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Filmmaker Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers has crossed the $10 million mark at the U.S. box, continuing the summer box-office documentary boom and achieving a rare feat for a non-fiction title that isn’t a Hollywood studio nature pic, concert film or political title.
The critically acclaimed doc tells the startling story of Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman, triplets who were separated at birth in the early 1960s and adopted into different families as part of a “nature versus nurture” experiment. The film finished Sunday with $10.6 million in domestic ticket sales.
Produced by Raw and CNN Films, Three Identical Strangers made its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where the relatively new indie distributor Neon snapped up theatrical rights. The decision has paid off in a major way for Neon, which also released last year’s awards darling I, Tonya (Neon is owned by 30West).
Three Identical Strangers follows the success of this summer’s Fred Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which has earned $21.9 million for Focus Features, followed by $13.8 million for CNN Films’ RBG, which focuses on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Magnolia and Participant marketed and released RBG.
RBG opened in early May, followed by Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in early June and Three Identical Strangers later that month.
“The old-fashioned theatrical model is alive and well. When selling a film, in-theater marketing, such as playing a trailer in front of your desired audience, is the best sales tool a distributor can deploy,” says Neon founder and chief Tom Quinn. “I’ll give RBG full credit for paving the way. That set up Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and then us. At least 50 percent of our audience had seen either one or both of those films.”
Three Identical Strangers, however, faced a challenge those two docs didn’t: The subjects weren’t well known.
In terms of other docs about people that weren’t famous public figures, Searching for Sugarman topped out at $3.7 million in 2012. The next year, 20 Feet From Stardom grossed $4.9 million. And in 2008, Man on Wire grossed $3 million domestically, not adjusted for inflation. Notably, all three won the Oscar for best documentary feature.
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