Documentaries Rock the Specialty Box Office: ‘Gotti’ Ain’t Got It

IndieWire | 6/17/2018 | Staff
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Three documentaries are kings of the specialty box office. “Eating Animals” (IFC) had a stellar Manhattan opening, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus) continued to pack houses on its second weekend, and “RBG” (Magnolia) is now over $10 million and looking for more.

The question is how the two established hits will expand to general audience theaters. Still, documentaries remain a stronger bet than conventional narrative films these days, even with a festival pedigree. Even the promising “First Reformed” (A24) faded as it went wider; in this market it’s tough to get to $3 million.

Gotti - MoviePass/Vertical - Man - Biopic - Cannes

“Gotti” (MoviePass/Vertical) is the odd man out here, a star-driven biopic that thanks to its Cannes premiere tested the theatrical waters rather than take its planned streaming release. Despite terrible reviews, “Gotti” wasn’t a total disaster, but hardly marked the return to prominence producer-star John Travolta had hoped for.

Yes, the reviews are bad. The gross at national top-grossing theaters was modest, but did get some sampling at most locations.

Question - Expense - Play - Returns - Plan

Still, the question is whether the expense of this limited theatrical play will realize better returns than the original plan. Rights to the film switched after Lionsgate planned to give this a token release parallel to streaming.

What comes next: In the heart of the summer at the level of theaters at which this is playing it will be a struggle to hold more than token shows.

Example - Appeal - Documentaries - Moment - Expose

Another example of the elevated appeal, at least initially, in documentaries at the moment. This expose of mass animal farming makes a larger case for the damage meat eating does to the world. It opened in two Manhattan theaters to excellent numbers. This could be a case of elevated interest among activists. But if so, that isn’t limited to just New York and this could find at least initial specialized theater response across the...
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