As the eyes of the indie community focus on Park City for the next 12 days of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, prospective distributors may want to look back at how last year’s big titles lived and died at the box office.
Earlier today, Deadline Hollywood put together an effective chart listing the Sundance 2015 titles that earned more than $100,000 at the box office last year, which resulted in a list of 27 different titles, from current Oscar darling "Brooklyn" to tiny ensemble comedies like Joe Swanberg’s "Digging For Fire."
In quite a surprising result, Broad Green Pictures’ "A Walk in the Woods," starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, was last year’s festival’s top earner with $29.5 million. The movie, released over Labor Day weekend, is hardly remembered as the best thing to come out of Sundance 2015, but it seems like the veteran star power of Nolte and Redford was too good for audiences to pass up.
The next four films on the list — "Brooklyn" ($25 million and counting), "Dope" ($17.5 million), "I’ll See You in My Dreams ($7 million) and "Grandma" ($6.9 million) — all seem relatively well-placed given their critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. "Brooklyn" might even become the festival’s top grosser thanks to its bevy of Oscar noms.
While Deadline’s listing provides a good look at which films survived the post-Sundance crunch and which didn’t (we’re disappointed the acclaimed "James White" is stuck at the bottom with a gross of just $101,000), it also suggests an important release strategy when taken as a whole, mainly that Sundance titles from last year’s festival did way better when opening in the summer rather than in the fall.
20 of the top 27 films on Deadline’s list all opened sometime between May and August, free from the Oscar season and free from the major festival players coming out of Venice, Telluride, TIFF and NYFF.
Waiting to release films like "Experimenter," "Sleeping With Other People," "James White" and "Mississippi Grind" until the fall seemed to backfire for their respective distribution companies, and these titles might have fared better had they ridden their positive Sundance buzz into a summer release. Clearly the distributors were all hoping for some Oscar buzz, a mentality that has paid off in spades for Fox Searchlight by waiting to release "Brooklyn," but many of the summer releases were able to have great box office runs while still holding on to awards buzz until the last minute, most notably "Grandma" and "I’ll See You in My Dreams."
Other interesting tidbits are which distributors came out on top. Magnolia had the best year by far, placing five films among the year’s top 27. Fox Searchlight, The Orchard and IFC Films all had success with three each. Most shockingly, the usually successful Sony Pictures Classics only had luck with two films.
For more insight and to see the entire chart, head over to Deadline.