RBG Movie ‘On the Basis of Sex’ Is a Hit, Even Without Awards Attention

Awards contenders "Green Book" and "The Favourite" ride post-Globes swells.
RBG Movie 'On the Basis of Sex' Is a Hit, Without Awards Attention
"Perfect Strangers"

The specialty box office took a downturn in the second weekend of the year, plunging lower than the usual lackluster early January numbers. Of the fifteen new openings reviewed in the New York and/or Los Angeles papers, none reported grosses. Is this the new normal?

Three new films opened wide. Of the remaining dozen, nine had parallel streaming debuts, including two boasting Oscar-winners, Vanessa Redgrave in “The Aspern Papers” (Cohen Media) and Richard Dreyfuss in “The Last Laugh” (Netflix). Iceland’s “And Breathe Normally” premiered a year ago at Sundance (Netflix). The last two were foreign-language titles, “Touch Me Not” (Kino Lorber) from Romania and “Perfect Strangers” (Pantelion) from Mexico, which yielded $425,000 in 132 theaters on the Spanish-language circuit. But new specialty titles meant to see much more theatrical play? Nada.

And this comes with the announcement that CBS Films, in recent years a provider of important specialized releases (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” currently “At Eternity’s Gate”) as well as more commercial fare, is transitioning to making films for streaming release. That’s a sign of where the specialized film market is heading in the new year.


Perfect Strangers/Perfectos desconocitos (Lionsgate) – Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Morelia 2018

$425,000 in 132 theaters; PTA: $3,220

This Mexican film is the fifth remake so far (with others planned) of the smash 2016 Italian comedy about what happens when a group of old friends discover what they think of each other via revealed social media messages. It’s not uncommon for a universal high concept revealed in a local hit to be adapted into other languages. (Weinstein had U.S. remake rights for this, much like “Intouchables,” which they remade as “The Upside,” released by STX.) This release by Pantelion, Lionsgate’s Spanish-language partner, opened in about a third as many theaters as usual, with a lower-gross per theater, accompanied by some positive reviews. Its five percent Saturday increase from Friday suggests modest word of mouth.

What comes next: Most of these releases stick to their initial number of theaters.

The Aspern Papers (Cohen) – Metacritic: 28; Festivals include: Venice 2018

$9,277 in 10 theaters; PTA: $927

Despite yet another dominating performance by Vanessa Redgrave, this adaptation of Henry James’ novella about the pursuit of the papers of a famous Romantic poet earned awful reviews, which clearly led to Cohen’s decision to pursue a streaming initial release for this film. Its few theater dates did minimal business.

What comes next: Fans will need to pursue this from their couches ahead.

On the Basis of Sex

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

On the Basis of Sex (Focus) Week 3

$6,227,000 in 1,923 theaters (+1,811); Cumulative: $10,559,000

The second film about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Mimi Leder’s fictional version of her early marriage and career, shows considerable continued strength as it spreads nationwide. And Focus is achieving this without any Oscar campaign. It’s rare for a specialized interest film during this time of year to dominate the field when so many awards contenders are still on-screen. Also credit Participant Media – this is their third current success, along with “Roma” and “Green Book.”

KiKi Layne as Tish and Colman Domingo as Joseph star in Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.
If Beale Street Could TalkTatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

If Beale Street Could Talk (Annapurna) Week 5

$2,389,000 in 1,018 theaters (+683); Cumulative: $7,688,000

Respectable, though not spectacular expansion for Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel. For comparison, when “Green Book” went to this theater count on its second weekend (around Thanksgiving), it grossed over $5 million. Playing somewhat more theaters in its 11th weekend, Golden Globe-winner “Bohemian Rhapsody” had about the same theater average. What will count ahead is word of mouth to sustain this level and how the film performs on Oscar nominations morning, January 22.

Green Book (Universal) Week 9

$2,100,000 in 742 theaters (+176); Cumulative: $38,560,000

Even with a boost in theaters, the PTA remained about the same. That shows its Golden Globe wins plus ongoing favorable word of mouth continue to boost Peter Farrelly’s film, even with competition from another oddball biracial buddy comedy (“The Upside”) opening this weekend.

Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”Fox Searchlight

The Favourite (Fox Searchlight) Week 8

$1,125,000 in 512 theaters (-259); Cumulative: $21,498,000

This has further comeback possibilities after the nominations, with Globe-winner Olivia Colman in the running for a Best Actress Oscar win. Fox Searchlight’s big awards contender this year, which led the BAFTA nominations as expected, will land multiple Oscar nominations but looks to fall short of their two breakout successes last year (“The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”).

Mary, Queen of Scots (Focus) Week 6

$847,000 in 829 theaters (-223); Cumulative: $15,224,000

After a strong holiday period performance, this second British royal power struggle in release is moving into its later stage unless it gets unexpected further awards attention. It has had a decent run.

Free Solo (Greenwich) Week 16

$812,741 in 154 theaters (+93); Cumulative: $12,324,000

Late in its run, this Yosemite rock-climb documentary from National Geographic hit 97 IMAX screens, which delivered the bulk of the gross ($742,000). This pushed the movie ahead of “Three Identical Strangers” as the third biggest 2018 documentary.

“Ben Is Back”

Ben Is Back (Roadside Attractions) Week 6

$467,500 in 598 theaters (+439); Cumulative: $3,107,000

This worthy middle-class family drug drama continues to struggle in its widest stage of release, managing only a per theater average of $781.

Destroyer (Annapurna) Week 3

$151,745 in 27 theaters (+21); Cumulative: $426,000

With multiple new big markets added in a week without a lot of new specialized action, Nicole Kidman’s bravura performance as an LA cop is getting mixed results as it remains on the cusp of a possible Oscar nomination. It wasn’t helped by lukewarm post-festival reviews. The gross is a little better than “Ben Is Back” on in its second expanding weekend in December.

Shoplifters, KORE-EDA Hirokazu. Cannes

Shoplifters (Magnolia) Week 8

$(est.) 200,000 in 77 theaters (-6); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,963,000

The outstanding performance for this Japanese film continues before its likely foreign-language Oscar nomination. With clear public interest, the chances of sustaining key runs and then expanding further with a much higher gross is certain.

The Wife (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 22

$115,750 in 156 theaters (+146); Cumulative: $8,333,000

After Glenn Close’s boost in the Best Actress race, her film — now in month sixth of release, not yet available for home viewing, returned to some theaters. Many of these had limited showings, and the gross was meager overall. But it does give the film continued presence at a crucial awards period, and could see more after her expected nomination.

Roma (Netflix) Week 8; also streaming

$(est.) 100,000 in 80 theaters (-5); Cumulative: (est.) $2,626,000

The best sign that Alfonso Cuaron’s award-winning release of 2018 so far continues to draw ticket buyers (while available on Netflix) is that the theater count remains steady. The total is still far less than if that streaming alternative didn’t exist. And it comes with zero support from top mainstream chains. Like other contenders, this should get a boost with the Oscar nominations.

Stan and Ollie (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3

$88,808 in 13 theaters (+5); Cumulative: $358,476

With a handful of added theaters, this late-era Laurel and Hardy biofilm kept its gross about the same as last week. This shows signs of appealing to a niche audience which is responding favorably as it expands slowly. Meantime, the film opened to #2 overall in the UK/Ireland this weekend, with local star Steve Coogan a major reason.

"Cold War"
“Cold War”Amazon Studios

Cold War (Amazon) Week 4

$87,852 in 10 theaters (+4); Cumulative: $400,975

“Ida” director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish romantic drama is expanding slowly. It continues to show early interest, not unlike “Shoplifters,” as a subtitled awards contender. It clearly looks on its way to becoming the third recent foreign-language film (“Roma” so far is biggest) to break out above the recent norm. “Cold War” will widen further within the top ten markets this Friday. These are U.S. only numbers (five additional Canadian theaters opened, which are included for other films listed).

Also noted:

Capernaum (Sony Pictures Classics) – $48,078 in 15 theaters; Cumulative: $237,726

The World Before Your Feet (Greenwich) – $15,100 in 11 theaters; Cumulative: $166,662

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