‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ Lifts Up the Specialty Box Office

Amazon's hyped Sundance pickup still may have cost too much; "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool" plays to jazz fans.
Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs A Marathon by Paul Downs Colaizzo, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jon Pack. All 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.
"Brittany Runs a Marathon"
Jon Pack / Amazon

The specialty market showed signs of life this weekend, led by “Brittany Runs a Marathon” (Amazon), which performed better than two recent disappointments from top directors, $15-million Sundance buy “Blinded By the Light” (New Line/Warner Bros.) and Richard Linklater’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (Annapurna/United Artists).

“Brittany Runs a Marathon” showed better-than-average numbers–but not strong enough to justify its $14-million Sundance acquisition. A slow rollout to cash in on hoped-for word of mouth will determine its future. “Blinded” did not get the second weekend hold it needed, and looks unlikely to sustain a long run.

Holdover “The Peanut Butter Falcon” (Roadside Attractions), with far less pre-release attention, though, is finding some real success as it expanded to just under 1,000 theaters. Among other openers, “Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool” (Abramorama) and another Sundance premiere, “Give Me Liberty” (Music Box), also scored good initial response.


Brittany Runs a Marathon (Amazon) – Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Sundance, Seattle 2019

$175,696 in 5 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $35,194

Playwright Paul Downs Callaizzo’s film debut starring Jillian Bell won an audience award at Sundance and the jackpot when Amazon acquired it for $14 million. The title tells the plot but not the hook (an overweight woman vows to lose 40 pounds and also run the New York Marathon). This Park City crowd-pleaser, unlike big sellers “Blinded by the Light” and Amazon’s “Late Night,” is rolling out slowly from a traditional platform release.

This method is as risky as the initial quick wide rollout pattern that has not worked well for similar films like “Booksmart” (the best total, $23 million). The initial results, boosted by some Q&A appearances at some of the New York/Los Angeles dates, show this as a work in progress. The $35,000 PTA is one of the best this year among the (fewer than usual) releases taking this route. But it does fall short of “Late Night” ($61,000 average in four theaters) ahead of its second- weekend wide break.

The plan now is to expand in tiers (11 cities total next weekend) over the next month until it gets to its widest point at week five. That will test whether this route is better than a quicker availability. Gradual release involves its own level of marketing expense, with later wide bookings still requiring a significant cost. But at least this will test whether the old pattern of using multiple weeks to get a positive response and elevate awareness to maximize results still works. The initial grosses suggest there is work to be done.

What comes next: The film will expand just as festival (and market acquisition) season starts, so the ongoing reaction could influence how much risk distributors are willing to take.

"Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool" director Stanley Nelson
“Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” director Stanley NelsonHenry Adebonojo

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Abramorama) – Festivals include: Sundance, Seattle 2019

$17,580 in 1 theater; PTA: $17,580

Stanley Nelson has pursued a two-decade career as a major director of the American black experience via documentaries. Most have been shown mainly on television/cable, but this jazz portrait is getting an elevated theatrical release. The film started at New York’s Film Forum, with an outstanding initial weekend gross (with limited seating) that shows that legendary musician Miles Davis remains popular today. Interest in him is likely to continue as this expands.

What comes next: Los Angeles’ prime The Landmark opens this Friday, with top theaters set across the county in upcoming weeks.

Give Me Liberty (Music Box) – Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Sundance, Cannes 2019

$33,391 in 3 theaters; PTA: $11,130

From Sundance’s Next section, this Milwaukee comedy about Russian immigrants is an example of a regional independent film that can be elevated by festival attention and a top distributor’s involvement. This opened in the city of its setting as well as New York (top grosser at the IFC Center) to strong reviews and a promising start. This is a tricky a film to release these days, and the initial response is good enough for the film to nab a chance to find an audience.

What comes next: Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as more Wisconsin theaters come along this week ahead of a wider expansion.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (Variance) – Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Fantastic 2017

$30,700 in 6 theaters; PTA: $5,117

Two years after its initial festival showings, this fantastical Mexican film about drug cartel orphans opened in several cities (including supportive Alamo Drafthouse locations) to elevated initial interest for a subtitled film. Variance partnered with Shudder for this release.

What comes next: This will grow to around 60 dates over the next month.

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (Roadside Attractions) – Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: San Francisco Jewish 2019

$35,601 in 7 theaters: PTA: $5,057

The story of the Broadway musical sensation told on film opened in a handful of initial cities. Yet again, another documentary about a familiar and beloved subject finds specialized theater response. With Roadside behind it, this should get traction in multiple markets ahead.

What comes next: Expect a much wider play ahead over the next few weeks.

Vita & Virginia (IFC) – Metacritic: 42; Festivals include: Toronto 2018

$4,047 in 1 theater; PTA: $4,047

Virginia Woolf’s affair with the wife of a British diplomat opened in New York to mediocre reviews and a modest initial gross.

What comes next:  The NuArt in Los Angeles along with a Video on Demand availability come along this week.

“Blinded by the Light”Warner Bros.

Week 2

Blinded By the Light (Warner Bros.)

$2,100,000 in 2,307 theaters (no change); PTA: $910; Cumulative: $8,221,000

Gurinder Chadha’s musical story of an obsessed British Bruce Springsteen fan failed to build a surge of great word of mouth in its second weekend in wide release. The film dropped 52%, with a per-screen average of under $1,000 a theater. The film should hold on at some more theaters catering to older audiences, but at this point looks to struggle to reach much more than $12 million. A major disappointment.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (United Artists)

$1,404,000 in 2,306 theaters (-98); PTA: $609; Cumulative: $6,590,000

An even lower second weekend for Richard Linklater’s film featuring a strong Cate Blanchett performance. This will fall short of $10 million.

Aquarela (Sony Pictures Classics)

$25,404 in 13 theaters (+8); PTA: $1,954; Cumulative: $63,968

Despite acclaim for its audacious and sensory visual and aural design, this non-narrative documentary about the beauty and power of water in its many forms is finding little interest in initial dates.

The Peanut Butter Falcon
“The Peanut Butter Falcon”Seth Johnson, Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Armory Films

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) Week 3

$3,009,000 in 991 theaters (+942); Cumulative: $3,728,000

A major expansion for this story of a Downs Syndrome young adult who pursues his interest in professional wrestling continues to have success as it widens similar to its initial dates. This could easily rise to the Top Ten in coming weeks and be a surprise success among several disappointing recent releases that grabbed much more pre-release attention.

The Farewell (A24) Week 7

$944,482 in 816 theaters (-45); Cumulative: $14,479,000

Lula Wang’s well-received China family story is holding most of its theaters (playing far beyond specialized theaters), with its ultimate take looking to reach $16-17 million.

Luce (Neon) Week 4

$253,500 in 160 theaters (+42); Cumulative: $864,183

Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer star in this story of a emigree orphan causing concerns in his high school years. Its next expansion results are a little below Neon’s recent “Wild Rose,” which will finish up under $2 million.

After the Wedding (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3

$163,200 in 81 theaters (+55); Cumulative: $357,732

Bart Freundlich’s gender-switching remake of the earlier Danish specialized hit, starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, continues to see modest results as it moves into more cities.

Maiden (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 9

$159,869 in 153 theaters (-1); Cumulative: $2,534,000

An all-woman crew’s record-breaking around the world sea voyage continues to sail ahead of most recent documentaries, heading to around $3 million.

Tel Aviv on Fire (Music Box) Week 4

$60,404 in 37 theaters (+7); Cumulative: $317,529

Another Israeli film is finding more traction than most subtitled films. This TV-world comedy continued its slow expansion with results ahead of most similar films these days.

Also noted

Honeyland (Neon) – $45,500 in 36 theaters; Cumulative: $289,326

David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics) – $45,321 in 47 theaters; Cumulative: $459,880

One Child Nation (Amazon) – $45,174 in 34 theaters; Cumulative: $150,080

The Nightingale (IFC) – $41,483 in 51 theaters; Cumulative: $252,506

Jay Myself (Oscilloscope) – $10,850 in 9 theaters; Cumulative: $85,530

The Biggest Little Farm (Neon) – $10,200 in 16 theaters; Cumulative: $4,362,000

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