By Jake Greenberg / September 11, 2018

Why Documentaries Are Box Office Sensations This Summer

Three documentaries pulled in at least $10 million domestically over an eight-week period.

A general view of atmospher during a special screening of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" on May 23, 2018 in West Homestead, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Focus Features)
A general view of atmospher during a special screening of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" on May 23, 2018 in West Homestead, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Focus Features)

Documentaries have done spectacularly well at the box office this summer, raising the question of why American moviegoers are suddenly so much more excited for nonfiction storytelling. According to a breakdown in The Hollywood Reporter, the nonfiction movies Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG, and Three Identical Strangers have all vastly exceeded expectations, grossing a combined $47 million domestically. These three movies are the first trio of documentaries to each make more than $10 million in an eight-week window.

Theories about the origin of the documentary boom abound. Josh Braun, co-founder of the company that sold Three Identical Strangers, told The Hollywood Reporter, “What you’re seeing is people embracing the idea of documentaries as alternative programming to the big action movies.” Other hypotheses credit the popularization of documentaries on Netflix and Amazon, the lack of hit independent dramas this summer, the rise of MoviePass, and audience desire for a temporary escape from a Trump-dominated culture for the success of the three nonfiction films.

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