With 2012 a memory, it's time to take a look back at a year at the indie box office. Yesterday, we ran down the top 50 grossing specialty films of 2012 in a simple list format, and noted that generally the year was a big improvement over 2011 in terms of specialty-market milestones. Today we'll take a more detailed look at the biggest success stories, from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" to the many films co-starring Matthew McConaughey that weren't "The Paperboy" (which, speaking of, will be a part of tomorrow's less friendly take on 2012's box office disappointments).
The top 10, ranked somewhat subjectively, all things (budget, content, etc) considered:
1. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
The highest-grossing specialty film of 2012, John Madden's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" proved (once again) there's a huge market for older audiences. After averaging $27,298 from 27 screens in its first weekend, the film -- which stars Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy as a group of British seniors that head to a retirement hotel in India -- chugged along at an incredible rate. It spent 14 weeks in the overall top 20, despite never going over 1,300 screens. In the end, the $10 million-budgeted Fox Searchlight release took in $46,377,022 in North America, adding to the $87,976,766 it had already grossed overseas (including a whopping $32.5 million in the UK). Word is that a sequel is already in the works, and who can blame them? With a rapidly aging population in the Western world, old could indeed become the new green.
2. "2016 Obama's America"
Barack Obama might have ended up winning last fall's Presidential election, but his opponents won the box office race. The anti-Obama doc -- written and directed by John Sullivan and “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” author Dinesh D’Souza -- was intially released on a single Houston screen back in July. It grossed a promising $31,610, but no one would have guessed it would have turned into the $33 million hit it was by summer's end. Eventually expanding to over 2,000 screens and hitting the overall top 10, "Obama's America" is now the fourth highest-grossing documentary of all time -- ahead of "Sicko," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Bowling For Columbine" and "Religulous." Clearly, there's a huge market for right-wing documentary that few besides Ben Stein have really tapped into.
3. "Moonrise Kingdom"
For the second year in a row, the Cannes Film Festival's opening night slot proved a huge box office launching pad. Following the same trajectory as last year's "Midnight in Paris," Focus Features released Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" a week after it premiered at the fest, capitalizing on the buzz and finding North American audiences clearly appreciative of not having to wait until the fall to take in the Cannes selection. It broke a per-theater-average record for a live-action film, grossing $130,749 per its four theaters (that record would be broken in September by a different Anderson, Paul Thomas' "The Master") before going on to take in $45,507,865 without ever being in more than 1,000 theaters. It was also Anderson's highest-grossing film since "The Royal Tenenbaums," and could very well become his first best-picture Oscar nominee.