The first quarter of 2013 has come and gone, and it’s unlikely to have left too many film studio execs in good moods. The overall box office is down 13% from last year, with “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and “Identity Thief” the only new films to break the $100 million mark (though “The Croods” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” should join them soon). Last year at this point the box office was up 15% with a quartet of century club members already in (“The Hunger Games,” “The Lorax,” “The Vow” and “Safe House”).
But as the title of this article makes clear, it’s not those big budget hopefuls we’re interested in, it’s the little(r) guys. Last year’s first quarter was actually a relative disappointment for indie films, with the highest grossing specialty film being 2011 holdover “The Descendants” ($44 million). Similarly this year, the biggest winners are a handful of Oscar holdovers (particularly “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Amour”) and two breakout hits aimed at opposite ends of the age demographic spectrum (guess which ones?). Beyond that though, the specialty box office success stories of 2013 have been minor and few and far between. Here’s out take on the notable winners and losers:
Winner: The Weinstein Company
For the first time in three years, The Weinstein Company didn’t go home with a best picture Oscar this February. How much did that matter? Very little, if you go by box office grosses. Best picture nominees (and acting trophy winners) “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” grossed $93.7 million and $100.3 million in the 2013 calendar year, respectively. That helped give Harvey and company a total of $282.4 million so far in 2013. That’s 273% (!) higher than the total gross the company made in the first quarter of 2012, and almost $30 million more than the company made in the entire year of 2012. It’s a stunning number that gave them 12.4% of the market share, second only to Universal and ahead of Disney, Warner Brothers and Fox. It also sets up The Weinstein Company to certainly end up with an all time record for the distributor (set in 2011 with $296.1 million — just $14 million more than where they stand.
Loser: Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight’s top grossing film of 2013 so far? “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which managed $1.6 million from its Oscar-related re-release. A fantastic number for a film out for 9 months that was already on DVD, but not the type of the number you want to lead with. Last year, the company led with when $44 million “The Descendants” raked in during 2013. That film was clearly helped with the star power of George Clooney, though star power didn’t help what was clearly the distributor’s biggest hope of 2013’s Q1: Nicole Kidman-starring thriller “Stoker,” which has managed a disappointing $1.5 million after 5 weeks of release. Hopefully second quarter releases “Trance” and “The East” help change the distributor’s fortunes.
Winner: “Quartet” and the second coming of the senior specialty audience.
While “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” might have been the MVPs of The Weinstein Company’s slate, perhaps just as notable is the stellar performance of Dustin Hoffman’s senior ensemble film “Quartet.” With no Oscar nominations to speak of (though it did have a qualifying run that resulted in a Golden Globe nomination for star Maggie Smith), the film still managed a stellar debut weekend average of $23,561 (on 2 screens), and then held on very nicely. In fact, it still averaged over $1,000 on 302 screens this past weekend (its 12th). With a total of $16,599,664 so far, it’s the highest grossing specialty release to come out in 2013, and makes clear what already was when “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (also featuring Smith) grossed over $40 million last summer: North America has a rapidly aging population, and they represent a seriously under-served market. Oh, and Maggie is as marketable a Smith as Will.
Loser: The second coming of “On The Road”
Like “Quartet,” Walter Salles’ “On The Road” had a unsuccessful Oscar qualifying run this past December, with a total gross of $139,363 from 2 weeks of release (the qualifying numbers for “Quartet” were not released). Then IFC Films opted to hold off on the film until well after awards season, an unusual tactic that unfortunately did not pay off. Despite the presence of Kristen Stewart (among many others) and the popularity of the book, the film struggled in its two weeks of release so far, grossing $118,389 from 77 screens this past weekend for an average of just $1,538. Though the film is unlikely to hit the $1 million mark theatrically, perhaps its doing better on VOD (where it was released March 25th — though numbers are unknown).
Winner: “Spring Breakers”
Other than “Quartet,” the only considerable breakout success story among 2013 releases so far was Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” And it’s a doozy. Released by upstart distributor A24 while most of America was on actual spring break, the R-rated teen culture satire (which stars Disney Channel alums Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens doing some very un-Disney things, no less) grossed a stunning $263,002 from just 4 theaters in its first weekend. That made for a $87,667 average — among the 12 best per-theater-averages of all time for live action films. A24 expanded it to 1,104 theaters in its second frame, and it jumped to 6th place overall, grossing $4.9 million. Not bad at all for a film reported to have cost just $5 million. After 3 weekends, the film’s total stands at $10.1 million, and in the end it should come close to doubling that.
Loser: “A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III”
“Spring Breakers” was the second release from A24, and was thankfully successful enough to erase most memories of Roman Coppola’s “A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III,” which A24 released back in February. Despite the Coppola name and the presence of Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen, it grossed just $45,350 in its run. Which is pretty much what “Spring Breakers” was grossing every couple hours in its first weekend.
Winner: Sony Pictures Classics’ late-breaking Oscar contenders
The Weinstein Company wasn’t the only independent distributor to reap the benefits of Oscar season. Sony Pictures Classics got fantastic numbers out of a trio of Oscar nominees released either at the tail end of 2012 or in 2013 proper. The MVP of which was clearly Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” which surprised many with 5 major Oscar nominations. That helped give it a $6.7 million final gross ($6.4 million of which came in 2013). While that might seem miniscule compared to the $100 million+ grosses of its fellow best picture nominees, the fact that a foreign language film essentially about death could pull off those numbers is definitely considerable. It’s now one of the 50 highest grossing foreign language films of all time and by far Haneke’s top grossing film in America. And the buck didn’t stop there for SPC. “No” and “The Gatekeepers” — nominated for foreign film and documentary, respectively — both opened in February and are still in the midst of impressive runs. “No” has taken in $1.3 million so far, while “Gatekeepers” is at $1.8 million. Neither film are easy sells, but SPC’s careful handling of each buoyed by those Oscar noms brought moviegoers in anyway.
Loser: “West of Memphis”
Clearly a film Sony Classics was hoping would get a best documentary nomination, Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” — produced by Peter Jackson and gaining buzz on the festival circuit for nearly a year — didn’t end up making the cut. It didn’t end up making much money either, grossing just under $300,000
Winner: “56 Up” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me”
Two films that definitely warrant inclusion here — even if neither have even crossed the $1 million mark — are Michael Apted’s “56 Up” (the eighth film in the “Up” doc series that has followed a group of British people since 1964) and Bob Byington’s indie comedy “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (a 2012 SXSW pickup starring Nick Offerman).
First Run opened “56 Up” on January 4th to a strong $22,088 gross from a single screen. Without expanding it beyond 32 theaters, they’ve seen the film slowly turn into a little success story. As of March 31st, it has grossed $649,677. That’s well above the $241,772 and $300,880 First Run saw from series predecessors “49 Up” and “42 Up,” respectively.
Meanwhile, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” should soon become the highest grossing film released by three year old Tribeca Film. After four weekends where it hasn’t risen above a count of just 3 theaters, it has managed a gross of $77,100. Tribeca will continue to expand the film into April, where the film will surely become the first $100,000 grosser for the distributor (which also releases their films on VOD).
Loser: “Upside Down”
Things weren’t always looking up for the oddly high amount of 2013 releases with “up” in their title. Juan Diego Solanas’s “Upside Down” — a romantic science fiction film starring Kristen Dunst and Jim Sturgess that has been out in some parts of the world since last summer — crashed and burned pretty quickly. Released Stateside by Millennium Entertainment, the film — budgeted at a reported $50 million — grossed just $28,722 from 11 screens in its first weekend and has so far totaled $90,916. Its unlikely to manage much more beyond that.
Winner: “The Place Beyond The Pines” and “Room 237,” at least so far
Heading into the second quarter, there’s significant promise care of Focus Features’ “The Place Beyond The Pines”
and IFC Films’ “Room 237,” which each managed very impressive debuts in the final days of March.
former was definitely the MVP of Easter weekend (though it was also
definitely the most marketable thanks to stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley
Cooper). Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to “Blue Valentine,” “Pines”
soared to a huge $270,184 gross on just 4 screens, averaging $67,536.
That’s the year’s second best per-theater-average (after “Spring
Breakers”) and among the 50 best of all time. It also managed to far
exceed the $48,432 that “Blue Valentine” (which also starred Gosling)
averaged from 4 screens back in 2010. All hopeful things for the
expansion of “Pines” beyond New York and Los Angeles (where its biggest
haul by far was at LA’s Acrlight).
Ascher’s documentary “Room 237,” meanwhile, also is off to a good start. A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories
about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining,”
IFC Films saw “Room” gross $36,000 from 2 theaters in New York,
averaging $18,000. What’s more, the film’s day-and-date release on VOD
saw it take the #1 spot on both the Independent and Horror charts on
iTunes all weekend.
Both “Pines” and “Room” will expand the
coming weeks and Indiewire will keep you updated in both regards with our weekend box office reports. Hopefully it’s more good news than bad…