×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘RBG’: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Became a Summer Box Office Avenger

While “Avengers: Infinity War” has dominated the box office in recent weeks, a new documentary about a different kind of hero has still managed to draw crowds.

RBG,” a look at the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the glass-ceiling shattering jurist who became a meme), secured the 10th slot at the domestic box office this weekend with $1.16 million. That’s a major feat considering that the non-fiction film, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, was showing in just 180 screens. Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media’s collaboration launched in limited release on May 4 with $560,000 in 34 locations for an impressive per screen average of $16,471.

“It’s a gutsy move on paper,” box office analyst at comScore Paul Dergarbedian said of “RBG’s” summer release. In comparison, Magnolia’s highest-grossing documentary to date, “I am Not Your Negro” ($7 million), bowed in February during the height of awards season.

The top-grossing movies of 2018 so far — Black Panther ($696.2 million), “Avengers: Infinity War” ($547.8 million), and “A Quiet Place (169.6 million) — have become cultural touchstones. It’s rare, but not impossible, for a documentary to become a conversation point. Politically charged pics such as “Fahrenheit 911” and “An Inconvenient Truth” have proved just that.

“It’s almost unheard of to see a [documentary] perform this well in summer blockbuster season,” Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said. “For the documentaries to hit $1 million, it’s like a regular film hitting $100 million.”

In the midst of popcorn season, Magnolia is hoping “RBG” will have staying power on a smaller scale against a series of potential blockbusters. After all, “RBG” isn’t exactly competing with the same audiences as “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2,” or “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Magnolia strategically aligned its first expansion with Mother’s Day Weekend, as Ginsburg is a mother of two herself. Next week, the studio plans on increasing to around 350 locations.

“I feel like that’s the sweet spot for documentaries,” said Neal Block, head of distribution at Magnolia Pictures. “If you get too far beyond that, you get to theaters that don’t have experience showing documentaries.”

One could question the seasonal timing of “RBG,” but some would argue this is the perfect opportunity for movie with a strong, independent, trailblazing woman at the forefront.

“The film is just a really satisfying and lovely rejoinder to all of the awful news we’ve been reading about in the paper and online about behavior toward woman,” Block said. “She’s brilliant, and she’s dedicated to the causes she believes in. She doesn’t put up with shit from political opponents.”

Ginsburg has been an outspoken voice in the #MeToo movement.

“Strong females is what people want to talk about,” Bock said. “It’s obvious that people want to see it.

And of course, the liberal justice has also sparked attention surrounding her longevity on the bench in era of President Donald Trump.

“Wherever you were two years ago, no matter what side you are on, you probably weren’t as politically aware as you are now,” Dergarabedian said. “Whether you agree with her or not, she was a trendsetter. She was a pioneer. The interest of these filmmakers in her couldn’t have come together at a more perfect time.”

Above all, the stellar track ‘RBG” is headed on is a testament to the woman herself.

Ginsburg has become more than just a trailblazer known for leading the charge on gender equality and women’s rights. The 85-year-old associate justice has captured the zeitgeist to become a pop culture icon. Affectionally dubbed “Notorious RBG,” the outspoken and fierce Ginsburg has inspired everything from memes and apparel to one of Kate McKinnon’s most iconic characters on “Saturday Night Live.”

“When it comes to a blockbuster, it’s more about the concept than the star,” Dergarabedian said. “When a documentary is named after you, all the star power lies with the star of the piece. It really is resting on her.”

POPULAR ON VARIETY:

More Film

  • 'The Pledge' Review

    Film Review: 'Pledge'

    “Privilege comes with sacrifice” says one character to another in “Pledge” — exactly the kind of noble sentiment authority figures always voice to hush the protests of those about to be sacrificed. This third feature for director Daniel Robbins is no delicate flower of cinematic art, but a lean and mean shocker that tells its [...]

  • John Lithgow

    John Lithgow-Blythe Danner's 'Tomorrow Man' Bought Ahead of Sundance Premiere

    In one of the first deals for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, Bleecker Street has acquired North American rights to the John Lithgow-Blythe Danner romance “The Tomorrow Man.” The movie will hold its world premiere at the fest, which opens on Jan. 24 in Park City, Utah. The distributor is planning a May 17 release. [...]

  • Dragon Ball Super Broly

    'Dragon Ball Super: Broly' Scores Big First Day With $7 Million

    Funimation Films’ Japanese anime movie “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” has opened impressively with a dominant first-day total of $7 million at 1,260 North American locations on Wednesday. The English-language version of “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” which screened at 180 Imax and Cinemark XD premium large format screens, generated by far the best per-screen average among [...]

  • Shoplifters Cannes

    Box Office: 'Shoplifters' Hits $2 Million to Become One of 2018's Highest-Grossing Foreign Films

    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” has become an unexpected box office success. The Japanese drama about a petty thief who adopts a young girl has earned critical raves and picked up the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. That translated into commercial success for Magnolia, the indie distributor that’s been overseeing the film’s rollout. “Shoplifters” [...]

  • C'est La Vie TIFF

    French Films' Overseas Box Office Revenue Drops 51% in 2018

    After bouncing back in 2017, the overseas box office revenue of French movies plummeted by 51% to 237 million euros ($270 million) with 40 million admissions sold, a 52% year-on drop, in 2018. The provisional box office figures were unveiled by UniFrance during a reception hosted at France’s culture minister during which Eric Toledano and [...]

  • Isabela Moner Shameik Moore Kiernan Shipka

    Netflix Casts Starry Ensemble for Adaptation of John Green's 'Let It Snow'

    “Dora the Explorer’s” Isabela Moner, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s” Shameik Moore, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s” Kiernan Shipka, “Lady Bird’s” Odeya Rush, Jacob Batalon, Miles Robbins, Mitchell Hope, Liv Hewson, Anna Akana, and Joan Cusack are set to star in the Netflix pic “Let It Snow.” The film is based on the New York Times bestselling [...]

  • Brian Tyree Henry Playback Podcast If

    Listen: From 'Beale Street' to 'Spider-Verse,' Brian Tyree Henry Was Your 2018 MVP

    Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. Emmy- and Tony-nominated actor Brian Tyree Henry is coming off a sensational year. A second, acclaimed season of FX’s “Atlanta” sent him headlong into a fall movie season that saw featured roles in Yann [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content