Laura Poitras‘ controversial Edward Snowden documentary, Citizenfour — an intimate view of what motivated the NSA whistleblower to expose the Obama administration’s surveillance policies — opened to huge numbers in its limited debut, posting one of the top five theater averages of all time for a political doc launching in more than a single location.
Citizenfour grossed $125,172 from five cinemas in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. for a screen average of $25,034, the best showing for any documentary since Waiting for Superman in 2010 ($34,758).
Radius-TWC, a division of The Weinstein Co., is handling the controversial film in the U.S. Until this weekend, Harvey Weinstein, a longtime supporter of President Obama, has remained silent on the subject of Citizenfour. He had previously been critical of Snowden’s actions.
Speaking Saturday at a PGA conference in New York, Weinstein said Citizenfour changed his view of Snowden. He then went on to praise Radius-TWC co-presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego for buying the doc.
“This film is unlike any I’ve worked on and is as paranoid-inducing as any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s totally exhilarating,” Quinn said in an interview Sunday. “It will ignite a response and haunt you for a long time. A door has been opened that is never going to be closed again. Look at Harvey; he had said before that Snowden was a traitor.”
Snowden first revealed the classified NSA documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald and Poitras in May 2013. The U.S. Justice Department subsequently charged him with espionage and theft, and revoked his passport.
Much of Citizenfour, which made its world premiere earlier this month at the New York Film Festival, was shot when Poitras and Greenwald traveled to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden.
Quinn said Citizenfour will open in additional cities next weekend, including Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, as well as expand its footprint in existing markets. “The plan is to be nationwide within four weeks,” he said.
Booking the doc was very cloak-and-dagger. “At one point,” Quinn said, “there were less than six people who had seen it.” He added that he expects to receive plenty of calls Monday from exhibitors eager to carry the film.
Al Gore‘s An Inconvenient Truth ranks No. 1 among political documentaries in terms of best opening theater average, not accounting for inflation. The movie, debuting in May 2006, grossed $281,330 from four theaters for an average of $70,332.
Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11 ranks No. 2 ($27,558), followed by Moore’s Bowling for Columbine ($26,134). Citizenfour ranks No. 4, not accounting for inflation.
Scott Feinberg contributed to this report.