Nice folks don't always finish last: Why Mr. Rogers, 'RBG' are the heroes of summer
Whoever said that nice guys finish last clearly hasn't been to the movies this summer.
In less than a month, tear-jerking Fred Rogers documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" has raked in $8 million, cracking the top 10 at the box office last weekend in roughly 650 theaters. It's the second-highest-earning doc of the year, coming in just behind "RBG," another unlikely summer hit that centers on firecracker Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has tallied $11.6 million since May.
Both are part of a recent wave of movies that IndieWire critic David Ehrlich has coined "nicecore": optimistic films such as "Paddington 2" and "Hearts Beat Loud" that preach radical kindness and acceptance, showcasing the best in humanity even when the pummeling news cycle reminds us of a grimmer reality.
"At a time when headline news features predominately doom and gloom, these documentaries have reminded audiences about the power of virtue and high-minded principles," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "These films trump the negativity of daily politics and point to a brighter future, something many people need right now. Any film outside of the political battlefield is a much-needed escape, which "Ocean's 8," "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and, soon, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" (in theaters July 20), will benefit from."
Unlike its Marvel predecessor "Avengers: Infinity War," in which supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin) unleashed mass extinction on superheroes and mankind alike, the "Ant-Man" sequel (in theaters Friday) provides some much-needed humor and levity, as bug-size crusaders Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka Wasp, fly into action to rescue Hope's mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm, a submicroscopic world. "Ocean's 8" is similarly light and conflict-free, as a group of women led by Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett rob the Met Gala with virtually no obstacles, building each other up rather than squabbling as they each lend their unique skills to the heist.
Despite lukewarm reviews, "Ocean's" has managed to make off with $115 million in a month, while "Ant-Man" is expected to swarm the box office with $90 million or more, Bock says, coming in well above the $57.3 million opening of the 2015 original.
In ensemble movies such as these and Disney's overperforming "Incredibles 2," which centers on a superhero family working as a team, "there's this feeling of cooperation towards a common goal. In real life, that seems really hard to get a handle on right now," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "But in the movie theater, it's really cathartic for people to experience something positive."
Dergarabedian notes that while "Neighbor" and "RBG" are also escapist, they're grounded in the real world: "RBG" chronicles 85-year-old Ginsburg's rise from lawyer to the highest court in the land, delivering blistering dissents about employment discrimination and equal voting rights for women and minorities. "Neighbor," meanwhile, shows Rogers' lifelong fight for intelligent children's programming, gently broaching mature subjects such as death, divorce, war and race relations through puppets and educational segments on his long-running PBS show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Ginsburg and Rogers, who died in 2003, are role models who speak to core values, which may explain their respective films' popularity, says "Neighbor" director Morgan Neville.
"They're both singular people who took very moral stances and never wavered from them," Neville says. "They both had an utter lack of cynicism to them, which is so rare in our culture today. We live in such cynical times — I mean, even our superheroes are cynical these days. So just the idea that you can see real sincerity come through is like a breath of fresh air."