley Keough and Taylour Paige appear in <i>Zola</i> by Janicza Bravo, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Anna Kooris.rrAll 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.

“Zola”

6. “Zola”
Distributor: A24
Budget (if reported): $5 million
Release Date: June 30
Opening Theater Count: 1,468
Opening Average: $1,125
Current Gross: $4,275,638

7. “Boogie”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: March 5
Opening Theater Count: 1,252
Opening Average: $958
Current Gross: $4,178,620

8. “Minari”
Distributor: A24
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 12
Opening Theater Count: 251
Opening Average: $770
Current Gross: $3,110,580

9. “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2”
Distributor: HEFG Releasing
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: June 11
Opening Theater Count: 420
Opening Average: $2,408
Current Gross: $2,893,660

10. “Dream Horse”
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 21
Opening Theater Count: TBD
Opening Average: $633
Current Gross: $2,844,016

“Dream Horse”

11. “Here Today”
Distributor: Sony, Stage 6 Films (acquired after production)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 7
Opening Theater Count: 1,200
Opening Average: $867
Current Gross: $2,807,494

12. “Finding You”
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 14
Opening Theater Count: 1,312
Opening Average: $698
Current Gross: $2,753,985

13. “Land”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 12
Opening Theater Count: 1,231
Opening Average: $763
Current Gross: $2,577,830

14. “Nomadland”
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 19
Opening Theater Count: 1,175
Opening Average: $428
Current Gross: $2,143,000

15. “The Father”
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 26
Opening Theater Count: 865
Opening Average: $501
Current Gross: $2,122,771

16. “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” 
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: July 16
Opening Theater Count: 927
Opening Average: $2,145
Current Gross: $1,988,795

17. “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures (acquired at Sundance 2021)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: June 25
Opening Theater Count: 752
Opening Average: $861
Current Gross: $1,872,351

Summer Of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

“Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

18. “Queen Bees”
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: June 11
Opening Theater Count: 500
Opening Average: $750
Current Gross: $1,775,853

19. “Profile”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 14
Opening Theater Count: 2,033
Opening Average: $359
Current Gross: $1,744,740

20. “Together Together”
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: April 23
Opening Theater Count: 665
Opening Average: $785
Current Gross: $1,436,336

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