Telluride/Toronto documentary Free Solo ascended to some of the best opening box office stats of the year and even scaled new peaks in the nonfiction realm. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the National Geographic Film/Greenwich Entertainment release grossed a massive $300,804 in just four theaters, averaging $75,201, the best opening-weekend PTA of 2018, climbing over previous title holder, Eighth Grade. The bow for the film about Alex Honnold’s attempt to scale Yosemite’s 3,200-foot El Capitan without a rope also is the best opening-weekend PTA for a documentary ever, overtaking 2006 Oscar winner An Inconvenient Truth, which averaged $70,333 in its opening frame in four locations. Free Solo’s opening all but assures it’ll join the year’s big three docs, RBG Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers as 2018’s nonfiction behemoths.
Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight’s The Old Man & The Gun starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck and Sissy Spacek, rolled out in five locations Friday. In the three-day, the Telluride debut took in $150K for a solid $30,000 per-theater average. Abramorama’s Sundance doc Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. about Sri Lankan/British singer M.I.A. likely would have grabbed bigger headlines had it not opened opposite Free Solo. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. had a robust opening in two theaters over the weekend, grossing $51,373, averaging $25,687. Among other openers, Neon took Monsters And Men to 18 locations, grossing $130,979 ($7,277 average), while IFC Films’ Black ’47 played an exclusive run for $9,006. And, The Orchard opened All About Nina with four runs, grossing $30,164 ($7,541 average).
In 2015, filmmakers Vasarhelyi and Chin took doc audiences on death-defying mountain climbs with Meru, taking in over $2.3M in the box office via Music Box Films. But their latest climb, Free Solo, has scaled a new threshold for a nonfiction debut with its $300,804 gross in four theaters in New York, L.A., Denver and Boulder, CO. Greenwich Entertainment said Free Solo’s audiences were “predominantly 20 and 30-somethings, driven by social media.”
The filmmakers and their subject Honnold took part in Q&As all weekend at the Arclight Hollywood, selling out the dome, as well as the Angelika Theater as well as Denver and Boulder, two centers with climbing enthusiasts. The title also won the People’s Choice Audience Award at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
“In a year where audiences are recognizing the power of seeing docs on the big screen, it’s so gratifying to see Free Solo embraced as the thrilling theatrical experience that it is,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks. “National Geographic is beyond proud to have shepherded this project from the beginning.”
As Vasarhelyi told me this week. “[National Geographic was] the perfect partner for us. It’s a big deal for any financier to accept those risks. [The project] was very intricate with a heavy production shoot, and it was secret. They were a great home for us, and they understood what we were doing.”
Fellow Telluride debut The Old Man & The Gun, from writer-director David Lowery and starring Redford in what he says is likely his last acting role, opened five locations Friday. The Fox Searchlight release grossed $150K, averaging $30K. Based on a New Yorker article by David Grann, the film was originally developed and brought to Fox Searchlight by Condé Nast Entertainment.
“I have to be honest, I thought I’d be happy with a $22,500 or $25K average,” said Searchlight SVP Frank Rodriguez Sunday. “It’s a relaxed film that we felt would get broader. [Redford’s] films usually come out all at once like A Walk In the Woods or go out slowly.”
Rodriguez gave kudos to Searchlight’s sister company Nat Geo for Free Solo’s success, noting The Old Man & The Gun was second at the Arclight Hollywood, where the former played the largest auditorium. Added Rodriguez: “It was No. 1 yesterday at Regal Union Square [in New York] and will probably be so [Sunday]. It also did well at Landmark 57 West in Manhattan.”
Next weekend, The Old Man & The Gun will add eight more markets — Austin, Dallas, Boston, Washington, D.C., Toronto, San Francisco, Phoenix and Chicago — in addition to expansions in New York and L.A. that will bring its total to 35-40 locations. The film then will go out nationally October 19. Added Rodriguez: “We have over 600 theaters locked already. We think we can open in cities like Little Rock and Birmingham, AL.”
Although overshadowed by Free Solo, another doc opener had a robust start in two locations. Abramorama’s Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. grossed $51,373 in two theaters, averaging a robust $25,687. Not bad for the Sundance debut that took a bit of time before finding a distribution home. Said Abramorama on Sunday: “We’re thrilled, as are the producers at Cinereach, with the overwhelming response to the film. It will roll out across the country over the next few weeks so everyone will have the opportunity to experience the M.I.A. phenomenon.”
Last weekend’s No. 1 specialty debut, Colette from Bleecker Street, played 34 additional runs in its second frame, grossing $418,501 in a total of 38 theaters, averaging $11,013. The biopic starring Keira Knightley averaged over $39K in its opening three-day frame.
Annapurna’s The Sisters Brothers with John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal jumped to 27 theaters from its opening four locations. The Jacques Audiard-directed feature grossed an estimated $244,091in the three-day, averaging $9,040. The Sisters Brothers took in over $122K in its debut, averaging $30,507.
Sundance Selects doc Tea With the Dames played 19 theaters in its second weekend following its exclusive bow last weekend. The film grossed $45,872 in 19 theaters Friday to Sunday, averaging $2,415 bringing its cume to $69,011.
Nat Geo doc Science Fair played an additional 22 runs versus the prior weekend. The Sundance debut grossed $62,160, averaging $2,302.
And Sony Classics’ The Wife with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce stands at $6.1M in its seventh frame. The film took in $777,386 in the three-day, averaging $1,779
306 Hollywood (El Tigre Productions) NEW [1 Theater] Weekend $8,150
All About Nina (The Orchard) NEW [4 Theaters] Weekend $30,164, Average $7,541
Black ’47 (IFC Films) NEW [1 Theater] Weekend $9,006
Free Solo (National Geographic Documentary Film/Greenwich Entertainment) NEW [4 Theaters] Weekend $300,804, Average $75,201
Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. (Abramorama) NEW [2 Theaters] Weekend $51,373, Average $25,687
Monsters And Men (Neon) NEW [18 Theaters] Weekend $130,979, Average $7,277
The Old Man & The Gun (Fox Searchlight) NEW [5 Theaters] Weekend $150,000, Average $30,000
Assassination Nation (Neon) Week 2 [1,035 Theaters] Weekend $202,817, Average $196, Cume $1,728,565
Colette (Bleecker Street) Week 2 [38 Theaters] Weekend $418,501, Average $11,013, Cume $638,932
Fahrenheit 11/9 (Briarcliff Entertainment) Week 2 [1,719 Theaters] Weekend $1,120,872, Average $652, Cume $5,190,165
Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Greenwich Entertainment) Week 2 [1 Theater] Weekend $8,382, Cume $28,241
The Sisters Brothers (Annapurna) Week 2 [27 Theaters] Weekend $244,091, Average $9,040, Cume $404,814
Tea With The Dames (Sundance Selects) Week 2 [19 Theater] Weekend $45,872, Average $2,415, Cume $69,011
HOLDOVERS / THIRD+ WEEKENDS
The Dawn Hall (The Orchard) Week 3 [4 Theaters] Weekend $5,932, Average $1,483, Cume $783,507
Lizzie (Roadside Attractions/Saban Films) Week 3 [206 Theaters] Weekend $89,900, Average $436, Cume $546,124
Science Fair (National Geographic Documentary Film) Week 3 [27 Theater] Weekend $62,160, Average $2,302, Cume $110,844
Bisbee 17 (4th Row Films) Week 4 [10 Theaters] Weekend $10,457, Average $1,045, Cume $74,907
God Bless The Broken Road (Freestyle Releasing) Week 4 [111 Theaters] Weekend $35,399, Average $319, Cume $2,783,113
Pick Of The Litter (Sundance Selects) Week 5 [63 Theaters] Weekend $74,628, Average $1,185, Cume $366,531
Ya Veremos (Pantelion/Lionsgate) Week 5 [58 Theaters] Weekend $51,000, Average $879, Cume $4,113,563
The Bookshop (Greenwich Entertainment) Week 6 [74 Theaters] Weekend $70,834, Average $957, Cume $1,473,473
Blaze (Sundance Selects) Week 7 [89 Theaters] Weekend $96,748, Average $1,087, Cume $578,707
Juliet, Naked (Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate) Week 7 [71 Theaters] Weekend $64,775, Average $912, Cume $3,360,568
We The Animals (The Orchard) Week 7 [26 Theaters] Weekend $9,335, Average $359, Cume $387,960
The Wife (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7 [437 Theaters] Weekend $777,386, Average $1,779, Cume $6,104,060
Puzzle (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 9 [101 Theaters] Weekend $36,785, Average $364, Cume $1,976,290
Leave No Trace (Bleecker Street) Week 14 [34 Theaters] Weekend $9,502, Average $279, Cume $6,099,951