Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Morgan (20 Feet from Stardom) Neville’s Docu Scores Big

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? should cross this weekend the $20 million threshold at the U.S. box office, a milestone for documentaries.

Director Morgan Neville’s film about the beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers hit the big screen in June and is still running strong.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has become the top-grossing biographical docu of all time domestically after passing the $8.4 million figure of Amy, the 2015 docu chronicling the life and death of Amy Winehouse.

It is also the top-earning documentary in the past five years and the 14th biggest of all time, including big-studio nature movies.

Neville won the Oscar for best documentary for his 2013 film 20 Feet from Stardom, which topped out at $4.9 million domestically.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? could gross $22 million-$25 million by the end of its box-office run, on par with such hits as Michael Moore’s 2012 Oscar-winner Bowling for Columbine ($21.6 million) when adjusted for inflation.  But unlike Bowling, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? offers positive messages in a time of tumult.

Adds Neville, “Documentaries in general are telling the types of complex adult stories that aren’t getting told in Hollywood very often anymore.”

Universal, parent company of Focus, will release Won’t You Be My Neighbor? digitally on August 21, followed by DVD/Blu-ray on September 4.

Other non-fictional films doing well are RBG, about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Three Identical Strangers, about identical triplets separated as part of a nature-versus-nurture experiment.

The top-grossing docu last year was the Oscar nominee I Am Not Your NegroRaoul Peck’s portrait of author James Baldwin, which attracted $7.1 million.

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power topped out at just $3.7 million domestically, despite the backing of a major Hollywood studio, Paramount. A decade earlier, Paramount won the Oscar for best documentary feature for Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which grossed $24.1 million in summer 2006.

Docus on Big nd Small Screen

But the last two films to win the Oscar for best feature documentary were seen primarily on the small screen: Netflix’s Icarus and ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America.

RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg has also been successful, earning $13.1 million to date for Magnolia and Participant Media.  The film played in January at Sundance Fest, which premiered both Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers, Tim Wardle’s stranger-than-fiction account of three triplets who are reunited.

Three Identical Strangers has earned more than $5 million in its first month for the filmmakers and indie distributor Neon. The doc recounts the harrowing story of Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman, triplets who were adopted by separate families as part of a scientific experiment. The three brothers were unaware of each other’s existence until a random encounter brought them together.

Participant and Magnolia announced that RBG will be available digitally on August 3, and the DVD/Blu-ray August 8.


Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney, which looks at the turbulent life and tragic death of Whitney Houston, has earned a modest $2.8 million to date for Roadside Attractions.

In the summer of 2004, Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 made box-office history when it grossed $119 million to become the top-grossing doc of all time domestically, a record it still holds.

The following June, another docu made a big splash when Warner Independent’s March of the Penguins earned $77.4 million to become the second-biggest docu domestically.