The 2017 Sundance Film Festival provided one of the strongest markets on record. The box-office results, however, tell another story. While big buy “The Big Sick” was a big hit, second only to “Lady Bird” in the specialty marketplace, many smaller Sundance films remained just that: small, often earning less than their acquisition costs.
For some movies, small is a victory. Kogonada’s “Columbus,” which screened in the 2017 NEXT section, received the Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Fellowship grant to fund its inaugural self-distribution partnership. “Columbus” grossed more than $1 million — more than Fox Searchlight’s “Patti Cake$” ($9.5 million buy, less than $1 million domestic), and more than one might expect for a meditative romance set among the architecture of Columbus, Ind.
Three Sundance 2107 films — “Get Out” (Universal), “The Big Sick” (Amazon/Lionsgate) and “Wind River” (Weinstein) grossed over $250 million combined in domestic theaters. However, only “The Big Sick” came to Sundance without a distributor. Beyond these three, all other Sundance releases combined made less than $55 million to date. The combined box office results to date for all titles in the 2017 U.S. Competition total about $10 million.
Of course, most Sundance buys had no (or nominal) theatrical release: films won by Netflix, Amazon Video Direct, and other streaming platforms, including Netflix’s $12.5 million buy of “Mudbound.” In sheer volume, nontheatrical platforms are now the dominant buyers of festival films — but since they don’t provide viewership numbers, they’re beyond our discussion here. (IndieWire will cover these in a future article.)
For those that did go the box-office route, here’s what we learned.
Last year, three films in the Premiere section soared: “Get Out” at $175 million, “The Big Sick” with $43 million, and “Wind River” at $34 million. All did top business, and well outside the lucrative year-end awards and holiday period.
However, even as one of the year’s best specialty releases, “The Big Sick” is ultimately a streaming play. At $12 million for mostly North American rights, along with marketing expenses and Lionsgate’s distribution fee, its ultimate value comes from its centerpiece streaming availability on Prime (and lack of visibility on rival Netflix).
Sony Pictures Classics picked up another Premiere title, “Call Me By Your Name,” just before the festival, reportedly paying more than $6 million for worldwide rights. That was a savvy buy: Still in release, it’s made $7.4 million domestic to date and is expected to score multiple Oscar nominations next week.
Open Road Films saw $12.2 million with “Before I Fall,” which it purchased at the 2016 Cannes market; however, that number required a wide release. Another decent performer was “Beatriz at Dinner” (Roadside Attractions), at $7 million.
The list of films that didn’t deliver on their box-office promise is considerably longer.
“Patti Cake$” became the big Sundance story twice last year: once for its $9.5 million festival deal with Fox Searchlight, and again this summer when it failed to make $1 million. Another Fox Searchlight buy, documentary “Step,” did slightly better: $1.1 million on a nearly $5 million buy, but the deal also included remake rights. Paying about $3 million for North America, competition title “The Hero” was a minor disappointment for The Orchard at $4 million.
Sony Pictures Classics’ two acquisitions, “Novitiate” and “Brigsby Bear,” grossed a little more than $1 million combined. Likewise, IFC’s four acquisitions —”Band Aid,” “Crown Heights,” “Rebel in the Rye,” and “Walking Out” — made about $1 million combined. Amazon snatched up U.S. rights to “Landline” for $3 million; released through Magnolia, it fell short of $1 million. Gunpowder & Sky paid over $1 million for Midnight selection “The Little Hours;” it grossed $1.6 million. FilmRise had two nonstarters in “Marjorie Prime” ($180,000) and “Manifesto” ($161,000).
Neon took “Beach Rats,” which earned Eliza Hittman the Directing Award, but the film stalled at $474,000. Tom Quinn and Tim League’s distribution company also paid $3 million for worldwide rights with “Ingrid Goes West,” which made $3 million in North America. However, despite Neon winning a reported all-night bidding war for “Roxanne Roxanne” and paying nearly $3 million for North American rights, that film is now slated to be a Netflix premiere in March.
Paramount production “An Inconvenient Sequel” made $3.5 million domestic — enough to make it the year’s number-three documentary at the box office, but probably not enough to turn a profit. “The Last Word,” which Bleecker Street bought in November 2015, made just $1.8 million. Fox Searchlight’s “Wilson” bombed at $654,000. Ultra low-budget production “A Ghost Story,” acquired by A24 just days before the festival, made $1.6 million.
From the international competition, the only title to gross as much as $100,000 was the U.K.’s “God’s Own Country.” South Africa’s “The Wound” grossed just $20,000 through Kino Lorber, but it’s one of the nine titles on the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist.
Over $100 million
|Get Out (Premiere)||Universal||$175.7 Million|
- “Get Out” was a Universal production scheduled for 2017 release.
Over $40 Million
|The Big Sick (Premiere)||Amazon/Lionsgate||$42.9 million|
Over $30 million
|Wind River (Premiere)||The Weinstein Company||$33.9 million|
- “Wind River” was initially acquired by Weinstein in May 2016, then appeared to have been dropped, only to be finalized during Sundance.
Over $10 million
|Before I Fall (Premiere)||Open Road Films||$12.2 million|
- Open Road acquired “Before I Fall” in May 2016, with its March 2017 release set at the time of the festival.
Over $4 million
|Call Me By Your Name (Premiere)||Sony Picture Classics||$7.3 million *|
|Beatriz at Dinner (Premiere)||Roadside Attractions||$7.1 million|
|The Hero (Premiere)||The Orchard||$4.1 million|
- SPC acquired “Call Me By Your Name” immediately prior to the festival.
Over $1 Million
|An Inconvenient Sequel
|Their Finest (Spotlight)||STX||$3.2 million|
|Colossal (Next)||Neon||$3.0 million|
|Ingrid Goes West
(U.S. Dramatic Competition)
|The Last Word (Premiere)||Bleecker Street||$1.8 million|
|Menashe (Next)||A24||$1.7 million|
|The Little Hours (Midnight)||Gunpowder & Sky||$1.6 million|
|A Ghost Story (Next)||A24||$1.6 million|
|Lady Macbeth (Spotlight)||Roadside Attractions||$1.1 million|
|Step (U.S. Documentary)||Fox Searchlight||$1.1 million|
|Columbus (Next)||Superlative||$1.0 million|
- “An Inconvenient Sequel,” “Their Finest,” “The Last Word,” and “Lady Macbeth” were acquired or produced in advance of the festival, with “A Ghost Story” immediately before Sundance.
|Landline (U.S. Narrative)||Amazon/Magnolia||$.9 million|
|Frantz (Spotlight)||Music Box||$.9 million|
|Patti Cake$ (U.S. Narrative)||Fox Searchlight||$.8 million|
|Wilson (Premiere)||Fox Searchlight||$.7 million|
|Novitiate (U.S. Narrative)||Sony Pictures Classics||$.6 million|
|Dolores (U.S. Documentary)||PBS||$.6 million|
|Brigsby Bear (U.S. Narrative)||Sony Pictures Classics||$.5 million|
|Raw (Spotlight)||Focus World||$.5 million|
- “Frantz” was acquired in September 2017 by Music Box, while “Raw” was acquired the previous July with the intention of a theatrical/streaming parallel release.
|Rebel in the Rye (Premiere)||IFC||$.4 million|
|God’s Own Country (World Narrative)||Goldwyn||$.4 million|
|My Life As a Zucchini (Kids)||GKids||$.3 million|
|Gook (Next)||Godlwyn||$.3 million|
To Be Released
|The Golden Exits (U.S. Dramatic)||Vertical||Feb. 2018|
|Thoroughbred (Next)||Focus||March 2018|
|The Yellow Birds (U.S. Dramatic)||Saban||Spring 2018|