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).