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by Peter Knegt
September 6, 2011 3:01 AM
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Summer Indie Box Office Report: From Woody to Werner, The Top 10 Grossing Films

Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." Sony Pictures Classics.

Over in Hollywood, it was a pretty hit-and-miss summer. Sure, it also ended up being a record summer, with $4.39 billion in domestic revenue topping 2009's previous record. But attendance was down 1.6 percent, with sales of 525.5 million tickets compared to 534.2 million last summer. That makes four summers in a row of declining ticket sales. And numerous films were huge disappointments, from "The Green Lantern" to "Cowboys & Aliens" to "Larry Crowne."

Over on the indie side, things seemed generally less grim. Last summer, the top 10 specialty films grossed a combined $64.4 million by Labor Day weekend. This summer, the top grossing specialty film alone - Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" - grossed over $52 million, and the top ten took in a combined $95 million. Clearly, Sony Classics' unprecedented success with "Paris" skewed that data in 2011's favor, but the fact remains that even beyond Woody Allen, there was much to celebrate in the specialty market (more on "Paris"'s success here).

Films of all types broke out well beyond expectation, from quirky romance via "Paris" and Mike Mills' "Beginners" to documentaries like Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and Cindy Meehl's "Buck" (both from Sundance Selects, which had a remarkable summer when it came to documentaries) to comic British imports like Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip" and John Michael McDonagh's "The Guard." Even "The Tree of Life," which is intensely experimental and not exactly popcorn fare, managed a very respectable $12.9 million gross that made it the top grossing Palme d'Or winner since 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Yes, there were also disappointments, with Mike Cahill's "Another Earth" ($1,150,442), Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" ($970,816), Miranda July's "The Future" ($415,541) and James Marsh's "Project Nim" ($351,569) most certainly among them. The season also felt a bit front-loaded, at least in terms of success stories. After the successes of "Paris," "The Tree of Life" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" kicked things off with such a consistent bang in May, things were hard to live up to from that point forward. Though late summer sleepers like The Weinstein Company's "Sarah's Key" (which has taken in a stunning $5,210,000 since opening July 22nd) and Producers Distribution Agency's "Senna" ($885,000 since August 12th) are clearly exceptions to that rule.

Overall, though, it seemed like audiences were as hungry as ever for alternatives to the often lackluster batch of studio films that they had been fed this summer. This was apparent even among the studio films themselves, as major breakouts like "Bridesmaids" and "The Help" came out of nowhere to make yet another reminder that young men are not the only demographics that can make a studio money.

The specialty market is rarely so narrow in what it offers, though there is something notable in that regard compared to last year. A year ago, a similar story on indieWIRE heralded the major presence of women in the top grossing indies in the summer of 2010. Of the top ten grossing specialty films, four were directed by women and six featured women in the lead role(s). This year, only one film is led by a female cast member ("Sarah's Key") and only one is directed by a woman ("Buck"). The top ten this year is also extraordinarily white in both casts and filmmakers.

With that unfortunate truth in mind, here's a run down of the top ten grossing specialty films of summer 2011. For a look ahead to what might top the next season's list, check out indieWIRE's recently published fall preview.

Summer's Top Ten Grossing Specialty Films*:
1. Midnight In Paris
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $99,834/6 theaters
Total Gross: $52,926,000

2. The Tree of Life
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $$93,230/4 theaters
Total Gross: $12,909,101

3. Beginners
Distributor: Focus Features
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $28,268/5 theaters
Total Gross: $5,729,031

4. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $27,820/5 theaters
Total Gross: $5,247,347

5. Sarah's Key
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $23,142/5 theaters
Total Gross: $5,210,000

6. Buck
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $16,887/4 theaters
Total Gross: $3,831,102

7. Everything Must Go
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $3,632/218 theaters
Total Gross: $2,709,556

8. The Guard
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $19,209/4 theaters
Total Gross: $2,699,000

9. The Trip
Distributor: IFC Films
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $12,984/6 theaters
Total Gross: $1,926,866

10. A Better Life
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Opening Per-Theater-Average: $15,522/4 theaters
Total Gross: $1,759,252

*Grosses through September 4, 2011; also note that "specialty film" is defined by a film that opened in under 1,000 screens and was released by an independent distributor or studio subsidiary.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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