Comedy On The Rise & Fall Of ‘BlackBerry’ Clicks: Director Matt Johnson Says The Device “Has Some Magic To It” – Specialty Box Office

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In a rare weekend with fewer new studio wide releases, IFC Films had a one-two punch at the box office with Matt Johnson’s film BlackBerry grossing $473k nationwide in 450 theaters, for a U.S. per theater average of $1.05k and cracking the top ten on Friday. It will gross an estimated $740k in North America this weekend, with Elevation Pictures handling Canada.

This is the End’s Jay Baruchel is Mike Lazaridus, the brains behind BlackBerry with his laid back best friend and co-founder Douglas Fregin, played by Johnson. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Glenn Howerton is Jim Balsillie, the aggressive executive who catapulted the device to global domination for decades until is was abruptly unseated by the iPhone in 2007.  

Premiering in Berlin and SXSW, certified Fresh at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s based on the book Losing Signal by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.

The director told Deadline he had never actually handled a BlackBerry before the film but was drawn to it, and to the story. “In some ways I really do think the device has some magic to it. Especially the form, it’s so much smaller than modern smartphones. And with the space devoted to the keyboard, it reminded me of the Gamboy, which is why I put so much Gameboy into the movie. It felt like a videogame controller.”

“When someone handed my producer and I the book and asked if we’d be interested in an adaptation,” he said, it felt in a sense like I was reading about my own life” — meaning it could just as well have been about filmmaking as “about engineers building some technical machine. It was about young people trying to do something impossible.”

The BlackBerry Storm, which came out in 2008, the same year as the iPhone 3G, was one of the biggest failures of a consumer device of all time. “The book is piece of journalism. I would say the authors would say the book is not funny at all,” he said. “But what I was reading between the lines is comedy.”

“There were hundreds and thousands of engineers working at the company at the time who knew iPhone was doing something better, but I don’t think that message was heard by the leadership.” Lazaridis in the film is convinced that a bigger screen without a physical keyboard was a ridiculous ideal no one would want.

“Blackberry succeeded on the heels of two engaging and riveting performances from Jay and Glenn. Matt Johnson is a force to be reckoned with and we’re thrilled people came out for this cracking, blast of a time at the theater,” said Scott Schooman, interim president of IFC Films.

Schooman recently stepped in for Arianna Bocco after the IFC chief’s abrupt departure in late March, followed by key executives exiting across the company. The turnover, which comes with AMC Networks in the midst of ongoing restructuring and cost cutting, has been a rather dramatic exodus in the indie distribution world. 

The distrib also opened Andrea Pallaoro’s film Monica at the IFC Center in NY and at the Nuart in LA at $26k capturing the highest per screen average of the weekend at $13.25k

Monica  premiered in Venice 2022 and received strong support across the LGBTQ community, with GLAAD partnering for a screening of the film. Friday Q&As featuring the film’s stars, Trace Lysette and Patricia Clarkson, sold out in both New York and Los Angeles. Expands nationwide in at least 45 markets next weekend.

Other wide specialty openings: Roadside Attractions’ Fool’s Paradise, the feature directorial debut by Charlie Day, grossed $443,140 on 784 screens, for a PSA of $565.

Sony Pictures Classics documentary about baseball great Yogi Bera, It Ain’t Over, grossed an estimated $106.3k on 99 screens for a PSA of $1.074. As part of a regional push for the legendary Yankee, the distributor was offering free companion tickets in the New York Tri-State area that aren’t counted in the gross.

Limited releases: Bleecker Street is estimating The Starling Girl will gross a $24.7k opening weekend on four screens for a PSA of $6,184.

Music Box Films opened Emanuele Criaslese’s L’Immensita at an estimated $9.28k on two screens for a projected PSA of $4,640. Following festival play at Venice and Sundance, the Penelope Cruz starrer opened at the Angelika Film Center in NY and the Laemmle Royal in LA. expanding to other major markets on Friday, including Chicago, Miami, Portland, and Houston.

Holdover: Another Italian pic, Janus Films’ release of The Eight Mountains grossed approximately $30,100 on 24 screens in its third weekend, for an estimated per-screen average of $1,254 and an estimated come of $93,772. The film will continue expanding throughout May and into June, with Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Sacramento, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and more coming next weekend.

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