As Specialized Movies Face Holiday Box Office Storm, ‘Parasite’ Hangs Tight

Specialty films are facing an upcoming holiday tsunami of commercial studio fare.

Specialty fare enjoyed a strong fall, well ahead of award kudos, as “Judy (“Roadside Attractions), “Harriet” (Focus Features), “Parasite” (Neon), and “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight) all passed the $20 million mark. But being late to the party turned out to be a risky strategy this year.

Both “Bombshell” (Lionsgate) and “Uncut Gems” (A24) are riding good word of mouth as they expand over the holidays, with most of their runs at major chains along with top independents. But Searchlight’s newer arthouse entry, Terrence Malick’s World War II drama “A Hidden Life,” won’t come close to replicating the earlier season successes.

Unusual for the crowded Christmas period, several specialty distributors are launching limited platforms, including Amazon’s acclaimed Brazilian drama “Invisible Life,” which failed to land on the Oscar International Feature shortlist, and drew minor interest at its two initial theaters. This could leave room for strong holdovers like “Pain and Glory” (Sony Pictures Classics) to share in the holiday bounty if they can get screen placement.

Neon’s Sundance 2019 dramatic jury-prize winner “Clemency” starring Alfre Woodard opens for a qualifying run on December 27.

The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão
“Invisible Life”


Invisible Life (Amazon) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto

$8,364 in 2 theaters; PTA: $4,182

This Brazilian drama about two sisters separated in patriarchal 1950s Rio opened pre-Christmas at two ideal New York and Los Angeles theaters to quite modest results. Top dogs “Parasite” and “Pain and Glory” are gobbling up audience interest in quality subtitled films, leaving many also-rans unable to command the attention they merit.

What comes next: This expands to key markets on January 3.

Week Two

John Lithgow
John Lithgow in “Bombshell”Lionsgate

Bombshell (Lionsgate)

$5,075,000 in 1,480 theaters (+1,476); PTA: $3,429; Cumulative: $5,484,000

After a strong platform debut, Jay Roach’s Fox News-set #MeToo retelling opened wide in appropriate theaters (and fewer than other nationwide releases) to results that could lead to increased interest once Christmas starts. The PTA here is substantially ahead of “Cats” (in double the theaters). The drop Saturday from Friday previews was minor. The game plan (apart from banking more gross) is to position for word of mouth ahead. Compared to the similar “Vice” last year, which opened on December 25 in 1,000 more theaters, “Bombshell” had a higher first weekend PTA. That looks like a positive sign. Lionsgate has a good problem: keeping screens for “Knives Out” at the most competitive time for screen placement.  Rian Johnson’s film, in more theaters, actually grossed higher this weekend and placed #5, followed by “Bombshell.”

Uncut Gems (A24)

$232,479 in 5 theaters (no change); PTA: $46,496; Cumulative: $1,010,000

The 57% second weekend drop for the Safdie Brothers’ acclaimed diamond seller drama with Adam Sandler in its initial five New York/Los Angeles theaters is actually a positive sign. Apart from the weak dynamics of the overall weekend, this did not have the benefit of Q&A sessions, multiple screens and maximum seating, and no Star Wars opener in the same theater. And in any case, this is still a strong result ahead of the nationwide expansion of possibly 2,000 theaters set for Christmas Day. That is risky for an art film that is not remotely a typical Sandler vehicle, nor obvious holiday fare. But with the film’s acclaim and awards potential, making a showing now makes sense.

“A Hidden Life”

A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight)

$250,000 in 106 theaters (+101); PTA: $2,350; Cumulative: $399,143

Terrence Malick’s latest film, which platformed to spotty results last weekend, had an unusually rapid expansion as well as placement at appropriate but more specialized/independent theaters than most similar high-end films. It also broke the weekend before Christmas to give it a chance to gain momentum by Wednesday and beyond. The earlier signs are mediocre. But the 23% second day increase is unusual for a release with mostly new dates. That could mean seeds have been planted for further nurturing. Next week will tell the story. This will add a few additional dates Wednesday, with further increases in later weeks.

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Parasite (Neon) Week 11

$460,000 in 227 theaters (-79); Cumulative: $21,205,000

Scientists tell us parasites are hard to kill. The sustained success of this release proves that. In its 11th, competitive weekend, still in over 200 theaters — far more than most subtitled films play in their entire runs– this still has a PTA of over $2,000. This will be vulnerable to holiday screen tightness ahead, but expect it to sustain around these numbers, then return to possibly better ones after Oscar nominations.

Dark Waters (Focus) Week 5

$312,000 in 451 theaters (-1,661); Cumulative: $10,067,000

Todd Haynes’ lawyer versus corporation drama looks to have completed its play after a few weeks of wider release.

“Jojo Rabbit”Fox Searchlight

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Week 10

$186,000 in 230 theaters (-170); Cumulative: $20,393,000

Taika Waititi’s comedy has passed $20 million as it awaits possible further awards boosts and some holiday interest.

Harriet (Focus) Week 8

$113,000 in 203 theaters (-445); Cumulative: $42,200,000

Remaining theaters for Kasi Lemmon’s successful biopic of the Underground Railroad heroine remains in over 200 theaters after completing a strong run.

The Two Popes (Netflix) Week 4; also streaming

$(est.) 90,000 in 44 theaters (-34); Cumulative: $(est.) 515,000

As this went streaming on Netflix, the remaining theaters still showed some modest interest in Fernando Meirelles’ film about the imagined interactions of the once and future popes. This is showing less theatrical response than their two other contenders: Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” has taken in an estimated $7 million, while Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” is at around $2 million. Both still have some theater play, but look to have gone down to minimal numbers.

Honey Boy (Amazon) Week 7

$59,243 in 85 theaters (-302); Cumulative: $2,850,000

Shia LaBeouf’s story of his childhood looks to top out around $3 million unless it finds some long-shot awards attention ahead.

Also noted:

Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – $40,425 in 44 theaters; Cumulative: $3,766,000

63 Up (Britbox) – $32,945 in 21 theaters; Cumulative: $158,386

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.