Following a widely acclaimed festival run, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight mightily jumped out of the gates in its opening weekend in limited release. The A24 Films title, opening in just four theaters in Los Angeles and New York, earned an estimated $414,740 in it’s first weekend – which translates to an impressive per-screen average of $103,685. That haul ranks as the high grossing per-theater average so far this year, outstripping Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice (which averaged $92,835 in a single location this past summer.) So far so good for the looming awards contender. The question now is if the film can sustain momentum at the box office in the weeks ahead.
Moonlight, which had its world premiere at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival and has quickly become a critical darling, is Jenkins’ second feature (following Medicine for Melancholy (2008) and tells the coming of age story of Chiron, a sexually conflicted young black man growing up in Miami. The film, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, features an impressive group of up and coming actors including Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert and Janelle Monáe; Noamie Harris (Spectre) also co-stars.
Earlier this week, Moonlight earned two nominations Gotham Awards including one for Best Feature as well as special jury bestowed to its ensemble cast. This follows near unanimous raves the film has earned from critics (including here at mxdwn) – currently on review aggregate sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, Moonlight holds a stellar 99 rating. In his rave at The New York Times, critic A.O. Scott opened with the headline: “Moonlight: Is This The Year’s Best Movie?”
Outside of Moonlight, the art house box office was also on an upswing. Michael Moore’s surprise attack documentary Michael Moore in Trumpland grossed $50,200 in two screens ($25,100 per-screen average), nabbing the best per-screen average for documentary title so far this year. While Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (which premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival) also performed strongly earning $91,600 ($18,320 per-screen) from five screens.