Two thought-to-be surefire indie hits with big stars stumbled this weekend, eclipsed by two grim documentaries. First off, the good news: According to Indiewire, "The Act of Killing," an experimental doc that hangs with members of an old Indonesian death squad, had the best non-fiction debut of the year. That's saying something, considering past hits "The Gatekeepers," "56 Up" and "Twenty Feet From Stardom," all of which opened strong and had long legs. This is even more impressive given the nature of the film: The subjects are almost comically remorseless about their crimes, which involves the gory slaughter of half a million liberals and Communists between 1965 and 1966 after a failed coup. In addition to this, the film, by Joshua Oppenheimer, also includes sequences where each man interprets their killings in a genre movie format, with murder reinterpreted as a gangster film, a western, even an oversized musical. "The Act of Killing" made $28,067 from a single theater in New York City, and expands into other cities (including Philadelphia and Boston) next weekend.
Also doing very well was "Blackfish," a controversial expose of inhumane practices by SeaWorld and other venues that hold animals in captivity. SeaWorld has fought back against the accusations, which involve multiple deaths by killer whales, but that perhaps inevitably led to greater awareness of the film. "Blackfish" $66,500 from four theaters, for a $16,625 average.
Now for the less good and pretty bad news. "Only God Forgives," the once-heavily anticipated second joint venture from Ryan Gosling and "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn," opened to only $315,000 from 78 theaters, for a so-so $4,039 average. Less than stellar, even hostile reviews didn't help, nor did awareness of the rather gory and unpleasant happenings in the film (rape, mutilation, sinister karaoke).
But at least it didn't do as poorly as "Girl Most Likely," Kristen Wiig's first starring role since "Bridesmaids." Confidently opening in 353 theaters, it grossed only $736,005 for a sad $2,085 average. Again, less than stellar, even hostile reviews may have done turned people away from a film that would have otherwise coasted on name appeal.
Back to good news: "Fruitvale Station" expanded and continued to score among viewers. It jumped from 7 to 34 theaters and grossed $1,334,000, for a $21,824 average. And "The Way, Way Back," this year's other super-pricey Sundance pick-up, grew from 225 theaters to 304 and grossed $2,240,000, for $7,368 average. It expands nationally on Friday.