Lee Hirsch 'Bully'

“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.