Weekend Indie Box Office: What It Means, from ‘Bully’ to ‘Island President’ UPDATED

Weekend Indie Box Office: What It Means, from 'Bully' to 'Island President' UPDATED
Weekend Indie Box Office: What It Means, from 'Bully' 'Island President' UPDATED

“Bully” led a slew of documentary openers this weekend (at least eight) both in terms of attention and success. The others, including two with significant previous acclaim, reveal the results of the new Oscar rule requiring full week theatrical dates in New York and/or Los Angeles with published reviews in their leading papers. No other limited opening – whether recent festival presentation or (ever-increasing) Video on Demand tie-in – gained much traction. (We will analyze the films that don’t report grosses until Monday in a follow-up report.)

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” continues to outperform earlier expectations as it nearly doubled its theater count, while “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Deep Blue Sea” quickly moved quickly to add to their already wider than usual first week platform positions.


“Bully” (Weinstein) – Metacritic score: 75; Festivals include: Tribeca 11, Silverdocs 11, Hamptons 11
$115,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,000

With the widespread coverage of its ratings controversy as well as its topicality, “Bully” has received more press than most documentaries ever do, as well as upbeat reviews in both NY and LA. On one level, the decent opening gross might seem expected. But the film didn’t seem, despite its strong awareness, to be anything sure-fire. Issue docs, particularly those about important but unsettling topics, often disappoint. The docs that are doing well these days tend to focus on creative personalities involved with activities covered in arts and style sections. And, although its subject matter was very different, Weinstein only a month ago failed to get much traction with “Undefeated,” even after it won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar (its PSA was less than a third than what “Bully” achieved. (That was partly due to the too-familiar subject inside the sports domain.)

That said, this gross seems impressive. The importance of the subject notwithstanding, it took almost a year to reach theaters after the Weinsteins acquired it out of Tribeca (not the higher-profile Sundance or Toronto). The ratings controversy,  legitimate in its aim and necessity, was the fulcrum that got it into the public spotlight.

UPDATE:  The complete weekend grosses are now in, and rather than overestimating Sunday, the gross was even better than expected. Sunday was down only a very impressive 11.8%, with two of the five theaters according to sources having their best day of the weekend, which is very unusual. Although pre-set group sales were a factor in at least one theater, the most likely reason is very positive initial word-of-mouth, which usually takes a little longer to take hold.

What it means: This will greatly increase Weinstein’s ability to expand this to those chains willing to play an unrated film (most of them), although still under restricted circumstances in most cases, which in turn will reduce the ultimate gross.

“The Island President” (Goldwyn) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include; Telluride 11, Toronto 11, Santa Barbara 12
$15,600 in 2 theaters; PSA: $7,800

Winner of the People’s Choice as top documentary at last year’s Toronto Film Festival (beating “Undefeated,” “Into the Abyss,” “Pina” and “Paradise Lost 3,” among others), this compelling documentary combines a political story in the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives and its environmentally-activist now-ex-president‘s concerns about rising seas. Opening at NY’s Film Forum (last Wednesday) and in San Francisco, it had a respectable gross.

What it means: The film is definitely more of a tough-sell niche doc with a “message” hook. But based on these grosses Goldwyn still should be able to roll this out to key markets in upcoming weeks.

“Turn Me On, Dammit!” (New Yorker) – Metacritic score: 70; Festivals include: Tribeca 11, Mill Valley 11, Chicago 11, Rome 11
$11,500 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,750

A year after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, this Norwegian adolescent story focusing on a 15-year-old girl and her fight to harness the hormonal forces taking over her life is the most recent release of the reborn post-Dan Talbot New Yorker Films (with longtime executive Jose Lopez as president). Their selections continue to be edgy and distinctive, with this one having a modest NY opening at two high-caliber locations.

What it means: Expect further big city playoff, but this looks to play at levels below other recent foreign language successes.

UPDATED: “Goon” (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 64; Festivals include: Toronto 11; also available nationally on Video on Demand (VOD)
$49,000 in 31 theaters; PSA: $1,583

Another Toronto 11 Special Presentation, this Canadian comedy with a violent edge about a hockey enforcer managed to eke out some positive reviews to complement its VOD play (normal on most Magnolia films) in NY, LA and Chicago. The total gross was minor, more so when compared to its terrific haul in Canada so far – over $4 million in a country with 1/9th the population of the US.

What it means: More attention for its cable availability.

“The Beat Hotel” (First Run) – Metacritic score: 40
$1,458 in theaters; PSA: $1,458

Quality doc distributor First Run took on this documentary about the Paris residence that became the center of the French beat culture five decades ago. Focusing on residents who included William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsbergh, it failed to get the sort of attention from critics they might have hoped for, its NY opening failed to draw many ticket buyers.

What it means: This doesn’t seem poised to go much further.

“Intruders” (Millennium) – Metacritic score: 45; Festivals include: Toronto 11, San Sebastian 11, South by Southwest 12
$40,500 in 33 theaters; PSA: $1,227

Weak grosses despite the pedigree for this upscale horror film. From the director of “Intacto” and “28 Weeks Later,” with Clive Owen starring in a solid festival film (a Special Presentation at Toronto rather than a Midnight selection) co-produced by Universal and several European companies and made in Spain, the film has already played to minor grosses in several European markets. Millennium, following its disappointing release of “Rampart,” opened this in an unusual mixture of cities (NY, LA, San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans, Phoenix) playing mostly high-end commercial megaplexes. Overall reviews were weak, but both the NY & LA Times spoke favorably of it,  to no avail.

What it means: The die is cast for this one, and any further playoff is likely to be limited.


“The Raid: Redemption” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2
$284,000 in 46 theaters (+32); PSA: $6,174; Cumulative $596,000

Successfully expanding to several new markets, although (as is normal) a sharp fall in the PSA from its more stellar level last weekend, this continues to justify SPC’s aggressive push for this film beyond the core art market.

What it means: Expect to see a further widening quickly.

UPDATED: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (Magnolia) – Week 4
$194,000 in 44 theaters (+17); PSA: $4,399; Cumulative – $666,000

More signs that this documentary about a sushi chef has wide specialized appeal, despite limited advance festival exposure. The PSA is ahead of the decent one for “The Kid With a Bike” even with a greater theater count.

What it means: At some point this will reach the limit of its niche audience, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that this might approach an amazing $2 million gross or even more.

“Footnote” (Sony Pictures Classics); Week 4
$253,000 in 60 theaters (+37); PSA: $4,217; Cumulative: $618,000

Expanding well in quite a few new theaters, this continues to show a broad appeal within the niche art market. The PSA is better than “The Kid With a Bike” despite playing on more screens.

What it means: This still could be in the early stages of its grossing appeal as it develops more WOM (word of mouth) and plays in theaters yet to come that previously have responded well to the top Israeli films, while still showing appeal in other upscale art houses around the country.

“The Kid With a Bike” (IFC-Sundance Selects) – week 3
$148,000 in 37 theaters (+13); PSA: $4,000; Cumulative: $362,000

Further expansion resulted in only a minor reduction in the PSA, which is a positive sign. This indicates good WOM (word of mouth) in the subtitled/art market, which bodes well as it moves into more cities soon.

What it means: IFC’s bet that they could enhance its later VOD playoff with an initial more conventional review-oriented theatrical release seems to be working so far.

“The Deep Blue Sea” (Music Box) – Week 2
$168,000 in 49 theaters (+18); PSA: $3,426; Cumulative: $342,000

Continuing strong reviews in added cities Chicago and San Francisco aided this British drama (Metacritic score still at an impressive 83). The PSA is better than it looks at initial glance because of the wider than normal initial break diminishing the impact of decent grosses at its core art-house theaters, and in any event it didn’t fall much from its first week, which is an encouraging sign.

What it means: More cities open this Friday, which should add momentum, including keeping Rachel Weisz’ acclaimed performance at the center of attention.

“Salmon Fishing in Yemen” (CBS Films) – Week 4
$1,274,000 in 483 theaters (+359); PSA: $2,638; Cumulative: $3,171,000

The big jump in theaters took its toll on the PSA (down more than half to a not-great level), but the gross still is good enough for an impressive seventh place for the weekend. It did much better than “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” also widening this weekend.

What it means: CBS Films seems to be penetrating the marketplace with effectiveness at this point. Assuming they move to expand further and hold on to most of their existing theaters, their ultimate gross should at least double and possibly beyond by some distance.

“Boy” (Paladin) – week 5
$20,100 in 9 theaters (+2); PSA: $2234; Cumulative: $119,000

Adding two markets, the PSA stayed the same, which is encouraging, although still at a modest level.

What it means: The slow roll-out continues with five new markets this week.

“Undefeated” (The Weinstein Company) – Week 7
$32,000 in 16 theaters (-1); PSA: $2,000; Cumulative: $424,000

This is still playing very limited, but with some new theaters coming in, the PSA actually went up this weekend.

What it means: This will likely move around the country to new markets, but at this point any wide expansion seems unlikely.

UPDATED: “Friends With Kids” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 4
$459,000 in 308 theaters (-250); PSA: $1,491; Cumulative: $6,325,000

While losing another large number of theaters, the PSA went up slightly at least.

What it means: At the $7 million+ it will end up with, this has already passed “Winter’s Bone” among Roadside Attactions top grosser ever.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” (Paramount – week 3
$675,000 in 513 theaters (+259); PSA: $1,316; Cumulative: $2,689,000

Playing at roughly the same number of theaters as “Salmon Fishing” (many of the same ones included) and doubling its total this week, it achieved only half the PSA. That pretty much tells the story.

What it means: It’s going to be difficult for Paramount to sustain most of these theaters for much longer at this level of gross, and it also could indicate little need for further expansion.

“A Separation” (Sony Pictures Classics) – week 14

$241,000 in 199 theaters (-62); PSA: $1,211; Cumulative: $6,466,000

Continuing its gradual decline in the late stages of its release, the PSA stayed steady, indicating this has more yet to gross.

What it means: Already very impressive, this should end up somewhere around $7.5 million, which makes it the breakout subtitled film of the year so far.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Oscilloscope) – Week 12
$76,000 in 67 theaters (-13); PSA: $1,134; Cumulative: $1,471,000

Scaling back after a consistent if never great level, after nearly three months most of the likely theaters have been covered.

What it means: Oscilloscope has maximized this without ever overspending on marketing. Its visibility has been sufficient to get it further attention as it hits the non-theatrical venues soon.

“Musical Chairs” (Paladin) – Week 2
$12,235 in 12 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,020; Cumulative: $25,376

LA and Chicago were added this week, with no improvement to its initial performance.

What it means: This won’t find much more exhibitor interest down the line, but other markets still could add on.

“The Artist” (Weinstein) – week 19
$291,000 in 315 theaters (-261); PSA: $924; Cumulative: $43,558,000

Just about over, although as usual I’m impressed by how TWC keeps holding on to some theaters.

What it means: The final theatrical gross will end up just below $45 million, about $18 million less than “The Hunger Games” will gross in its second weekend to keep things in perspective.

“In Darkness” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 9
$46,100 in 50 theaters (-1); PSA: $922; Cumulative: $864,000

Still getting played off utilizing a relatively small print total, this continues its steady but minor performance.

What it means: SPC still should get this over the $1 million mark, which would mean that all three of their subtitled Oscar nominees did so while in playoff, which is no small achievement.

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