In already strong year for documentaries, National Geographic’s Free Solo, a death-defying portrait of the first person to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes, set a record.
The film, which boasts a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, generated the highest per-screen average for any movie released in the US so far this year, when it opened in four locations over the weekend. The film brought in $72,551 per theater on average, generating a total of $290,205 at the domestic box office during its debut, industry tracker Box Office Mojo estimated. The marker is often used to measure the speciality box office for films that spend the majority of their releases in limited runs.
Free Solo’s debut also marked the best opening theater average of any documentary ever, surpassing 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth. The climate documentary picked up $70,333 when it premiered on four screens more than a decade ago, and went on to earn more than $49 million worldwide across nearly 600 theaters.
Free Solo expands to 27 screens next weekend and is slated to hit more than 100 theaters during the third week of its run.
Its milestones comes amid a resurgence of documentary features on the internet, TV, and the big screen. Films like Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG, and Three Identical Strangers, all exceeded expectations at the box office this year, totaling roughly $50 million between them. And streaming services like Netflix have been investing heavily in documentaries in recent years, releasing zeitgeist-hitting features like 13th and Icarus, and series like Wild Wild Country and Making a Murder.