By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 5, 2012 at 12:03PM
Last summer, when Indiewire reported on the indie box office for the first half of 2011, we saw a hopeful turn in comparison to the year prior. A year later, it seems reasonable to suggest that not only has that trend held, but that things are continuing to spiral upward.
At this point last year, the top five specialty releases - "Midnight in Paris," "The Conspirator," "Jane Eyre," "Win Win," and "Cedar Rapids" - had taken in $68.1 million. That was up from $45.2 million in 2010, and just $26.5 million in 2009.
This year, the top five -- "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen," "Bernie" and "Friends With Kids" -- have taken in $83.2 million. That's in large part thanks to "Marigold" and "Moonrise," which are turning into two of the biggest indie summer breakouts of the past decade.
In comparison to the specifics last year, it's almost perfectly on par with regard to the amount of films reaching important specialty milestones:
2009 - 2 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2010 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2011 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2012 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2009 - 8 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2010 - 15 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2011 - 15 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2012 - 15 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2009 - 17 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2010 - 22 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2011 - 28 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2012 - 27 specialty films grossed $1 million+
It's not all good news, though, with many disappointments sprinkled through the first half of 2012's many success stories. Indiewire recaps some of the biggest winners and most unfortunate losers of the year's first six months in the specialty market.
Check out a full chart of the top grossing specialty films so far in 2012 here.
Winner: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Never underestimate the power of an overlooked demographic. Fox Searchlight had the year's biggest indie hit so far with John Madden's older-skewing "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and Dev Patel, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" depicts a group of British senior citizens who head to India to retire. It opened in North America in May after already grossing nearly $80 million internationally. In its native UK, it's the fifth highest grossing film of the year, after "The Avengers," "The Hunger Games," "Prometheus" and "The Woman in Black." It's also the fourth best international grossing film released worldwide by Fox Searchlight Pictures, behind only "Black Swan" ($224.6M), "The Full Monty" ($212M) and "The Descendants" ($93.2M).
But who knew it would have such a remarkable following Stateside. After a massive limited debut where it averaged $27,298 from 27 theaters, the film quickly exploded -- taking in over $40 million after nine weekends of release. It ranked in the overall top 10 for six of its weekends, and still managed to rake in over $1 million last weekend from 534 theaters. When all is said and done, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" should end up with a gross around $50 million, making it the fourth highest grossing summer specialty film of the past decade (after "March of the Penguins," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Midnight in Paris"). It also should outgross both "That's My Boy" and "Rock of Ages," giving us the wonderful suggestion that Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are bigger box office draws than Adam Sandler and Tom Cruise.
Losers: Lola Versus and Sound of My Voice
While Fox Searchlight is currently enjoying a very strong start to another summer release ("Beasts of the Southern Wild," which averaged over $40,000 in its first weekend but its too soon to include it in the "winners" here just yet), it hasn't been all marigolds for the distributor this year. Two of its at-one-point-promising releases -- Daryl Wein's "Lola Versus" and Zal Batmanglij's "Sound of My Voice" -- crashed and burned.
Starring the indie-darling likes of Greta Gerwig and Brit Marling, respectively, the films' collective grosses are unlikely to cross the $700,000 mark. "Sound of My Voice" opened in April -- to quite strong reviews, one should add -- and averaged only $7,227 from 5 theaters in its first weekend en route to a $408,015 final gross. "Versus" opened less than a month ago and averaged a similar $7,954 from 4 screens, only to drop off even more quickly and end up with just $242,821 as of last weekend (and is unlikely to add more than $50,000 to that number). So Fox Searchlight, the box office gods giveth... and the box office gods most definitely also taketh away.