Theatrical release poster
|Music by||Marco Beltrami|
|Edited by||Bob Eisenhardt|
|Distributed by||National Geographic Documentary Films|
|Box office||$28.6 million|
Free Solo is a 2018 American documentary film directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin that profiles rock climber Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017.
The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2018, and also screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People's Choice Award in the Documentaries category. It was released in the United States on September 28, 2018, where it received positive reviews from critics and grossed over $28 million. The film received numerous accolades, including winning Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
The film devotes some time to documenting its own production process, with director Jimmy Chin and his camera crew (all experienced climbers themselves) discussing the challenge of not endangering climber Alex Honnold by distracting him or pressuring him to attempt the climb at all. According to director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, this was solved with a lot of practice. To record sound from Honnold, who was often too far from the cameras to use a wireless microphone, the filmmakers created a special recording device and had Honnold carry it inside his chalk bag.
Free Solo grossed $17.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $11.1 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $28.6 million.
The film made $300,804 from four theaters in its opening weekend, surpassing Eighth Grade and An Inconvenient Truth, respectively, for the highest per-venue average of 2018 and of a documentary all-time with $75,201. It expanded to 41 theaters in its second weekend, making $562,786. The film grossed $859,051 from 129 theaters in its third weekend and $1 million from 251 theaters in its fourth weekend. During its fifth weekend, it earned $1.06 million from 394 theaters, bringing the total box office gross to over $5 million.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 144 reviews, with an average rating of 8.21/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Free Solo depicts athletic feats that many viewers will find beyond reason – and grounds the attempts in passions that are all but universal." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 83 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Writing for Variety, Peter Debrudge said, "Apart from a slow stretch around the hour mark, the filmmakers keep things lively (with a big assist from Marco Beltrami's pulse-quickening score, the nail-biting opposite of Tim McGraw's soaring end-credits single, "Gravity"), featuring test runs at Zion National Park's Moonlight Buttress and the nearly sheer limestone cliffs in Taghia, Morocco." Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair called the film "bracingly made" and wrote, "I left the theater invigorated and rattled, in awe of this charismatic man's accomplishment but scared that it will inspire others to attempt the same ... But maybe Free Solo's detailed, transfixing portrait of their hero will at least show some sort of barrier to entry, communicating to those eager wannabes that very few people indeed are built quite like Alex Honnold. And thank goodness, in a way, for that."
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