Movie on Christian group beats Fab Four film; anti-Hillary Clinton doc falls out of top five
Two documentaries about mega-music groups debuted over the weekend, and it was the lesser-known band that came out on top.
The film Hillsong - Let Hope Rise about the Australian Christian group Hillsong UNITED took the top spot among documentaries, earning an impressive $1,357,243, according to audience measurement firm Rentrak. That's one of the biggest opening weekends for any documentary this year.
In the end our success is not about us. It's ultimately about God. You take Him out of the equation, you've got nothing.
The strong showing for Hillsong - Let Hope Rise kept Ron Howard's documentary on The Beatles from claiming number one. The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years earned $622,410 for second place among nonfiction films, Rentrak reported.
A examination of the numbers reveals some important distinctions between the performance of the two films. Hillsong - Let Hope Rise played on a very wide 816 across North America, one of the widest releases for any documentary in 2016. It earned $1,663 per location.
The Beatles documentary, meanwhile, played on just 85 screens and scored a much higher per-screen average of $7,322. Not only that, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week premiered on the streaming service Hulu on Saturday, just a day after the film's theatrical release -- in effect, competing with itself for moviegoers.
Any way you cut it, both films performed exceptionally well.
Hillsong - Let Hope Rise is largely a concert film that follows what one member of the group calls "the biggest band you've never heard of." Hillsong UNITED has released 11 concert albums and four studio albums over the past 18 years. In 2015 the band won a Billboard Music Award for Top Christian Artist.
Lead singer Taya Smith, who possesses a soaring, crystalline voice, is described on the film's website as "a passionate worship leader who has captured the hearts of believers across the globe with her vocals in 'Oceans' and 'A Million Suns' on [Hillsong] UNITED’s most recent album, Zion."
Coming in third over the weekend was the ballet-themed documentary Dancer, which explores the career of the renowned Ukrainian-born artist Sergei Polunin, described as the youngest principal in the Royal Ballet's history.
"At the peak of his success, aged 25, he walked away, driven to the brink of self-destruction by stardom - his talent more a burden than a gift," the film's website says.
Fourth place went to Werner Herzog's latest documentary, Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, which upped its five-week total to $530,059.
In fifth came Author: The JT LeRoy Story by director Jeff Feuerzeig. The film about writer Laura Albert, who authored one of the great literary frauds in decades. pushed its two-week earnings to $48,543.
Related coverage: Nonfictionfilm.com interview with Jeff Feuerzeig here.
"Laura Albert, hiding as JT LeRoy, could not have predicted that she would have a sensation of great reviews and demand for public appearances when she wrote these books, but that's what happened."
The doc box office figures brought some no-doubt welcome news to Hillary Clinton. Dinesh D'Souza's film which attacks the Democratic presidential nominee and her party finally fell out of the top five.
Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party finished sixth, collecting an additional $14,287 over the weekend. Its per screen average was a weak $230, below any other film in the top 10.
Still, the film qualifies as a giant hit, having earned $13,071,843 in 10 weeks of theatrical release, Rentrak reported.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.