Box Office: Netflix’s 'Roma' Opens Strong in Limited Release, Say Experts

Courtesy of Netflix
'Roma'

Alfonso Cuaron's film, debuting exclusively in three cinemas over the Thanksgiving holiday, played to sold-out crowds and likely scored one of the best location averages ever for a foreign-language title.

Alfonso Cuaron is getting his wish — at least in two American cities packed with awards voters —  as moviegoers in New York City and Los Angeles are flocking to see his critically acclaimed Roma on the big screen versus waiting to watch it on Netflix in mid-December.

Showings of Roma at the Landmark in West L.A. and two cinemas in Manhattan, The Landmark at 57 West and the IFC Center, were sold out or near capacity throughout Thanksgiving weekend, according to sources familiar with the release plan and industry insiders consulted by The Hollywood Reporter.

While Netflix isn't reporting grosses, box office experts estimate that Roma earned anywhere from $90,000 to $120,000 over the three-day weekend for a location average of $30,000 to $40,000, among the best ever for a foreign-language film, not adjusted for inflation.

At that level, it also would represent the second-best location average of Thanksgiving weekend behind Fox Searchlight's The Favourite, which scored a mighty average of $105,500 from four cinemas in L.A. and New York, the top showing since La La Land almost two years ago ($176,221). Fox Searchlight, like all traditional film distributors, reports box office results for its movies.

The Favourite has the advantage of playing on multiple screens at each of its locations, including the Landmark in L.A. That isn't unusual for a high-profile specialty title in the Oscar race. Roma is in a different category, however, since it is only playing on one screen at each of the three theaters.

Hollywood is closely watching Roma’s theatrical rollout, as Netflix can't book its movies at most circuits since it won't abide by the traditional theatrical window of three months. And, even in the case of the Landmark and IFC Center, the streamer is forced to rent auditoriums in a process called “four-walling,” which it has employed in the past to qualify its pics for awards consideration.

This year, however, the streamer is more intent than ever on securing Oscar glory, and, in a major departure, is giving Roma and several other films a limited, exclusive berth in theaters before the movies are made available to Netflix customers online. Roma — Cuaron's first film since 2013's Gravity, for which he won the best director Oscar — is getting the biggest advance push, considering it doesn't bow on Netflix until Dec. 14.

Roma, financed outside the Hollywood studio system by Participant Media, is a Spanish-language, black-and-white ode to Cuaron's childhood growing up in Mexico City. Its backers hope the pic will earn a best picture Oscar nomination, in addition to a nom for best foreign-language film. But a faction of Hollywood’s awards voters objects to Netflix’s digital-first distribution strategy.

In terms of past foreign-language openings at the specialty box office, 2001’s Amelie scored a location average of $45,490 in 2001, preceded by $41,450 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in December 2000. In late 2006, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth posted a location average of $33,449. And in 2004, The Motorcycle Diaries scored a screen average of $53,273.

Otherwise, an average of $20,000 or more isn't common for a foreign-language title. Over Thanksgiving weekend, for example, the Japanese-language Shoplifters debuted in five theaters, reporting a screen average of $17,600.

Roma is also getting a major international push. In addition to L.A. and New York, the pic opened Wednesday in art house cinemas in three cities in Mexico, and it is set to expand Dec. 6 to London and other markets. By the time Roma launches Dec. 14 on Netflix, it will be playing in more than 30 countries, despite the challenges the company faces in booking time on the big screen, both in the U.S and abroad.

Netflix declined comment regarding Roma's debut in theaters.