The story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” is reverberating beyond New York.
“Sully,” a new drama about Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who made headlines in 2009 after successfully pulling off an emergency landing on the Hudson River, is a hit in the Big Apple. It is also performing better-than-expected across the Midwest and Canada. Because of the broad appeal, the film has earned $70.5 million domestically over its first two weeks in theaters, and seems destined to be one of the highest-grossing movies of the fall.
Warner Bros., the film’s producer, always expected the film would resonate with residents of the five boroughs. After all, Sullenberger’s landing was accomplished in full view of much of the city and his quick thinking saved countless lives. Had the plane gone down in Manhattan, the collateral damage would have been devastating. But studio executives were surprised by how well the film is playing in states like Texas and Ohio, in rural communities, and across both red and blue states.
“It’s not just the Tri-State area,” said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution at Warner Bros. “It’s doing well everywhere….Its [appeal] is not geographic. It’s just a well-made story.”
The list of top-performing theaters includes New York mainstays such as the AMC theaters on 82nd Street and Lincoln Square, but there are also a number of surprising venues doing sterling business. Toronto’s Cineplex Cinemas Queensway, Houston’s Edwards Greenway Grand Palace, Dallas’ AMC NorthPark 15 and Oklahoma City’s Moore Warren Theatre are among the ten highest-grossing locations for the film.
Moreover, Goldstein tells Variety that the film is over-indexing in the Midwest by 16%. Crowds tend to be older, he said, but are essentially evenly split between men and women.
“Sully’s” broad national appeal comes amidst a backdrop of a divisive and fiercely fought presidential race, and at time when studies show that the electorate has rarely been more polarized. Given that toxic climate, box office sages argue that Sullenberger’s steady hand at the till is particularly reassuring to Americans put off by all the partisan bickering.
“You’ve got Trump and Clinton fighting and making all these verbal jabs,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “But ‘Sully’ is one guy everyone agrees is a real American hero.”
It’s also a testament to the popular appeal of star Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood. The pair has never collaborated before, and the film is generating excitement by bringing together two entertainers who have become institutions. Thirty percent of ticket buyers cited Hanks’ presence as a major reason they saw the film, while 20% referenced Eastwood’s work behind the camera, a survey by comScore found. Usually fewer than 10% of consumers cite the star of the film as the reason they hit theaters and directors are seldom a motivating factor.
Of course, all the star power in the world can’t save a film unless it has a compelling story to tell. In the case of “Sully,” it’s a story of unambiguous heroism at a time when there are few public figures to root for.
“‘Sully’ is something everyone can come together around,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “It’s a story of courage and honor that everyone can agree on.”