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.
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
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!
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
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!