Perhaps the biggest success story for an individual distributor this year was Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges's A24. Back in February 2013, you would have not expected this to be the case. Their first film, Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," tanked at the box office, ending up with just $45,350. But a month later, A24 released both "Ginger & Rosa" and "Spring Breakers" on the same weekend. The former did quite nicely, grossing just over $1 million. The latter, however, was a bonafide specialty blockbuster, averaging $87,667 from 3 theaters in its first weekend before going on to gross $14.1 million. And it was followed up nicely by "The Bling Ring" and "The Spectacular Now," which grossed $5.9 million and $6.9 million respectively. That gave them three films on the overall top 20 specialty grossers of 2013. Not too shabby for a first year out. Oh, and did we mention they also saved a ton of cash by focusing their marketing on social media over traditional methods? The spectacular now, indeed.
6. "Mud," "The Place Beyond The Pines" and "The Way, Way Back"
On the list of the highest grossing specialty films of 2013, the three films that ranked from four to six (after "Instructions," "12 Years" and "Blue Jasmine") were separated by less than $200,000 in their final grosses. And more over, they each -- in different ways -- are about young men and their father figures. Jeff Nichols' "Mud" ($21,590,086), Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's "The Way, Way Back" ($21,502,690) and Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond The Pines" ($21,403,519) all turned into sizable hits after distributors Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight and Focus Features picked them up out of Cannes, Sundance and Toronto, respectively. This was particularly good news for Searchlight, which made a risky $9.75 million acquisition of "The Way, Way Back" at Sundance, by far the biggest deal of the fest.
7. Films starring 79 year old British Dames.
Way, way back in 2012, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was the highest grossing specialty film of the year, taking in nearly $50 million. A year later, its stars -- Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, both currently aged 79 -- made a return to the year's specialty top 10 with "Philomena" and "Quartet," which grossed $17.3 and $18.4 million respectively (though "Philomena" should easily near the $30 million mark in the coming weeks). Not only did they both outgross the likes of youth-skewing "Spring Breakers" and "The Spectacular Now," they also outpaced the vehicles for similarly aged men Robert Redford and Bruce Dern, whose "All Is Lost" and "Nebraska" have both taken in about $6 million so far. Which suggests that not only is there most definitely a "grey dollar" from the very underserved (and growing) senior citizen demographic, but that it also skews female. And for Dench and Smith, it continues a serious roll both are on, from the noted films here to "Skyfall" and "Downton Abbey." Certainly bodes well for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2."
8. "Enough Said"
Another demographic that drastically does not have its fair share of options in cinemas are middle-aged women. Studio romantic comedies aimed at this demo are much fewer and farther between then they were in their heydays of the 1990s, and more over -- what the studios do produce is mostly garbage (unless "The Heat" counts, which it doesn't really). So all hail Nicole Holfcener and company for giving us the lovely middle-aged rom-com "Enough Said," and all hail audiences for going to see it. The film -- starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini -- has grossed $17.5 million so far, making it Holofcener's highest grossing film ever. Here's hoping this helps green light similar fare in the future.
9. "Fruitvale Station"
Though it seems unlikely to repeat the best picture nomination its Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning predecessor "Beasts of the Southern Wild" managed, it's notable that even without that accolade, Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" has already outgrossed "Beasts." Taking in $16.1 million since its summer release (compared to the $12.8 million "Beasts" grossed, even with a Oscar-timed re-release), "Fruitvale Station" is the second highest grossing winner of Sundance's top prize, after "Precious." Even if it doesn't end up getting the love from Oscar both that film and "Beasts" did, "Fruitvale" is already a winner.
10. Sony Pictures Classics' foreign language films.
Sony Pictures Classics -- which has won the last four Oscars for best foreign language film -- was dealt a bit of a shocker when the Academy snubbed its two biggest contenders, "Wadjda" and "The Past," from its shortlist (though the distributor later picked up shortlisted film "The Notebook"). But the company can take solace in the great showing its foreign films did this year at the box office. Four of them -- "No," "Fill The Void," "I'm So Excited" and "Wadjda" -- are among the 15 highest grossing foreign language films of the year, and make up four of only nine non-Bollywood foreign films to hit $1 million this year. "The Past," which just opened two weeks ago, could very well join them.
Note this article only includes North American grosses for specialty films -- indie,
foreign and/or documentary -- that opened in limited release
(initially under 500 screens -- so that's why "The Butler" or "Don Jon" aren't included, for example) in 2013 and were released by an
independent distributor or a studio specialty division. It also includes
screened only as an Academy-qualifier in 2012 ("Quartet," "The
Gatekeepers," etc). Only grosses up until December 31, 2013 are
included, and a lot of films noted could see a considerable amount of their grosses still come in 2014 (like "Philomena").