‘The Armstrong Lie’ Takes the Metaphoric Yellow Jersey By Finishing First for Doc Debuts

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Before getting to the weekend’s box office report, I wanted to note a distinction about the films Nonfics includes in its rankings down below because Indiewire recently posted a list of the year’s ten top-grossing docs and it looks a lot different from ours. Basically we qualify more films, including some that are easily argued as not counting, like the #1 film of the year, Bad Grandpa. Indiewire also excludes all concert films, hybrid or not (Morgan Spurlock tweeted annoyance in their leaving out One Direction: This Is Us), all docs that opened in prior years but continue to make money in 2013 (most of them IMAX but there’s also Searching for Sugar Man), the Kirk Cameron movie that had a special kind of release and for some strange reason Generation Iron. You may disagree with the qualification of any of the films we include, but you can also just ignore those. In highlighting 25 titles, we actually feature all the films on Indiewire’s list.

Now for the news. It’s no shock that Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie came in first for new docs, and not just because of the performance enhancement of opening on five screens rather than just one or two. Not only is Gibney a name brand for nonfiction films but it’s a doc about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and that remains a hot topic of interest. At $29k total and $5.8k avg., the debut is about the same as the director’s other 2013 release, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, which opened with $28k but had a slightly better average because it was on fewer screens. They’re still far short of his best openings, which include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room ($77k total; $26k avg.) and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ($192k total; $7k avg.).

Frederick Wiseman is another name brand for the doc crowd, and his latest, At Berkeley, did extremely well for a four hour film. The doc, which offers the director’s subjective observations of UC Berkeley, opened on two screens, each of them only able to schedule two or three showings. And it managed to earn $5k, which is less than the single-screen opening for his previous film, Crazy Horse, though that was almost half as long. Wiseman’s best opening on record as far as what Box Office Mojo has available was 2009’s La Danse, which took in $14k on only one screen, also with half the running time (though still very impressive for being more than two hours!).

Other new docs include animal rights issue film The Ghosts In Our Machine, which actually took home the best per-screen average over the weekend with its total of $8.8k from a single location, plus the animated Approved for Adoption, People of a Feather and AJ Schnack’s Caucus, which took in decent respective amounts of $4k, $2.4k and $2.3k.

Older docs that saw a surge this week include Birth of the Living Dead, which finally opened in New York City, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which hit extra screens in Chicago, and I Am Divine, Running From Crazy, After Tiller and Spinning Plates, all of which added locations.

Here is the reported weekend box office (with averages in parenthesis) for 11/8/13–11/10/13, including new and continuing releases:

1. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa — $11,326,977 ($3.6k)

2. Muscle Shoals— $34,265 ($1k)

3. The Armstrong Lie— $28,992 ($5.8k)

4. Inequality for All— $24,049 ($0.7k)

5. Generation Iron— $17,500 ($3k)

6. Spinning Plates— $12,831 ($2.1k)

7. Running From Crazy— $9,842 ($2k)

8. I Am Divine— $8,838 ($1.3k)

9. The Ghosts In Our Machine— $8,756 ($8.8k)

10. American Promise— $8,220 ($2.7k)

11. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology— $7,247 ($3.6k)

12. The Square— $6,764 ($3.4k)

13. The Trials of Muhammad Ali— $6,620 ($2.2k)

14. 20 Feet From Stardom— $5,187 ($1.3k)

15. At Berkeley— $5,069 ($5.1k)

16. When Comedy Went to School— $4,679 ($1.6k)

17. Approved for Adoption— $4,015 ($4k)

18. Let the Fire Burn— $3,606 ($0.7k)

19. After Tiller— $3,200 ($0.6k)

20. God Loves Uganda— $2,413 ($0.8k)

21. People of a Feather— $2,413 ($2.4k)

22. Caucus— $2,300 ($2.3k)

23. Good Ol’ Freda— $2,144 ($0.4k)

24. These Birds Walk— $2,000 ($1k)

25. Birth of the Living Dead— $1,494 ($1.5k)

26. Terms and Conditions May Apply— $821 ($0.4k)

27. Design Is One— $783 ($0.8k)

28. La Maison De La Radio— $609 ($0.6k)

29. Rising From Ashes— $257 ($0.3k)

And here is the current top 25 doc box office for 2013 (note the changeover from millions to thousands):

  1. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa— $79m ($101m worldwide)
  2. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain — $32.2m
  3. One Direction: This Is Us — $28.9m ($66.6m worldwide)
  4. Hubble 3D (IMAX) — $4.9m
  5. 20 Feet From Stardom — $4.8m
  6. Metallica Through the Never— $3.4m
  7. Unstoppable— $3.2m
  8. To the Arctic (IMAX) — $2.9m
  9. The Gatekeepers — $2.4m
  10. Blackfish — $2.1m
  11. Space Station 3D (IMAX) — $1.9m
  12. Stories We Tell — $1.6m
  13. Born to Be Wild (IMAX) — $1.56m
  14. Girl Rising — $1.53m
  15. Flying Monsters— $1.51m
  16. Under the Sea 3D— $1.1m
  17. Inequality for All— $1.1m
     — -
  18. Generation Iron— $781k
  19. 56 Up — $700k
  20. Searching For Sugar Man — $686k
  21. Deep Sea 3D (IMAX) — $668k
  22. Salinger— $576k
  23. Chasing Ice — $530k
  24. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs — $510k
  25. Muscle Shoals— $505k

Data pulled from Box Office Mojo and IMDb and Deadline and The Numbers.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.