Specialty Box Office: Russian-Banned Satire 'Death of Stalin' Strikes Chord in U.S.

The Death of Stalin Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of TIFF

Armando Iannucci's film enjoys one of the best starts ever for veteran indie distributor IFC.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate Russia's possible interference in the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump's involvement in such meddling, along comes a political satire about the former Soviet Union that is striking a chord at the specialty box office.

Over the weekend, Armando Iannucci's critically acclaimed The Death of Stalin did impressive business upon launching in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, grossing $181,308 for a per-screen average of $45,327 — the second-best average of the year to date behind Black Panther. Iannucci is best known in the U.S. for Veep and In the Loop.

Moreover, the comedy scored the second-best opening average ever for veteran indie distributor IFC behind the specialty hit Boyhood, which posted an average of $77,524 when it bowed in five theaters in July 2014. (That excludes IFC films that opened on only one screen). Generally speaking, the post-Oscar corridor can be a quiet time at the specialty box office, making Death of Stalin's performance all the more impressive.

Set in 1953, The Death of Stalin is based on a French graphic novel about the chaos and power struggles that ensue following the death of Joseph Stalin. Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Adrian McLoughlin, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend and Jason Isaacs star.

The British-French film, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, was originally supposed to play in Russian theaters but was banned in January after members of the government said it was part of an effort in an anti-Russian information war.

The movie will be listed on the marquee in a total of nine cities next weekend — including Washington — on its way to rolling out nationwide at the end of the month, according to IFC.

The Death of Stalin was released by eOne in the U.K., where it has earned more than $7 million.

Elsewhere at the specialty box office, Focus Features debuted Thoroughbreds in 549 theaters. The drama, starring Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy alongside the late Anton Yelchin in his final performance, took in $1.2 million for a screen average of $2,228.

The Lesiure Seeker, starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, opened in 28 theaters, grossing $119,573 for a per-screen average of $4,270 for Sony Pictures Classics.

Alison Chernick's Itzhak, a documentary about famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, posted a screen average of $7,221 as it debuted in two theaters. The doc is slated to be broadcast on PBS' American Masters.