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by Peter Knegt
January 17, 2013 12:33 PM
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Sundance 2012 at the Box Office: Charting Last Year's Acquisitions

Richard Gere and Brit Marling in "Arbitrage"

Last year's Sundance Film Festival -- like the year before it -- saw a remarkable amount of deals go down that made clear the sales drought of the end of the last decade had come to an end.  Over 40 films were picked up for release, and most of them made their way to theaters in the past year. And while there certainly were some very notable hits in films like "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Arbitrage," "Searching For Sugar Man" and "Sleepwalk With Me," it wasn't a wholly impressive situation.

READ MORE: Sundance 2013: The Complete Buyers Guide

The 2012 crop has seen only three films gross over $6 million ("Beasts," "Abritrage" and "The Words" -- the latter of which is actually the highest grossing film picked up out of last year's fest despite the fact that few seem to remember it). That's on par with 2011's slate (which was deemed a disappointing crop, box office-wise

), but well below the six films to gross $6 million from 2010's lineup ("The Kids Are All Right," "Blue Valentine," "Get Low," "Winter's Bone," "Cyrus" and "Waiting For 'Superman'"). Worse, only 11 films even managed to gross $1 million, down from 16 from 2011's slate (which was, again, a letdown itself).

That said, there were no real disasters from last year's fest either. Mostly just films that didn't quite live up to expectations (and thankfully also a few that well exceeded them).

Here's a rundown of the 30 top-grossing films to be theatrically released from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, which doesn't include largely unavailable VOD numbers that surely boosted the overall profit of many of them. It details our take on their level of success, from the big hits (we count 3) to the disappointments (we count 14).

1. The Words
Distrubutor: CBS Films
Theatrical Gross: $11.5 million
Verdict: Yep, this is the highest grossing acquisition title of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Not "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Not "Arbitrage" or "Searching For Sugar Man." But "The Words" -- which stars Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who discovers a lost manuscript, claims it as his own and becomes a literary sensation.  You might not even remember it from last year's fest, but it was actually the first seven-figure acquistion of Sundance 2012, with CBS Films winning a bidding war and releasing it this past September to the tune of $11.5 million. So why are we not sounding so impressed? Unlike every other film on this list, "The Words" got a massive wide release. On 2,801 screens, it grossed just $4.7 million over its first weekend and was completely out of theaters less than a month later. Disappointment.

Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons in "The Words"

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Theatrical Gross: $11.3 million
Verdict: By all accounts the most impressive box office performer on this list. Despite no known actors, an experimental narrative and a summer release date opposite the biggest studio blockbusters, "Beasts" has grossed over $11 million and should add a bit more through a theatrical re-release pegged to its remarkable Oscar nomination count (four, including best picture and best director). It's already the second highest grossing Grand Jury Prize winner ever (after "Precious") and in the end, it will surely take the aforementioned crown from "The Words." Remember when everyone wondered how the hell Fox Searchlight was going to pull this off?  Big Hit!

3. Arbitrage
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Theatrical Gross: $7.9 million
Verdict: Roadside Attractions followed up one of last year's most successful Sundance acquistions, "Margin Call," with another Wall Street-themed narrative that surprised many by becoming a huge fall hit not just theatrically, but on VOD. In addition to its near $8 million theatrical gross, it made another $14 million on VOD.   Big Hit!

4. The Sessions (then known as "The Surrogate")
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Theatrical Gross: $5.7 million
Verdict: Though John Hawkes missed out on an Oscar nomination and the film didn't quite break out in the way Fox Searchlight likely wanted, its $5.7 million gross (and counting -- it should top out over $6 million), still makes it a Hit!

5. Safety Not Guaranteed
Distributor: FilmDistrict
Theatrical Gross: $4.1 million
Verdict: FilmDistrict found a summer sleeper in this Mark Duplass-Aubrey Plaza comedy, which was the highest grossing comedy to come out of the Sundance Film Festival. Hit!

6. Robot and Frank
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn
Theatrical Gross: $3.3 million
Verdict: Released in late summer, this buddy comedy about an ex-jewel thief (Frank Langella) and his robot butler turned into a nice little success story for Samuel Goldwyn, slowly chugging its way into becoming a Hit!

"Searching for Sugar Man" Sony Pictures Classics

7. Searching For Sugar Man
Distributor: Sony Classics
Theatrical Gross: $3.1 million (and should add a few more $100K)
Verdict: The highest grossing documentary of the year, Sony Classics got a remarkable run out of the now Oscar-nominated "Sugar Man," which is still averaging over $1,000 per theater 25 weeks into its release.  Big Hit!

8. Celeste and Jesse Forever
Distributor: Sony Classics
Theatrical Gross: $3.1 million
Verdict: Sony Classics got almost identical numbers to "Searching For Sugar Man" out of Andy Samberg-Rashida Jones rom-com "Celeste and Jesse Forever," though expectations were definitely a bit bigger due to this one's mainstream appeal. Respectable.

9. The Queen of Versailles
Distributor: Magnolia
Theatrical Gross: $2.4 million
Verdict: Magnolia's highest grossing theatrical release of 2012, Lauren Greenfield's "The Queen of Versailles" was a documentary hit almost on almost the same level of "Searching For Sugar Man." Hit!

10. Sleepwalk With Me
Distributor: IFC Films
Theatrical Gross: $2.3 million
Verdict: After a stunning $68,801 gross from a single screen in its first weekend, IFC Films took Mike Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk With Me" to a gross over $2 million, the first film from Sundance's low-budget Next section to do so.  Hit!

2 Comments

  • Tabitha T | January 27, 2013 11:32 AMReply

    Searching For Sugar Man wasn't the highest grossing doc of the year, 2016: Obama's America was. It grossed more than 10 times as much as Sugar Man. Schoolboy error!

  • James | January 18, 2013 3:05 AMReply

    This list would be a lot more relevant and useful if you included acquisition prices.