Sam Mendes’ One Shot WWI Wonder ‘1917’ Makes Limited Debut, Neon Releases Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance Winner ‘Clemency’- Specialty B.O. Preview

1917 George MacKay (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Sam Mendes’ World War I drama 1917 is set to open in limited release this weekend. Moviegoers may be skeptical as they ask themselves, “Do we really need another World War I movie?” but with a certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 93%, 1917 is proving to be a must-see film, awards season or otherwise.

Co-written by Mendes by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, 1917 pays tribute to Mendes’ grandfather, who fought in World War I. The story follows two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) at the height of the war. They are given a seemingly impossible mission and are on a severe time crunch as they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers — one of them being Blake’s brother.

Universal opened the DreamWorks Pictures WWI epic on Christmas Day in 11 theaters in seven markets on Christmas Day including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Washington DC and Toronto. It earned $251,262 on Christmas Day with a per theater average of $22,842. We are hearing that theaters were at capacity throughout the day. This is a strong start for the film as it is on track for approximately $600,000 for the three-day weekend with a per theater average of $55,000. Its estimated five-day gross is $975,000 with a per theater average of $88,000. 

1917 opened very well at the North American box office on Christmas day, beating our great expectations for this limited release, which is not surprising considering the incredible critical praise the film has been receiving,” Jim Orr, President of Universal Domestic Distribution, tells Deadline. “As this film continues to rack up nominations and build word of mouth through the holiday play period, we anticipate a strong foundation as we head into our wide release on January 10.”

Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins, Pippa Harris, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay at the ‘1917’ panel at New York Comic-Con Courtesy of Owen Hoffman

The film has garnering buzz from early screenings as a non-gimmicky, immersive one-shot marvel with cinematography from the iconic Oscar-winning Roger Deakins. Even before that, its first trailer in August netted nearly 50 million views while a behind-the-scenes featurette highlighting the film’s one-shot methodology earned more than 25 million online views. Universal Pictures launched the second trailer at New York Comic-Con and also partnered with Ideas United to kick off its #1917OneShotChallenge contest, which had aspiring filmmakers create a two-minute video filmed in a continuous shot, with the winner earning a ticket to the Los Angeles premiere.

Mendes’ pic has been a formidable contender during the awards season as it already has earned a spot on AFI and the National Board of Review’s lists for the top films of the year. It nabbed three Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score as well as Critics’ Choice nominations. It has enough fuel to add to its awards season tank and to launch it into the box office stratosphere once it opens wide on January 10.

With critically acclaimed films like The Biggest Little, Honeyland, Apollo 11, Monos, Luce and Bong Joon Ho’s awards season juggernaut Parasite, Neon is having a good year. Now, it is about to put another jewel in its crown with Chinonye Chukwu’s drama Clemency, which opens today.

The film stars the legendary Alfre Woodard as well as Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce and Danielle Brooks. The story follows prison warden Bernadine Williams (Woodard) who has been carrying out death row executions for years — and it is taking a toll on her. As memories of a recently botched execution haunt her, she continues to be affected and an emotional wedge grows between her and her husband. While preparing to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.

Chinonye Chukwu wins the US. Grand Jury Prize for ‘Clemency’ at Sundance George Frey/Shutterstock

As a feather in its cap for its stellar 2019 slate, Clemency has earned rave reviews and sits at an impressive 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. When it made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Chukwu made history becoming the first black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize for her U.S. Dramatic entry, the biggest prize of the festival. From there, it just continued to gain more and more momentum as it played at numerous film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and AFI Fest. It garnered Gotham Award acting nominations for Woodard and Hodge and landed a trio of Film Independent Spirit Awards including Best Female Lead for Woodard, Best Screenplay for Chukwu as well as Best Feature.

The film is poignant with relevance as it continues the conversation of prison reform, joining the ranks of When They See Us and another awards season contender Just Mercy, which also opened in limited release on Christmas Day. With the iconic Woodard leading a film by the talented Chukwu and buzz-worthy performances by Hodge, Pierce and Brooks, Clemency is an incredible bookend to Neon’s amazing year.

The film opens in limited release today in New York at the Angelika Theater as well as The Landmark in Los Angeles, where it will include Q&As with Chukwu, Woodard and Hodge.

The aforementioned Warner Bros. prison reform drama Just Mercy is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and follows the  true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who is put on death row for murder despite evidence proving his innocence. Defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) travels to the Deep South of Alabama in an effort to appeal McMillian’s murder conviction and, in turn, sees the birth of the Equal Justice Initiative, which gives legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted.

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in 'Just Mercy'
Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in ‘Just Mercy’ Warner Bros.

Just Mercy made history as the first major studio film to implement the inclusion rider which mandates women, people of color, LGBTQ people and other underrepresented groups be considered for key on-screen and behind-the-scenes jobs. It made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival to critical acclaim and modestly threw its hat in the awards season ring. There have been a handful of early screenings including Q&As with the cast. filmmakers and Stevenson himself. Most recently, Kobe Bryant hosted a special screening where Stevenson, Jordan, Foxx, Brie Larson, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Karan Kendrick were on hand to introduce the film.  It currently has four exclusive runs in New York at Lincoln Square and Union Square as well as Los Angeles at Century City and Arclight Hollywood. With word of mouth buzz and big banner names like Jordan, Foxx and Larson, Just Mercy could very well gain more traction in its wide release on January 17, 2020.

The Safdie Brothers’ crime thriller Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler opened wide on 2,341 screens Christmas Day, adding a sizeable $5,911,025 into its box office bank. It shines at #4 in the top 10 of the country with the highest per-screen average and marks the highest-grossing day for a film in A24 history.

Wilson Yip Wai-Shun’s Ip Man 4: The Finale starring Donnie Yen also made a Christmas debut while Raj Mehta’s Hindi-language comedy Good Newwz, as well as Sachin Ravi’s Indian action comedy Avane Srimannarayana, are set to open this weekend. Waymon Boone’s horror Apparition starring Annalisa Cochrane, Kevin Pollak and Mena Suvari will also make its premiere.

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