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May 03 2016

Doc Corner: Documentaries at the Box Office in 2016

Glennhere.Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres,festivals,and on demand.This week we look at the medium's flatlining box office is a sign of 2016's roster of documentaries.

Looking at Nathaniel's listing of thehighest grossing documentarieslist of the year so far and I was – to put it mildly – a bit bummed out.Not surprised,of course.

Certainly,the comfort of one's home is a perfectly fine place to view many of these films,and a necessary advancement given the general downturn in boutique and arthouse cinema-going.But as a lover of movies,going to the movies,and writing about movies,it is frustrating and a worry that no documentaries other than Michael Moore's disappointingWhere to Invade Nextand the Christian-themedPatterns of Evidencehave made any sort of impact at the box office (and even then,Moore's film is a dramatic slide from even his most recent filmCapitalism: A Love Storyat $14m) in four months of the new year.

The reason the doc box office figures particularly worried me was because the first quarter of the year is peak opportunity to take advantage of a quiet marketplace...

Foreign language films have been working this trick for years now,but this year we didn't even get the regular Disneynature Earth Day release (they return in 2017 withBorn in China).Feeling the need to prove my own theory,I looked it up and found that of the14 documentariesthat made over $1mil in 2015,nine of them had been released by the beginning of May.And that includes IMAX movies that have been playing for years and which continue to rake in impressive grosses (which is whyI queried just last monthwhy more don't go down that route).For what it's worth,a further four more of the top 20 were in cinemas by this time last year.

Looking out at the American roster and it's hard to see where the nextAmycomes from.The First Monday in Maycould continue to find enthusiastic figures,but the obvious place is the recently announced Terrence Malick docVoyage of Time.Its use of IMAX and media-friendly long gestation history will no doubt stir discussion and anticipation in a way that the director's last two features have not that could allow it to mimic the success ofThe Tree of Life.It would certainly be sweet to see a heady documentary beat films starring Ben Affleck and Christian Bale,but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Elsewhere,it's easy to see something like Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan'sStrike a Pose(Manuel's review) doing big business once upon a time,but it's hard out there for queer-themed films outside of festivals these days.Weiner,about the New York congressman,should do solid business,and something like William Francesco Allen'sHoly Hellcould pique enough interest,too,to replicate the success of true story curiosities likeThe WolfpackandFinders Keepers.Later in the year,will audiences still flock toKevin Hart: What Now?IMDb's upcoming slate offers few other possibilities,but who can ever really tell what will pop up on pop culture's radar.Is it too late for Americans to getSherpa?In recent weeks it has becomeone of the highest grossing Australian docs everat local theatres,a development that has been great to follow.And yet despite the success ofMerulast year,nobody seemed to suggest similar release in America.Curious.I can only hope something as delightfully surprising as that success can occur.And soon,or else I worry we'll be end up swimming in a sea of NY/LA Oscar qualifying runs and little else.

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Reader Comments (4)

Just a heads up,but one of the best documentaries of 2015 - Janis: Little Girl Lost will be shown on the PBS American Masters series tonight (May 3).If you missed it in the theaters,here's your chance.The parallels with Amy are downright spooky.

May 3,2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

I meant Little Girl Blue of course

May 3,2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Ken,I looked at that film last year.I wasn't a fan,unfortunately,but it's a must see for Janis fans.You're right about the parallels to Winehouse,though.The 27 Club is spooky.

May 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Voyage of Timeis what I really,really,really,really,really want to see.

May 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

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