How to Survive a Plague
"Diana Vreeland - The Eye Has to Travel" (IDP) - Metacritic score: 66; Festivals include: Telluride 11, Toronto 11, San Francisco 12

$64,268 in theaters; PSA: $21,413

This year's documentariy lesson is:  if it's about a creative figure, even better if iconic, there's an audience. These are solid opening grosses. Opening a year after its fest premieres, the wait seems worth the strong theater placement and reviews that drew in core fashionistas and more.

Precedents for this success include "The September Issue" (Roadside Attractions), a profile of Vogue editrix Anna Wintour, which opened in six theaters three years ago to a PSA of over $36,000 en route to almost $4 million. That film was helped by its subject's contemporary fame and appeal, giving it zeitgeist appeal. But already, "Diana Vreeland" has opened at the high end of documentaries this year.

What comes next: Expect this to expand quickly and get into a theater count in the neighborhood of where other hit docs like "The Queen of Versailles" have landed over recent months.

"How to Survive a Plague" (IFC) - Metacritic score: 90; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Seattle 2012, Hamptons 2012

$28,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $7,000

Opening in exclusive runs in four cities, this is a respectable gross for a documentary on a tough subject like AIDS. The reviews put it right at the top of those for any doc (or any film, period) this year.

What comes next: More theatrical playoff, as well as solid positioning for the upcoming Oscar Best Documentary Feature race.

"Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best" (Oscilloscope) - Metacritic score: 51; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Newport Beach 12, Seattle 12

$6,537 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,269

This cross-country indie-rock story premiered at Toronto's Discovery section last year, just now getting a limited release.

What comes next: These grosses indicate a short life span in theaters.

"Radio Unavailable" (Kino Lorber) - Metacritic score: 72

$5,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,200

Opening at Manhattan's prime Film Forum, this documentary about legendary NY radio station WBAI did ordinary business (its 5 day gross is $7412).

What comes next: Limited future big city playoff, although the NY-specific story likely limits the audience.

"Occupy Unmasked" (Magnolia) - No Metacritic score

$44,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $11,000

The closest this came to NY/LA was an Orange Co. (CA) run among four specifically aimed at right-wing audiences. Magnolia looks to be dipping its toes into "2016 Obama's America" territory with this documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What comes next: Rocky Mountain Pictures of "2016" fame and other similar films has shown that there is gold in them thar hills, so it isn't surprising that a normally core specialized audience distributor like Magnolia, particularly one with proven expertise in both niche theatrical and Video on Demand venues, would test the waters. This is an impressive start, particularly for such an under-the-radar film.

"Hellbound?" (Area 23a) - No Metacritic score; Festivals include: San Francisco 12, Atlanta 12

$4,275 in 4 theaters; PSA: $1,069

Fair-minded docs about theological issues are hardly common. This study on the concept of hell within Christianity attempts to discuss the idea from all sides, but initial interest (in the film at least) seems limited.

What comes next: Tough to see this getting much theatrical traction, but the market for religious-oriented films nontheatrically might be more promising.


"Arbitrage" (Roadside Attractions) - Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

$1,284,000 in 244 theaters (+47); PSA: $5,221; Cumulative: $3,952,000

Down 36% with about 20% more theaters, this parallel theatrical/home cable film still is showing solid legs, particularly with its limited access to theaters (apart from AMC, most major circuits aren't showing this.) This is outpacing last year's similar "Margin Call," both in initial gross and total number of theaters it has access to. That film (also a Roadside Attractions release, in partnership with Lionsgate as is this) ended up grossing $5.3 million, which this likely equals by the end of its third week.

What comes next: Though there are limits as to how high the gross can go because of theater limitations, this should end up being the new highwater market - for now. These grosses will encourage more similar ventures.

"Liberal Arts" (IFC) - Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

$40,000 in 20 theaters (+16); PSA: $2,000; Cumulative: $78,000

Josh Radnor's one-man-show (directing, writing, starring) expanded weakly, but with the backdrop of added VOD availability making the theatrical take less significant in its overall future earnings.

What comes next: Unlike "Arbitrage" and IFC's "Sleepwalk With Me," this similarly Sundance premiering film isn't showing success in theaters parallel to its VOD showings.

"Keep the Lights On"  (Music Box) - Week 3

$22,561 in 8 theaters (+3); PSA: $2,820; Cumulative: $149,802

Not finding the audience it deserves as this gay relationship drama expands slowly.

What comes next: Limited future bookings as the strong reviews didn't attract any significant audience.

"Hello, I Must Be Going" (Oscilloscope) - Week 3

$22,937 in 15 theaters (+13); PSA: $1,529; Cumulative: $67,314

Though this had a decent exclusive opening, new dates for this Sundance college student/somewhat older girlfriend story aren't showing any strength.

What comes next: Limited future interest.

"Detropia" (LoKi) - Week 3

$37,200 in 11 theaters (+6); PSA: $3,382; Cumulative: $131,415

Tough-minded self-distributed urban-set doc is expanding at a modest but steady level.

What comes next: This sort of niche distribution keeps marketing costs to a minimum while elevating a film's profile. Though this likely doesn't become one of the top-grossing docs of the year, its potential gross could still show a profit, which is a model for filmmakers trying to figure out how to capitalize on festival success.

"For a Good Time Call" (Focus) - Week 4

$147,644 in 105 theaters (-2); PSA: $1,406; Cumulative: $1,092,000

The PSA fell about 40% despite little change in theater count, indicating that despite good audience reaction this continues to struggle.

What comes next: This seems unlikely to reach even $2 million.

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC) - Week 5; also available on Video on Demand

$297,000 in 135 theaters (+17); PSA: $2,200; Cumulative: $1,697,000

The PSA only fell 25% with a small expansion as this romcom continues to thrive in theaters while playing on VOD.

What comes next: Though its theaters will be limited by the VOD play, this still looks like it will outgross most of the summer's other NY or LA millennial romantic comedies.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope) - Week 5

$197,821 in 59 theaters (-3); PSA: $3,353; Cumulative: $1,156,000

Only a small PSA drop as word of mouth continues to aid this visually astounding doc in limited release.

What comes next: A run likely to extent for a couple more months.

"Robot and Frank" (IDP) - Week 6

$198,120 in 156 theaters (-53); PSA: $1,269; Cumulative: $2,902,000

Coming down from its high water mark, this Frank Langella-starring offbeat story still has a way to go before it's through.

What comes next: $4 million at minimum seems likely, which will push this above most of this year's Sundance-premiered films.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 8

$50,794 in 54 theaters (-98); PSA: $941; Cumulative: $3,021,000

Just about done with, this never achieved the cross-over success its initial numbers suggested despite solid support from SPC.

What comes next: Nothing much more.

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 9

$100,868 in 38 theaters (+4); PSA: $2,654; Cumulative: $1,194,000

Another steady week as (for this late in the run) a decent PSA as this doc keeps performing while still at relatively few theaters.

What comes next: This might not quite reach $2 million, but it still has exceeded what its opening week suggested.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Seachlight) - Week 13

$125,7000 in 132 theaters (-80); PSA: $952; Cumulative: $10,905,000

Finally just about done.

What comes next: Oscar and awards attention, very likely from critics, a bit more of a challenge with the Academy.

"Intouchables" (Weinstein) - Week 18

$182,000 in 156 theaters (-24); PSA: $1,167; Cumulative: $12,254,000

At a time when most films are heading to DVD, this continues on, steadily adding to its already impressive total, both as a specialized film and more so for a subtitled one.

What comes next: Just selected as France's Oscar Foreign Language entry, this is likely to be in the public eye for even longer.

"Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus) - Week 18

$128,961 in 120 theaters (-37); PSA: $1,074; Cumulative: $45,153,000

Though clearly near the end of its theatrical run, this still is holding on.

What comes next: The DVD comes out mid-October.