Labor Day has come and gone and the 2013 summer movie season is now officially a thing of the past. Dozens of stories have already noted how it was the biggest ever for the studios (with more than $4.75 billion in grosses) despite a handful of expensive bombs ("The Lone Ranger," "After Earth," "White House Down"). But as one might expect less attention has been paid to the stellar summer it's been for the littler guys too.
Over the past ten years, the summer season has usually managed just one breakout $20 million-plus specialty hit. Seventeen summer specialty releases have hit that mark since 2003, and two of those came from this summer: Sony Pictures Classics' "Blue Jasmine" and Roadside Attractions' "Mud," with two more -- Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" and Lionsgate and Pantelion's late summer Spanish-language breakout "Instructions Not Included" -- all but assured to join them. That will give this summer a record four $20 million+ specialty titles, one more than last year's very impressive summer for specialty titles.
Last summer notably had two $40 million+ hits in "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." In the end, "Blue Jasmine" should probably fall slightly short of that as the season's top grosser (we'd bet it ends up with $30-35 million, making it one of Woody Allen's 5 highest grossing films ever), unless the week old "Instructions Not Included" ends up continuing to surprise and pushes past it in the end (which is not out of the question -- it averaged $22,593 per theater from 347 theaters last weekend, no small feat for a film few had even heard of a week earlier). But either way, this summer had a slightly more extensive spread of profitable specialty releases than last year (and was a huge improvement over the two summers before that), as these little comparative charts make clear:
Specialty films grossing $20 million-plus:
2010 - 1
2011 - 1
2012 - 3
2013 - 4*
Specialty films grossing $10 million-plus:
2010 - 1
2011 - 2
2012 - 5
2013 - 5
Specialty films grossing $1 million-plus:
2010 - 14
2011 - 19
2012 - 20
2013 - 26**
*- Assumes "The Way, Way Back" and "Instructions Not Included" cross that mark, which they certainly will.
**- Assumes "Austenland" will cross that mark, which it certainly will.
There were an impressive mix of success stories amidst those 2013 numbers, including three million dollar docs ("Blackfish," "Stories We Tell" and the huge $4.4 million grossing "20 Feet From Stardom" -- now one of the 40 highest grossing docs ever), a handful of foreign language hits (in addition to the aforementioned "Instructions," "The Grandmaster," "Fill The Void" and "The Attack" all found strong numbers), and a very diverse selection of American narrative films, with female-driven stories ("Blue Jasmine," "The Bling Ring," "Frances Ha"), African-American stories ("Fruitvale Station"), coming of age sagas ("Mud," "The Way Way Back," "The Spectacular Now"), a indie second sequel that outgrossed both its predecessors ("Before Midnight"), and a Shakespeare take from the director of the second highest grossing film ever ("Much Ado About Nothing").
There were really only two real standout disappointments as far as the specialty market went: Kristen Wiig's follow up to "Bridesmaids," "Girl Most Likely" ($1.4 million) and Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up to "Drive" ($778K). Even though the latter notably had a simultaneous digital release, that's not enough of an excuse for a film with such pedigree to not even cross the million dollar mark, while the former shows that Kristen Wiig is not necessarily a bankable star just yet (especially when the film gets bad reviews). But beyond those two, few films really performed below whatever reasonable expectations were placed on them.
Check out the top 20 specialty films of summer 2013 below. Note that quite a few of them are still in the midst of their releases, and could very well add a considerable amount to their hauls by the end of their runs.
1. Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics) - $21,774,000
2. Mud (Roadside Attractions) - $21,587,700
3. The Way, Way Back (Fox Searchlight) - $19,806,577
4. Fruitvale Station (The Weinstein Company) - $15,590,134
5. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate/Pantelion) - $10,378,558
6. Before Midnight (Sony Pictures Classics) - $8,030,414
7. The Bling Ring (A24) - $5,836,648
8. Twenty Feet From Stardom (RADiUS-TWC) - $4,405,510
9. Much Ado About Nothing (Roadside Attractions) - $4,267,432
10. Frances Ha (IFC Films) - $4,054,004
11. The Spectacular Now (A24) - $3,818,860
12. The Grandmaster (The Weinstein Company) - $3,377,378
13. The East (Fox Searchlight) - $2,274,649
14. The Iceman (Millennium) - $1,969,193
15. Blackfish (Magnolia) - $1,845,509
16. Fill The Void (Sony Pictures Classics) - $1,757,195
17. Unfinished Song (The Weinstein Company) - $1,634,532
18. Love Is All You Need (Sony Pictures Classics) - $1,608,982
19. Stories We Tell (Roadside Attractions) - $1,585,836
20. The Attack (Cohen Media Group) - $1,580,787
Grosses as of September 2, 2013, for all films released on or after April 26, 2013. Click on the film titles for more information and stories about each film.