S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR, a huge hit when it opened in March, is dipping back into the U.S. market in a novel and, so far, successful bid by distributors to expand the reach of the Telugu period drama beyond the traditional audience for Indian film.
Originally out March 24 on 1,000 screens, wide for an Indian release Stateside, RRR (Rise! Roar! Revolt!) grossed more than $14 million in North America, and over $140 million globally. In India, the epic story of two friends who discover they’re on opposite sides of India’s struggle for independence (Deadline review here), smashed records to set the best opening day for a local film ever. That was director Rajamouli topping his own previous record-holder in the market, 2017’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. See Rajamouli interview.
Indian films are a staple of the U.S. box office but rarely stick around for more than a week. Everyone in the know rushes out to see them immediately then theaters make room for the next arrival. They are also the only foreign language and specialty fare not to play arthouse cinemas.
That made it unusual when Variance Films and Potentate Films, in association with Sarigama Cinemas and Rafter Creations, re-released RRR on June 1 for one-night screenings at 123 theaters across the country including arthouse chains. Presales were good so they added additional runs last weekend in NYC and LA (IFC Center and Glendale, a show-a-day weeklong run) and weekend shows at Alamo Drafthouse Austin.
The re-release grossed $12.9k this week on four screens for a cume of $80,374 heading into the weekend. Some 90% to 95% of the audience has been non-Indian.
It expands this weekend to a full screen at the IFC and Laemmle Glendale. In NYC, it adds BAM Rose Cinema (week-long run); Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn (weekend shows); Nitehawk Williamsburg (weekday show); and Nitehawk Prospect Park (weekday show). In LA, it expands to Laemmle Noho (week-long run) and Alamo Drafthouse DTLA (weekend shows). It adds Alamo Drafthouse Mueller in Austin (weekend shows) as well as the Belcourt Theater in Nashville (weekend shows) and Roxie Film Center in San Francisco (weekday show).
“It’s pure spectacle,” says Jake Isgar, Film Programmer for Alamo Drafthouse. “There’s been so much written about what’ll bring people back to cinemas. Give them a show, and that’s exactly what this film does a thousand times over.”
He said the chain’s screening in San Francisco had ten applause breaks.
And RRR has been on Netflix for the last two weeks.
“People are coming in for the experience,” said Dylan Marchetti of Variance Films. “It’s three hours of joy at the movies.” The group will be adding select shows of #encoRRRe throughout the summer.
With more than 250 films coming out of Indian annually, RRR could be a “gateway drug,” he joked. “I would love there to be a model here. There are a lot of people – programmers, bookers, industry people — who were only peripherally aware of Telegu/South Indian cinema. There will be more films like this that can cross over.” He declined to name a next candidate but noted that Vikram, for instance, opened last weekend at no. 7 in North America ($1.78M at 460 locations).
Elsewhere in specialty, Music Box Films presents Lost Illusions in New York (Film Forum, Film Society of Lincoln Center) and LA (Laemmle Royal, Town Center, Playhouse, and Claremont). Xavier Giannoli’s adaptation of the classic Honore de Balzac novel stars Benjamin Voisin, Xavier Dolan and Gerard Depardieu. Lucien (Voisin) is a young aspiring poet in 19th century France who decamps from his family’s provincial printing house to try his luck in Paris but soon finds that the arts have a dark side ruled by profit and pretense. Music Box’ theatrical sales manager Kyle Westphal called the film, which premiered in Venice, “a 19th-century story that felt utterly contemporary, a scabrous satire for the age of TMZ and Gawker.” See Deadline review.
“We waited until the summer, both because audience confidence is on the upswing and because Lost Illusions is ideal counterprogramming. There are many people who want to see Jurassic World Dominion this weekend, but also plenty who feel totally alienated by CGI blockbusters and want a different kind of cinematic experience.”
Last week, quite a number of specialty openings slipped in between Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World. Fewer tried it this week.
Shudder and IFC Midnight present Phil Tippett’s long gestating stop-motion thriller Mad God in NY and LA, expanding next week. Tippett began fabricating and animating a darkly surreal world of creatures and nightmares in 1987, produced dozens of environments and hundreds of puppets for the project, filling notebook after notebook with thousands of detailed sketches and storyboards. Volunteers and a wildly successful KickStarter campaign helped him get the project moving again decades later.
IFC Midnight also continues with Watcher, its most successful theatrical releases ever, in 656 cinemas in week 2.
Tricycle Logic presents Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness’ debut feature, 1982. The coming-of-age drama that premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival (winning the NETPAC award) opens at the Quad Cinema in New York, expanding to LA June 24 and nationally throughout the summer. The New York date coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Lebanon War. The story is set at an idyllic school in Lebanon’s mountains on the eve of a looming invasion. It unfolds over a single day as an 11-year-old boy seeks to profess his love to a girl in his class. Lebanon’s selection for the 92nd Academy Awards. Utopia had released the film digitally during Covid.
The Story Won’t Die from Rae Film by David Henry Gerson looks at a young generation of Syrian artists who use their work to protest and process the world’s largest ongoing displacement of people since World War II. Produced by Odessa Rae (Navalny). Doc features rapper Abu Hajar, post-Rock musician Anas Maghrebi, members of the first all-female Syrian rock band, a break dancer, choreographer and visual artists who use their art to rise in revolution in exile. Opens in NY this weekend, LA next. On digital June 21 (World Refugee Day).