You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Free Solo’ Crosses $10 Million at Box Office, Continuing Documentary Hot Streak

Free Solo,” the acclaimed climbing documentary about a hair-raising summit of El Capitan, has crossed the $10 million mark at the box office. It now ranks as the fourth highest grossing documentary of the year, behind “Three Identical Strangers” ($12.3 million), “RBG” ($14 million), and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” ($22.6 million).

The film follows Alex Honnold as he climbs a 3,000-foot vertical rock face in Yosemite without using harnesses, ropes, or other gear. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi spent years following Honnold as he meticulously planned his ascent, capturing him in intimate moments and finding new answers to the age old query “why does a man climb a mountain?”

“Alex’s climb is about living the best life you can,” Chai Vasarhelyi said. “The climb is about working through your fear.”

Shooting “Free Solo” raised ethical questions for the filmmakers. They worried they were encouraging Honnold to do something that could cost him his life. As he wrestled with his doubts, Chin reached out to his friend, the writer Jon Krakauer, for advice. Krakauer was familiar with the world of climbing, having written the Everest saga “Into Thin Air.”

“Jon asked me, ‘is he going to do it whether or not you film him?'” said Chin. “I answered with yes. Then he asked, ‘are you in the best position to shoot it and do you believe he can do it?’ And the answer to both of those questions was also yes. I’ve been working in this space for 20 years, I’ve seen the greatest athletes at the peak of their performance, and I’ve never seen anybody perform like Alex under high-stakes situations.”

Indeed, part of the raves for “Free Solo” haven’t just been for its compelling portrait of a stunning feat of athleticism.  They’ve focused on the filmmaking challenges of capturing Honnold’s ascent.

“What it took to make this film is just extraordinary,” said Courtney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Networks, the company behind “Free Solo.” “This crew is the only one that could make this film. They’re not just elite climbers, they’re also world class cinematographers.”

“Free Solo” continues Nat Geo’s drive into the documentary space. Two years ago, the media company began dipping its toe into the non-fiction feature film waters, and has previously released “Jane,” a look at primatologist Jane Goodall, and “Science Fair,” the story of high schoolers competing for an international prize. “Free Solo” has been the company’s widest release, screening in more than 400 locations. It’s a smart time to get into the documentary space. Four non-fiction films took in more than $10 million at the box office this year, three more than hit that mark in 2017.

“We’re in a golden age of documentaries,” said Monroe.

Many of the films that have been hits have focused on compelling personalities such as Honnold, Fred Rogers, or Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The films that haven’t worked, namely Michael Moore’s anti-Trump picture “Fahrenheit 11/9,” haven’t offered much in the way of a break from the political drama in Washington. “Free Solo” literally rises above today’s partisan divides. Monroe thinks that may be part of the reason that the film is resonating with audiences.

“It’s an inspiring story,” said Monroe. “It’s about making the impossible possible and in this crazy chaotic world that’s an amazing message.”

More Film


    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • Kelly McCormick David Leitch

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is Too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

  • Critics Week

    Cannes Critics’ Week Unveils Its Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content