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The 10 Biggest Success Stories at the 2012 Specialty Box Office

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 3, 2013 at 1:25PM

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.
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"The Intouchables"
"The Intouchables"

4. "The Intouchables" (and French-language cinema in general)
The French are certainly on a roll Stateside. A year after France-set "Midnight in Paris" dominated the specialty box office and France-produced "The Artist" dominated the Oscars, a French-language film became by far the highest-grossing foreign language film in America. Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's "The Intouchables" came to America via The Weinstein Company after already becoming a massive, massive hit in Europe (most notably France, where it grossed a staggering $166 million). The Weinsteins played it slow and steady with the release, waiting 10 weeks to expand it beyond 100 screens (and never putting it on more than 200). The word-of-mouth strategy paid off, and it still managed to average over $1,000 per-theater on the last weekend of 2012 -- 32 weeks into its release. It's grossed $10,140,608 in the US so far, topping all other foreign- language releases. Notably, many other French language films also did quite well: "Monsieur Lazhar" ($2 million), "Kid With a Bike" ($1.4 million), "Farewell My Queen" ($1.3 million), "The Other Son" ($1.2 million), "Rust and Bone" ($700K so far, but just getting started), "Holy Motors" ($500K and counting) and "Amour" ($300K so far, but even newer than "Bone" and likely to do very well). In the end, 2012 could easily see 8 French language films gross over $1 million. C'est magnifique!

5. "Silver Linings Playbook"
After winning its second straight best picture prize for "The Artist" and then having another big French produced hit in the aforementioned "The Intouchables," The Weinstein Company went into the fall with three big plays: "The Master," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Django Unchained." The first out of the box was "The Master," which had a massive opening in 5 theaters ($147,262 average!) but then underwhelmed when The Weinstein Company pushed it wide the following weekend, ending up with just $15 million to cover its reported $35 million budget. Perhaps due to this, The Weinsteins decided to release David O. Russell's family dramedy "Silver Linings" much more slowly. On 16 screens, it grossed a so-so $443,003 during its first weekend, only to turn things around as it slowly expanded, even seeing its average rise in its 7th weekend. By the end of the year, it had taken in nearly twice what "The Master" made ($27.3 million) with a whole lot more where that came from. The $100 million budgeted "Django," which was released wide on Christmas, doesn't exactly qualify as a specialty release so isn't really eligible on this list. But kudos to the Weinsteins for pulling that off so well also.

'Bully'
Lee Hirsch 'Bully'

6. Documentaries
It was a very good year for documentary beyond just "2016: Obama's America," with a eclectic quintet -- "Bully" ($4.1 million), "Searching For Sugar Man" ($3.1 million), "Samsara" ($2.6 million), "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" ($2.6 million) and "The Queen of Versailles" ($2.4 million) -- all crossing the $2 million mark (not to mention late 2011 release "Pina," which grossed most of its $3.7 million in 2012). That might not seem like a lot, but makes them all part of the 70 highest-grossing docs of all time. "Bully" was the overall top grosser among them amidst a fight between distributor The Weinstein Company and the MPAA after the latter rated the film "R," effectively keeping it out of the schools where it could the most good. The Weinstein Company ended up winning the fight, and whether the controversy helped or not, ended up up with the 30th highest grossing doc of all time. Other strong docs at the B.O.? "Marley" ($1.4 million), "First Position" ($1.1 million) and "The Imposter" ($900K, though it did massive business in its native UK).

This article is related to: Box Office, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2016: Obama's America, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook