December 30, 2018

‘On the Basis of Sex’ Tops Late 2018 Specialty Openings

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a star. “On the Basis of Sex” (Focus) beat three year-end openers with a strong multi-city Tuesday showing. Two limited debuts, “Destroyer” (Annapurna) and “Stan & Ollie” (Sony Pictures Classics), earned decent reviews and box office.

No weekend is more critical to specialized films than the one right after Christmas. Not only does it provide an opportunity to reach the highest number of older and other specialty ticket buyers of any time of the year, but it comes just as Academy voters are pondering their choices as the January 7-14 nomination period looms. But this trio of latecomers seem sidelined in the Oscar race.

Multiple strong Oscar contenders continue to score decent showings. Their total grosses came to only about half the results compared to last year’s strong holiday slate: “Darkest Hour,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” all scored very well on their way to $50 million or higher totals.

Stealing some of the noise was the wide release of “Vice” (Annapurna), which targeted the same audiences as the more limited films. Also offering competition was adult-appeal films like Clint Eastwood’s even higher-grossing “The Mule.” But there are multiple weeks ahead for most of these films to continue to draw.


On the Basis of Sex (Focus) – Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: AFI 2018

$690,000 in 33 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $20,877; Cumulative: $1,500,000

The star power shown by the Supreme Court Justice a few months ago with the documentary “RBG” showed up again with this drama about her early law career. Despite the lack of particularly favorable reviews or major awards hype, targeting audiences with substantial group sale and special event effort paid off with a strong Christmas Day release that carried over into an equally strong weekend. The movie consistently shows a positive reaction. It placed as the top-grossing film at many key theaters that often have the best specialized results, and only behind “Aquaman” at others that play a wide variety of titles. This was a tricky film to release with the possible sense of deja vu after “RBG” and somewhat tepid reviews. But the core audience was reached, and so far they seem to like it.

What comes next: This moves quickly to 100 theaters this Friday ahead of further expansion.


Annapurna Pictures

Destroyer (Annapurna) – Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2018

$58,472 in 3 theaters; PTA: $19,491; Cumulative: $116,000

Nicole Kidman’s bravura performance as an L.A. police detective in Karyn Kusama’s thriller is getting some initial attention after its Tuesday start in three New York/Los Angeles theaters. The Los Angeles single date is particularly strong in a theater that has multiple limited run films as well as the top wide releases. This very limited footprint will help with the expansion ahead (some additional cities are planned for this Friday), along with a weak lineup of potential crossover films opening in new cities. Kidman is in the running as a potential Oscar nominee, which would of course make a significant difference for future prospects.

What comes next: Additional theaters are planned for this Friday. The wider national break will come late in the month.

“Stan & Ollie”

Stan & Ollie (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: London, AFI 2018

$79,674 in 5 theaters; PTA: $15,935

John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan’s portrayal of the comedy geniuses late in their careers opened Friday as the final release of 2018. With positive reviews and strong theater placement in New York and Los Angeles, the drama performed at a level nearly double SPC’s similar date for “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” last year, which also opened on the final Friday. It played behind “Destroyer” at the three theaters where they both played. But “Stan & Ollie”‘s 38 percent Saturday jump shows evidence of good initial response.

What comes next: A possible Oscar nod for Reilly will make a difference for upcoming interest, but expect SPC to get significant play for the film whatever happens in upcoming weeks.

"They Shall Not Grow Old"

“They Shall Not Grow Old”


Week Two

They Shall Not Grow Old (Fathoms Events/Warner Bros.)

$3,375,000 in 1,007 theaters (no change); PTA: $3,351; Cumulative: $5,702,000

The two-day limited weekday showings (the initial one last week, the second Thursday) of Peter Jackson’s meticulous presentation of footage of World War I soldiers in battle marks not just a record for Fathom events, but a breakout for special exhibition of unconventional films. Performing way above expectations (there were few comparisons on which to base projections), this had significant support from national chains. The result was an enthusiastic turnout by an audience who were not regular specialized moviegoers. Like many military-themed films in the past, it drew a significant number of veterans as it conveyed the lives of ordinary soldiers.

Warners has announced plans, unusual for an initially single day showing release, for additional dates starting on January 11, with exact details still to come.

Cold War (Amazon)

$42,534 in 3 theaters (no change); PTA: $14,178; Cumulative: $141,749

The second limited weekend of Pawel Pawlikowski’s romance set in an Iron Curtain setting held well in New York and Los Angeles. This will get a long-term run, with a slow expansion, aimed at maximizing its ongoing critical acclaim and likely Oscar nomination. As a black-and-white Polish period piece, it needs strong word of mouth as well and attention that will come from a less intensely competitive period for attention among new releases ahead.

“Mary, Queen of Scots”

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Mary, Queen of Scots (Focus) Week 4

$2,655,000 in 841 theaters (+46); Cumulative: $9,006,000

The more recent and larger-grosser of the two English regal films, boasting two stars, is finding substantial interest despite critical response below some other specialized releases at the moment. Focus smartly gauged this elevated holiday release, and will maximize its gross with this approach, with more grosses still to come.

The Favourite (Fox Searchlight) Week 6

$2,400,000 in 809 theaters (+19); Cumulative: $15,221,000

Yorgos Lanthimos’ English court rivalry saga continues its national expanded release with good results at top older-appeal theaters. This is holding well with increased grosses a positive sign with likely wider expansion ahead as nominations come along.

Green Book (Universal) Week 7

$1,890,000 in 621 theaters (-111); Cumulative: $31,490,000

The holiday boosted grosses again with a 36 percent increase despite some theater attrition and some partial show schedules in this tight marketplace. The $3,000-plus theater average is impressive at this point, as it the total with its widest release still ahead mid-January parallel to the nominations.

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 Talk”

Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

If Beale Street Could Talk (Annapurna) Week 3

$759,579 in 65 theaters (+60); Cumulative: $1,958,000

Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel expanded Tuesday to a mix of specialized and black audience theaters in major cities. That’s similar to the way A24 handled the early stages of “Moonlight.” The result is a gross of nearly $2 million in the early stages, $1.5 million since it expanded from its initial four theaters. The weekend grosses on the three weekdays since Tuesday suggest strong word of mouth. The Saturday increase from Friday was at the high end among all films playing. That means it is nabbing an adult audience in the most competitive market of the year. With likely Oscar nominations ahead, the performance so far should get a boost. The results for how far it can crossover will be depend on it fares with Oscar voters.

Ben Is Back (Roadside Attractions) Week 4

$525,650 in 158 theaters (-4); Cumulative: $1,738,000

The holiday playtime and success at getting top theaters helped push this family drug crisis drama to a respectable result. The numbers suggests positive word of mouth, which is critical for any further expansion.



Roma (Netflix) Week 6; also streaming

$(est.) 175,000 in (est.) 90 theaters (-55); Cumulative: $(est.) 2,250,000

We continue our inexact but educated guess as to how Netflix’s experiment at continuing play for its year’s best-reviewed and rewarded film is playing out in theatrical showings. With top city theaters holding (a testimony to its ongoing interest despite home availability), some sellouts (usually in reduced seating auditoriums), the to-date estimate — already the best for any specialized subtitled release in 2018, even with many top theaters refusing Netflix’s offer to show the film — this could sustain theatrical play ahead. We are in uncharted territory, but its certain ongoing awards presence could push its theatrical total higher still.

Shoplifters (Magnolia) Week 6

$(est.) 145,000 in 52 theaters (-2); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,137,000

With only a fraction of the hype for Cuaron’s film, but nearly as strong reviews, Hirozaku Kore-Eda’s moving story about a family of criminals is quietly amassing an impressive total for a subtitled film these days. With a near certain Oscar nomination ahead, and much wider expansion, expect this to increase significantly ahead. This had the best Saturday from Friday jump gross among all top performing films.

Free Solo (Greenwich) Week 14

$98,053 in 59 theaters (-14); Cumulative: $11,201,000

National Geographic’s Oscar documentary contender continues into its fourth month with an respectable performance over the holidays. With IMAX dates ahead and a possible nomination, this could still add $2 million or more to its excellent showing so far.

At Eternity’s Gate (CBS) Week 7

$68,000 in 50 theaters (-33); Cumulative: $1,826,000

Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh film picks up some minor additional gross  over the holidays as it awaits a possible Best Actor nomination for Willem Dafoe. If that happens, expect a relaunch in a few weeks.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchight) Week 11

$(est.) 62,000 in 51 theaters (-21); Cumulative: $(est.) 7,520,000

With momentum continuing for a possible Melissa McCarthy Best Actress nomination, these late dates add to its above-average specialized runs nearing the three-month mark of release.


Fares Sokhon

Also noted:

Capernaum (Sony Pictures Classics) – $28,252 in 9 theaters; Cumulative: $112,938

Vox Lux (Neon) – $21,574 in 45 theaters; Cumulative: $700,058

Boy Erased (Focus) – $19,000 in 34 theaters; Cumulative: $6,750,000

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Source: IndieWire film