As Anthony Kaufman suggests in his piece for indieWIRE this week, there are still troubling signs for overtly political documentaries at the North American box office. But that doesn't mean that last year's slump is continuing. In fact, there are increasing signs that the strategy to open a number of docs this spring (as opposed to during the fall Oscar rush) is paying off in a big way.
The Nonfiction Box Office is up more than 1100% from one year ago.
At this point last year, the two highest grossing docs of the year were Zeitgeist's INTO GREAT SILENCE, which had made $444,000, and the Canadian release of SHARKWATER, which had made $666,000. GOD GREW TIRED OF US ended a successful run with just over $300,000. No other film had made more than $100,000. Already this year, 12 films have crossed the $100,000 mark.
In fact, if you look at the top ten films at this point last year, you'd have a cumulative amount of approximately $1,665,000. This year, the top ten docs come in just shy of 20 million total.
Obviously the two big concert titles - U23D and SHINE A LIGHT - as well as conservative look at Intelligent Design have a lot to do with this year's success. But consider also UP THE YANGTZE, which has had an amazing run in Canada, making nearly half a million, prior to its very successful NYC opening this past weekend, garnering nearly $16K on one screen.
Less successful was the opening of Errol Morris' Abu Ghraib film, STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, which made just over $7K on two screens. Also on the political doc front, Morgan Spurlock's WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? fell nearly 60% from its opening weekend and made just $818 on each of its 72 screens.
Meanwhile, YOUNG@HEART continued its highly successful rollout, averaging nearly $4K on 56 screens. That film's per screen average dropped only 14% from last weekend, even as it added 23 screens.
Here's the 2008 Nonfiction Box Office to Date:
1. U23D (National Geographic) $ 7,636,487
2. EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE (Rocky) $ 5,297,860
3. SHINE A LIGHT (Paramount Vantage) $ 4,406,820
4. VINCE VAUGHN'S WILD... (Picturehouse) $ 603,894
5. YOUNG@HEART (Fox Searchlight) $ 525,272
6. UP THE YANGTZE (Zeitgeist/Kino) ~ $ 500,800
7. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS... (Weinstein) $ 264,438
8. STEEP (Sony Pictures Classics) $ 260,586
9. TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE (THINKFilm) $ 258,473
10. PLANET B-BOY (Elephant Eye) $ 240,149
11. CHICAGO 10 (Roadside Attractions) $ 163,839
12. GIRLS ROCK! (Shadow) $ 105,140
13. FIRST SATURDAY IN MAY (Truly Indie) $ 96,939
13. BRA BOYS (Slowhand) $ 88,737
14. BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (Intl Film) $ 69,911
15. BLINDSIGHT (Abramorama) $ 69,663