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Which Indie Films are Winning (and Losing) in 2012? Indiewire's Mid-Year Box Office Report

Photo of Peter Knegt 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.
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Magnolia Nabs Tribeca Doc "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
David Gelb's "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." Magnolia Pictures.

Winners: "Bully," "Marley," "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

It's been a strong year for docs so far thanks to a trio of very different breakout films: Lee Hirsch's much-hyped anti-bullying doc "Bully," Kevin Macdonald's Bob Marley bio "Marley," and -- most unexpectedly -- David Gelb's "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono.

The Weinstein Company's "Bully" -- which received a remarkable amount of press in large part to the MPAA's controversial R-rating and its subsequent PG-13 reduction -- was the definite MVP of the bunch, grossing $3,495,043 to become the highest grossing doc of 2012 thus far.  But just as impressive were the grosses for the much less publicized "Jiro" and "Marley," which took in $2,480,095 and $1,367,905, respectively.

Collectively, the films were also good news for both Magnolia and the Tribeca Film Festival. Both "Marley" and "Jiro" were released by the former, while "Jiro" and "Bully" both premiered at the latter -- suggesting its perhaps a stronger doc market than some give it credit for.

Loser: Undefeated

Despite an Academy Award, a hugely accessible storyline and the Weinstein Company behind it, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin's "Undefeated" was, yes, defeated at the box office. Averaging only $6,633 per theater when it opened the week before the Oscars, winning the actual award didn't seem to do it much good either. Never expanding beyond 20 screens, it puttered toward a final gross of $561,054.  Not a horrendous number by general documentary standards, but clearly not the usual answer to the equation of Oscar+Harvey Weinstein.

Winner: Moonrise Kingdom

For the second year in a row, the opening night film of the Cannes Film Festival opened in theatrical release just a week after it screened at the fest -- and stunned everyone with record-breaking grosses for a limited release. 

"Being Flynn"
"Being Flynn"

This year's "Midnight in Paris," Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" managed an astounding $522,996 from just 4 theaters in its first weekend -- finding the best per-theater-average ever for a live-action film ($130,749).  Its since continued to make the folks at Focus Features very happy by holding the best average of any film in release three weeks in a row before expanding into the overall top 10 thanks to last weekend's 854 screen-wide release. With plenty more where that came from, its gross now stands at $18,465,954, and it should end up the second highest grossing Wes Anderson film ever (after "The Royal Tenenbaums") by the end of this weekend.

Loser: Being Flynn

Focus Features had much less success earlier in the year with Paul Weitz's "Being Flynn." Despite a semi-marketable cast in Robert DeNiro, Paul Dano and Julianne Moore, the film opened to a so-so $10,998 average (from 4 theaters) before falling off sharply in expansion. The film ended up with just $540,152 as a final gross, the lowest grossing Focus Features-released film since Chan-wook Park's "Thirst" back in 2009. 







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