‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye,’ ‘The Card Counter’ Revive Indie Box Office

With Venice and Toronto complete, specialty theaters are finally getting the help they need

eyes of tammy faye jessica chastain
Jessica Chasten in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (Searchlight Pictures)

After a summer with only sporadic major releases, the specialty box office can finally begin its post-shutdown rebuild in earnest as Searchlight released its biopic “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” this weekend and Focus’ “The Card Counter” entered its second weekend.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was released on 450 screens this weekend and grossed $675,000 for a per theater average of $1,500 and a spot in the Top 10 on the weekend charts. It’s a decent result given that older audiences, the cornerstone of specialty films, have been more reluctant to return to theaters than younger audiences.

Directed by Michael Showalter, the film stars Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, who rose to prominence as America’s most popular televangelist couple. But in the ’80s, Faye found herself in the middle of a turbulent media frenzy between her husband’s conviction on fraud charges and her own bold decision to break from evangelical orthodoxy by supporting LGBT individuals and HIV/AIDS patients.

Critics were lukewarm on “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” but praised Chastain’s performance, giving the film a 65% Rotten Tomatoes score. Madison Wells Media and Freckle Films produced the biopic.

“The Card Counter,” meanwhile, added $440,000 in its second weekend after a $1.03 million opening last weekend from 580 screens. Directed by Paul Schrader and starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish, the film has won over critics with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score but alienated audiences with a 43% RT score.

Focus has also released a new film this weekend with “Blue Bayou,” which opened in 477 theaters and grossed $315,000 for a per theater average of $660. Directed by and starring Justin Chon with Alicia Vikander, the film follows a Korean adoptee who discovers that he was never naturalized as a U.S. citizen and now faces deportation and separation from his family. The film has a 73% critics RT score and a 96% audience score.

In the case of all three films, Focus and Searchlight have gone with a release strategy of putting films immediately out in 400-600 theaters instead of the traditional strategy of a four-screen New York/Los Angeles and a slow nationwide rollout. This is being done to maximize word-of-mouth and attract as many moviegoers as possible nationwide in a time where older moviegoers are less likely to go to theaters and films are getting buzz from film festivals like Venice and Toronto.

Searchlight will experiment with the rollout release strategy next month with Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” on Oct. 22, releasing the film initially in Top 5 markets before expanding to take advantage of audience buzz and to avoid direct competition with “Dune,” which releases that same weekend.