Ava DuVernay’s ‘Origin’ Based On Bestseller ‘Caste’ Launches Theatrical Run – Specialty Preview

Neon is opening Origin on 130 screens and plans to expand the Ava DuVernay film, which premiered in Venice and had a excellent qualifying run in December.

Neon took global rights on Origin before its Venice premiere where it received an eight-minute standing ovation and DuVernay became the first Black American woman to have a selection there. Deadline reported the film tested well with audiences, landing a 91 total positive in the top two boxes, with an 81 definite recommend, the highest for both Neon and DuVernay. With the theatrical release, the distributor is looking to pull in the arthouse and “smarthouse” (mainstream crossover) audiences and Black audiences with targeted bookings including theaters in regional markets like Atlanta, Chicago and Baltimore. It’s a hard film to comp but it is everywhere that recent films The Color Purple and American Fiction have done well.

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Origin is based on New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 bestseller Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, which explores the cultural roots of American racism from slavery to Jim Crow and beyond in a whole new and gripping way, linking it to the caste system in India and antisemitism in Nazi Germany, in a story and interwoven with personal loss and love. Deadline’s review called the film “an unflinching drama of the structures of global oppression.”

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor stars. With Niecy Nash-Betts, Jon Bernthal, Audra McDonald, Vera Farmiga, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood, and Connie Nielsen.

Origin grossed $117k on just two screens for a $58.5 PSA at its short December run, the fourth highest per-screen average of 2023. Neon’s planning a moderate expansion next week into the week after to about 500-700 screens for the film, one which will benefit from word of mouth.

This weekend, a quiet one for new specialty releases, falls as the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing, showcasing a new crop of indies.

Other specialty openings: Strand Releasing presents Cannes-premiering The Breaking Ice at the IFC Center in NYC this weekend, expanding to Laemmle LA next. Written and directed by Anthony Chen.Starring Zhou Dongyu, Chuxiao Qu, Liu Haoran. In cold wintry Yanji, a city on China’s northern border, young urbanite Haofeng, visiting from Shanghai, feels lost and adrift before connecting with a charming tour guide and a frustrated restaurant worker.

Republic Pictures (the rebooted division of Paramount Global) opens TIFF-premiering The End We Start From on 124 screens. The dystopian drama by Mahalia Belo stars Jodie Comer as a woman trying to return home with her newborn baby amid an environmental disaster that sees floods submerge London. With Joel Fry, Katherine Waterston. See Deadline review. Had a qualifying run in December.

Level 33 opens Gothic crime thriller Double Down South written and directed by Tom Shulman in 33 locations. Stars Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates as Nick, who runs an illegal keno (lottery-like gambling) parlor out of his run-down plantation house in the rural South. With Lili Simmons (Banshee) and Justin Marcel McManus (Power Book II: Ghost).

Expansion: Cohen Media Group expands Driving Madeleine to 50 theaters in top 35markets.The French film by Christian Carion has a topping Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 94% and is 97% with audiences. Stars Line Renaud, Danny Boon, Alice Isaaz. Adding another 50+ theaters in top 50 markets next weekend.

Alternative engagement: Imax opens Queen Rock Montreal, the remastered 1981 concert film, on 375 screens domestically (and 220 internationally) for a four-day run.

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