‘Dark Waters’ Leads Tepid Arthouse Openers at Crowded Box Office

Fall breakout "Harriet," a biopic about abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman, has already outgrossed "The Favourite" and "Moonlight" — ahead of awards nominations.
"Dark Waters"
"Dark Waters"

The fall season has been strong for specialty films heading for Oscars, with “Harriet” (Focus), “Judy” (Roadside Attractions), “Parasite” (Neon), and “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight) leading the way before the Thanksgiving holiday. With mainstream studio fare like “Ford v Ferrari” (20th Century Fox) and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Universal) also pulling the same smart moviegoers, it’s harder for late openers to grab a foothold in this crowded market.

While Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters,” like A24’s “Waves” last weekend, opened at lower levels than these earlier films, Focus is positioning the film right before the long holiday period, with a possible boost from positive word of mouth, and strong support. Both “Dark Waters” and “Waves” could gain some awards attention, but they are coming from behind.


Dark Waters (Focus) – Metacritic: 72

$110,000 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $27,500

Todd Haynes’ latest film starring the film’s driving force and producer, environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, as an attorney taking on a chemical polluter, platformed in New York and Los Angeles to results ahead of Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” in 2017, but not in the league of Oscar contenders “Far from Heaven” or “Carol.” The Participant film opened after a recent long stream of acclaimed titles (including studio releases) competing for attention, which reduced its shot at multiple screens and added showtimes. This movie skipped festival play and nabbed solid but not rapturous reviews, making it a tricky initial release.

What comes next: This quickly expands to 100 theaters this Wednesday in time for Thanksgiving.

Varda by Agnes (Janus) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Berlin, Telluride, Toronto, New York

$12,644 in 2 theaters; PTA: $6,322

Agnes Varda’s final, posthumously released documentary is a niche entry aimed at cinephiles and other new fans from her recent Oscar nominee “Faces/Places.” Thanks to the vibrant Varda narrating her personal review of her work, the film earned strong reviews, among the best of non-fiction films this year. It will have a limited theatrical audience, but its initial numbers at two small New York screens are respectable.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens at the Aero Theater on December 5.

Citizen K (Greenwich) – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2019

$10,250 in 1 theater; PTA: $10,250

Alex Gibney’s latest documentary opened exclusively in Los Angeles (positioning it as a leading Oscar contender based on his track record and its subject). This insider’s view of Putin’s Russia had one of the best initial grosses among contenders and is playing at a top local theater to add to its awareness.

What comes next: This expands in the Los Angeles region this Friday. It opens in New York at the Film Forum on January 15 (after the nominations) and beyond after that.

When Lambs Become Lions (Oscilloscope) – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Tribeca 2019

$3,155 in 1 theater; PTA: $3,155

Like “Citizen K,” this documentary about a Kenyan man fighting elephant ivory poachers is getting its official Oscar qualifying Los Angeles run. Mission accomplished, including further positive reviews, although the gross is minor.

What comes next: New York opens on December 6.

Shooting the Mafia (Cohen) – Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Sundance 2019

$3,095 in 2 theaters; PTA: $1,548

This Sundance documentary about an Italian photographer with a niche focus had a bi-coastal opening to limited interest.

What comes next: This won’t get significantly more theatrical play, though the subject could grab some attention elsewhere.


Week Two

Waves (A24)

$168,760 in 21 theaters (+17); PTA: $8,036; Cumulative: $335,991

Trey Edward Shults’ acclaimed family drama continues to garner strong reviews in seven new markets after its decent platform start last week. The keys to its future are the holidays ahead, strong word of mouth, and hoped for awards acclaim. At this point, as the low-profile film  faces significant competition from many similar high-end titles, “Waves” has not reached the level of A24’s other recent mid-range specialized releases. For example, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” in its second weekend in more (36) theaters had a PTA of about $10,600 on its way to a respectable $4.5 million gross. This has the advantage of potential marketing boosts ahead as well as the holidays.

Everybody’s Everything (Gunpowder & Sky)

$19,169 in 19 theaters (-20); PTA: $1,009; Cumulative: $500,649

This personal film about the late Lil Peet scored its biggest play in event dates two weeks ago.

The Report (Amazon)

$(est.) 75,000 in (est.) 60 theaters (-24); PTA: $(est.) 1,250; Cumulative: $(est.) 275,000

Ahead of Prime streaming on Friday, this political thriller with Adam Driver continued to play without revealing its grosses in major cities. The number declined from last week, with some of the theaters running only partial schedules.

Mickey and the Bear (Utopia)

$8,010 in 4 theaters (+3); PTA: $2,002; Cumulative: $19,245

Three new cities including Los Angeles opened this Montana family drama to modest results.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

Harriet (Focus) Week 4

$2,310,000 in 1,346 theaters (-665); Cumulative: $36,000,000

The very impressive run for this biofilm about the origins of this abolitionist hero continues. It already has outgrossed films like “The Favourite” and “Moonlight” –without the benefit so far of awards or nominations.

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Week 6   995

$1,500,000 in 787 theaters (-208); Cumulative: $16,053,000

Taika Waititi’s film continues to perform impressively despite its play before the awards season begins. Expect it to have a rebound when that goes into full swing.


Parasite (Neon) Week 7

$1,219,000 in 433 theaters (-187); Cumulative: $16,462,000

That a subtitled film could do this much business–ahead of any awards boosts– remains one of the top box office stories of the year. While the film lost dates, it will continue to play in many theaters, as the PTA stayed close to last week.

The Irishman (Netflix)

$(est.) 1,200,000 in (est.) 200 theaters (+25); Cumulative: $(est.) 4,200,000

Although another published report pegged Martin Scorsese’s film at $5 million through last Thursday, our spot checking of individual theaters and distributors and exhibitors suggests these estimates are closer to reality. This marks a credible performance for a film which goes to streaming this Wednesday while still facing issues of length, limited seating, and lack of access to most theaters. Many viewers will now sample the film in the comfort of their homes.

Marriage Story (Netflix) Week 4

$(est.) 340,000 in (est.) 85 theaters (+69); Cumulative: $(est.) 540,000

Again, this is a rough stab at guessing what Noah Baumbach’s film is taking in among its pre-streaming theaters. This is showing strong numbers in top theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and elsewhere, but continues to be hurt by the refusal of most theaters to show the film, despite Netflix’s outreach.

Honey Boy (Amazon) Week 3

$269,280 in 44 theaters (+27); Cumulative: $939,676

While Shia LaBeouf’s personal story expanded to more cities this weekend, the numbers fell under its initial dates. It goes wider this Wednesday.

The Lighthouse (A24) Week 6   290

$182,260 in 113 theaters (-177); Cumulative: $10,173,000

Robert Eggers’ claustrophobic period drama has edged past $10 million, well ahead of both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s respective recent specialized entries.

Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8

$135,279 in 217 theaters (-9); Cumulative: $3,321,000

Pedro Almodovar’s latest is wrapping up the initial stage of its run with a total above most of SPC’s recent foreign-language contenders, despite its earlier-than-usual opening. Possible nominations ahead for lead Antonio Banderas could boost its next stage.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot () Week 7

$64,688 in 5 theaters (-8); Cumulative: $2,763,000

Kevin Smith’s excellent adventure continues with two more higher priced events accounting for most of the gross here.

Also noted:

Judy (Roadside Attractions) – $35,300 in 58 theaters; Cumulative: $23,844,000

The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) – $18,020 in 39 theaters; Cumulative: $20,414,000

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.