Let's make one thing clear: There's certainly been no "Hunger Games"-equivalent for the specialty market. Last year, while the studios weathered a very disappointing first quarter -- dropping 20% from the previous year, the specialty market was very strong from January to March.
This year, it indeed seems like the situation has -- to a degree -- flipped around. For more in that regard, and many hopeful notes as well -- check out Indiewire's winners and losers of 2012's specialty box office (so far):
Winners: "The Artist" and "The Descendants"
Oscar helped give 2012 its MVPs in two holdovers released way back in November, 2011: The Weinstein Company's "The Artist" and Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants." Two of the biggest nominees at this year's Academy Awards (with the former also the night's biggest winner), the films collectively grossed over $83 million in 2012, and are the only specialty films to gross over $30 million individually this year.
Loser: 2012 So Far In General
On the flipside, "The Artist" or "The Descendants" failed to compare to last year's Oscar duo, which coincidentally came from the same pair of distributors: The Weinsteins' "The King's Speech" and Searchlight's "Black Swan." Their combined gross was $184 million, over double that of the 2012 duo. And while comparing best picture winner to best picture winner seems unfair given "The King's Speech" had considerably more marketability in its cast and, well, sound, it remains notable that The Weinsteins couldnt manage $50 million out of "The Artist" given all its hype.
This comparison represents a general trend in this year vs. last year. Check out this comparison of the past three first quarters for specialty releases.
First Quarter 2010
Number of Films To Gross $1 million or More: 16
Total Gross of Top 20 Specialty Films: $106 million
First Quarter 2011
Number of Films To Gross $1 million or More: 21
Total Gross of Top 20 Specialty Films: $245 million
First Quarter 2012
Number of Films To Gross $1 million or More: 18
Total Gross of Top 20 Specialty Films: $185 million
Also notable is that last year at this point, 4 films had debuted to averages above $25,000 per theater -- "Jane Eyre," "Bill Cunningham, New York," "Win Win" and "Kill The Irishman." This year so far, none have. The best limited debut belongs to "Footnote," which averaged $23,764 on 2 screens.
Overall, though, it's a mild enough contrast not to warrant too much cause for concern. 2012 is well above the noted 2010 figures, for one. And there's also been as many bright spots for the sore ones, as the next few pages of more specific winners -- and losers -- can attest.