Specialty Box Office: 'On the Basis of Sex,' 'Vice' Lure Urban Liberal Moviegoers

On The Basis of Sex-Felicity Jones-Ruth Bader Ginsburg-Publicity Still-Getty-Split-H 2018
Jonathan Wenk / Focus Features; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

'Destroyer,' starring Nicole Kidman, also launches over Christmas.

Political movies attracting liberal moviegoers disheartened by the current political climate played a major role at the specialty box office over the year-end holidays.

Filmmaker Mimi Leder's On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones as a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Adam McKay's Vice, a critical examination of former U.S. VP Dick Cheney that stars Christian Bale as the GOP operative, both launched on Christmas Day.

On the Basis of Sex impressed in particular when rolling out in 33 theaters, despite being shut out of the awards contest so far. The Focus Features film posted the top location average of the Dec. 28-30 weekend, or $20,909 from 33 cinemas, for a six-day launch of $1.5 million.

Ginsburg, 85, attended the film's Washington, D.C., premiere earlier this month, as well as the New York premiere, where the U.S. Supreme Court Justice posed on the red carpet with the cast, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem. The feature follows the blockbuster success of the doc RBG.

On the Basis of Sex follows a young Ginsburg — who currently leads the liberal wing of the Supreme Court — and her husband (Armie Hammer) as they work to bring a landmark gender discrimination case before the U.S. Court of Appeals. Ginsburg's nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, penned the script.

“As a woman heading up a studio’s distribution team, a part of our industry that has traditionally been filled by men for decades, I can’t help but watch this film and know that Ruth’s work helped make that possible," says Focus distribution chief Lisa Bunnell.

On the Basis of Sex was the top film of the weekend in such theaters as The Landmark in Los Angeles, the AMC Village in New York City, the Palo Alto Square in Silicon Valley, the Angelika Mosaic in D.C., the Chez Artiste in Denver and the Camelview in Phoenix, according to Focus.

Annapurna's Golden Globe-nominated Vice was likewise one of the top films in many of the New York and Los Angeles cinemas where it opened. At the Landmark, for example, it ranked No. 2 for the weekend behind On the Basis of Sex, and at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and the 86th Street Theatre in New York City it was No. 1.

One big difference between the two films: Vice opened nationwide in 2,442 theaters, versus rolling out slowly. For the weekend, it grossed $7.2 million for a six-day start of $17.7 million. That's on par with what McKay's The Big Short initially earned over Christmas in 2015, although The Big Short debuted first in select theaters before expanding across the country.

Part of the reason why Vice debuted everywhere from the get-go was its cost; the production budget was $60 million, more than most specialty films.

Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Tyler Perry co-star in the film, which is banking on attention from the Golden Globes ceremony Jan. 7 and potential Oscar nominations to boost its box office standing in the weeks to come. A large part of the film's marketing campaign focuses on Bale's performance and physical transformation.

Still, even among its target audience, Vice is dividing moviegoers. It earned a C+ CinemaScore overall after being given A's from various segments of the audience, or D's and F's. "This is an adult, smart movie," says Annapurna distribution president Erik Lomis. "It is certainly the film that people are talking about. Everyone wants to be part of the conversation."

Political pics can be a tough proposition at the box office. Vice is faring well so far and is only days away from passing up the entire lifetime domestic gross of Oliver Stone's George W. Bush pic W. ($25.5 million), for example.

Vice is playing best on both coasts, versus America's heartland, although some theaters in markets including Dallas, Houston and Phoenix turned in respectable business.

Annapurna was on triple duty during the holidays. Megan Ellison's indie studio opened Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk in select theaters Dec. 14, followed by a limited run for Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman, on Dec. 25. Both are vying for top Oscar nominations.

Destroyer posted a pleasing location average of $19,941 from three theaters over the Dec. 28-30 weekend. Directed by Karyn Kusama, the specialty title stars Kidman as a damaged Los Angeles cop tracking down an old nemesis.

The Globe-nominated If Beale Street Could Talk, starring KiKi Layne, Stephen James and Regina King, expanded into a total of 65 cinema over the weekend for a domestic total through Sunday of $1.8 million.

Opening Friday in five cinemas, Sony Pictures Classics' Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie reported a location average of $15,935.

Among specialty holdovers, a pair of royal-themed dramas, Focus Features' Mary Queen of Scots and Fox Searchlight's The Favourite, both expanded nationwide over Christmas.

Mary Queen of Scots, starring Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan, placed No. 11 for the weekend, grossing $2.7 million from 841 theaters for a domestic total of $9 million.

Starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, The Favourite followed at No. 12 with $2.4 million from 809 locations for a cume of $15.2 million.

Among other specialty award contenders, Ben Is Back finished its fourth weekend in limited release with a U.S. total of $1.7 million, while At Eternity's Gate hit $1.8 million in its seventh weekend.