Oliver Assayas’ ‘Non-Fiction’ Leads Another Quiet Specialized Weekend

Documentaries like "Amazing Grace" continue to lead the way at the specialty box office, but 2019 still isn't showing much spark.
Oliver Assayas' Non-Fiction Leads Another Quiet Specialized Weekend

Several well-received and highly anticipated new limited releases debuted this week, with Olivier Assayas’ “Non-Fiction” (IFC) opening best. The titles also included the documentaries “Meeting Gorbachev” (1091) and “Ask Dr. Ruth” (Magnolia), as well as Zhang Yimou’s epic “Shadow” (Well Go), but all continued the pattern of an underwhelming 2019 for specialized films.

This weekend also saw two top Sundance titles — “Knocking Down the House” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” — debut on Netflix, with each getting minimal theatrical play (with no grosses reported, as usual).

Documentaries dominate specialized releases, with “Amazing Grace” (Neon) as the top-grossing title at the moment. “Booksmart” (United Artists) and “Late Show” (Amazon) open soon and both are wide releases that will benefit many specialized theaters. However, that immediately push for crossover audiences shows how challenging it is for key art houses.


Non-Fiction (IFC) – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2018

$29,056 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,528

French director Assayas has a longtime relationship with IFC, with his recent part-English “Clouds of Sans Maria” and “Personal Shopper” (both with Kristen Stewart) passing the $1 million mark. Juliette Binoche stars here as an actress involved in a relationship with a novelist. Strong reviews and appropriate theaters in Manhattan led to a much above-average opening for a subtitled film. These numbers are about 75% of the initial two-city results for the two previous films, but those had additional appeal beyond the traditional French film fan base that boosts this.

What comes next: An exclusive Los Angeles run starts Friday, with other top cities adding on in subsequent weeks.

Meeting Gorbachev (1091) – Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Telluride 2018, Tribeca 2019

$20,000 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $10,000

Co-directed by Werner Herzog, this documentary both shows historical footage of the key transitional Soviet leader as well as extensive interviews with the now 87-year old figure. It opened at two top New York/Los Angeles locations (the Film Forum and NuArt) to positive results, with the director’s involvement (including an appearance at the latter) adding to the film’s appeal.

What comes next: Up to 15 cities open this week, with a quick expansion to at least an additional 25 ahead.

A still from Ask Dr. Ruth by Ryan White, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres Program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Paul JacobsonAll 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.
“Ask Dr. Ruth”

Ask Dr. Ruth (Magnolia) – Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Sundance, Hot Docs 2018

$(est.) 100,000 in 110 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est). 909

It would come as a surprise that this documentary about a sage older woman named Ruth might have taken a chance to replicate the interest in “RBG” a year ago. This Sundance-premiered film, which Hulu signed on as a partner during production, opened nationally ahead of its June 1 date on the streaming platform. The results fell far short of what “RBG” saw last year, as the iconic mass-audience sex and relationship adviser looks not quite as central to the current zeitgeist as is the Supreme Court Justice.

What comes next: Though more theaters are possible, this appears to be fated as mostly a home-viewing item ahead.


Shadow (Well Go) – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2018

$30,100 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,525

Zhang Yimou, whose films define Chinese cinema for domestic specialized filmgoers for more than 30 years, returns with a historical epic set nearly two millenia ago. It opened in four New York/Los Angeles theaters, including the Arclight Hollywood (which has one of the top “Avengers: Endgame” grosses in the country) and received among the top reviews of the year (a Metacritic score the same as “Non-Fiction”). The initial numbers weren’t spectacular, but positioned the film for further attention.

What comes next: This expands to seven new cities Friday, with eventually at least 100 total dates expected.


“The White Crow”

Week Two

The White Crow (Sony Pictures Classics)

$98,495 in 19 theaters (+14); PTA: $5,184; Cumulative: $210,089

A biopic about a young Rudolf Nureyev from Sony Pictures Classics is the sort of film that hits the sweet spot of many remaining specialized ticket buyers. Its second-week expansion to top cities gave it one of the better showings among their recent films.

Hesburgh (O’Malley Creadon)

$67,925 in 36 theaters (+34); PTA: $1,887; Cumulative: $88,436

After its initial limited Midwestern debut, this documentary on the legendary Notre Dame figure not associated with football added several cities to decent results. Backed with grassroots marketing, and in some cases only playing two shows a day, this is positioned to find further business as it adds other markets.

Carmine Street Guitars (Abramorama)  1-12

$5,430 in 2 theaters (+1); PTA: $2,715; Cumulative: $17,823

Adding one date to its initial Greenwich Village opening, this documentary about a legendary music store looks to be a niche draw.

"Amazing Grace"
“Amazing Grace”Neon

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Amazing Grace (Neon) Week 7

$367,395 in 263 theaters (+16); Cumulative: $2,772,000

Impressively still adding new dates, this acclaimed documentary with footage of a 1972 church-set Aretha Franklin recording session again leads all continuing-run specialized releases.

Red Joan (IFC) Week 3

$253,814 in 139 theaters (+64); Cumulative: $527,783

Judi Dench is still able to draw older specialized audiences. However, this 1950s behind-the-scenes British spy film finds the interest below her stronger past efforts.

The Mustang (Focus) Week 8

$151,000 in 229 theaters (-48); Cumulative: $4,828,000

Laure de Clement-Tonnere’s Nevada-made prisoners and horse rehabilitation story is winding down after finding more interest than most new 2019 releases.

High Life (A24) Week 5

$79,000 in 98 theaters (-48); Cumulative: $1,093,000

Claire Denis’ inventive space travel story with Robert Pattinson will finish somewhere above $1 million.

Hail Satan? (Magnolia) Week 3

$(est.) 79,000 in 34 theaters (+13); Cumulative: $(est.) 142,000

This documentary about the recent growth of Satan-worshipping churches is showing real interest with a shot at sustaining interest better than most recent releases.

Hotel Mumbai (Bleecker Street) Week 7

$69,740 in 94 theaters (-76); Cumulative: $9,489,000

Wrapping up its run, this will come closer to $10 million than any 2019 initially platformed release.

Wild Nights With Emily (Greenwich) Week 4

$58,014 in 78 theaters (+13); Cumulative: $327,080

Molly Shannon as Emily Dickinson amid female companionship adds more theaters, but with still minor results.

Also noted:

The Chaperone (PBS) – $47,310 in 46 theaters; Cumulative: $416,471

Her Smell (Gunpowder & Sky) – $31,463 in 63 theaters; Cumulative: $217,763

Apollo 11 (Neon) – $26,700 in 58 theaters; Cumulative: $8,604,000

Gloria Bell (A24) – $20,500 in 33 theaters; Cumulative: $5,576,000

Never Look Away (Sony Pictures Classics) – $15,013 in 6 theater; Cumulative: $1,283,000

Little Wood (Neon) – $10,700 in 16 theaters; Cumulative: $137,568


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