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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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Winners: Friends With Kids and Salmon Fishing In Yemen

Lionsgate Takes Toronto Titles "Friends" & "You're Next"
Jennifer Westfeldt's "Friends With Kids."

Really the only two sizeable indie hits of the year's first quarter, CBS Films' "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" and Roadside Attractions' "Friends With Kids" both clearly tapped into the often film-starved adult female demographic. The former -- a romantic drama starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt -- managed $9,047,981 from its early March release.  "Kids" -- a romantic comedy which reunited most of the cast from "Bridesmaids" -- opened a week later and ended up with $7,251,073. Four months later, they are still among the top 5 grossing specialty films of 2012.

Loser: Darling Companion

Not faring so well was another film geared primarily toward female audiences: Lawrence Kasdan's "Darling Companion." Starring Diane Keaton as a woman who loves her dog more than she loves her husband (Kevin Kline), the film grossed just $767,203 despite some notable actors (Richard Jenkins, Dianne Weist and Mark Duplass also star). The first film from Kasdan ("The Big Chill," "The Accidental Tourist") since 2003's "Dreamcatcher," it's also his lowest grossing.

Winner: The Kid With a Bike, Footnote, The Raid: Redemption, The Intouchables and Monsieur Lazhar

Five foreign-language films managed $1 million+ grosses so far in 2012: Three French language films (The Weinstein Company's "The Intouchables," Sundance Selects' "The Kid With a Bike" and Music Box's "Monsieur Lazhar"), one Israeli film (Sony Classics' "Footnote") and one Indonesian film (Sony Classics' "The Raid: Redemption"). That meant 25% of the top 20 specialty grossers so far this year were not in the English language.

The French domination continued an obvious trend from last year, where "The Artist" and "Midnight in Paris" were two of the year's biggest specialty box office hits (neither of which feature much if any French dialogue, but still.).  Though the highest grossing of the quintet was actually "The Raid: Redemption," which Sony Classics cleverly expanded semi-wide very quickly and saw a gross over $4 million as a result. That made it the highest grossing Indonesian import ever at the North American box office.

This is all in addition to the stunning $7 million that Oscar winner "A Separation" -- which was released at the tail end of 2011 and thus disqualifed from this discussion -- took in mostly in 2012.

Loser: The Flowers of War

One foreign film that did not make a good impression despite a huge budget, considerable English dialogue and the star power of Christian Bale was Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War." After an Oscar qualifying run late in 2011 (that resulted in zero Oscar nominations), the $94 million-budgeted Chinese film was released on January 20th through Wrekin Hill and took in a meager $311,434. Thankfully, it's one of the highest grossing films ever in its native China.

"Bernie"
Millennium Entertainment "Bernie"

Winner: Bernie

Richard Linklater's "Bernie" just quietly crossed the $7 million mark this past weekend, which is a pretty notable feat.  The film is already far and away the highest grossing film ever for distributor Millennium Entertainment (which never had a film cross the $1 million mark before), and should top "Dazed and Confused" in the next week or so to become Linklater's highest grossing independently released film (three of his studio efforts -- "The School of Rock," "Bad News Bears" and "The Newton Boys" -- have all grossed more).  

Millennium bought the film -- budgeted at a reported $6 million -- out of last year's Los Angeles Film Festival, not typically a breeding ground for big buys.  They opened the film nearly a year later on April 27 on three screens, to a promising $28,602 average. What followed was a slow-and-steady approach, with the film's screen count peaking at 332 seven weeks later. Remarkably, the film managed nine straight weeks of averages above the $2,000 mark. It even saw its average jump from $2,062 to $2,215 in its whopping ninth weekend of release.

Still on 166 screens,"Bernie" is likely to end up with a gross around $9 million -- a mark only 3 limited releases ("Marigold Hotel," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Salmon Fishing In Yemen") have managed this year.

Losers: A Little Bit of Heaven

While celebrating the success of "Bernie," Millennium is trying to forget "A Little Bit of Heaven" -- a romantic comedy revolving around a terminal cancer patient.  Released in the UK and parts of Europe well over a year ago, the film was dumped by The Weinstein Company until Millennium saved it from non-release purgatory. But after absolutely wretched reviews, the film -- which stars Kate "I've Only Made One Good Movie" Hudson and Gael Garcia "Fire My Casting Agent" Bernal -- opened to a per-theatre-average of $894, suggesting something like 115 people saw it in each theatre. It eventually managed a final gross of $15,375, making it a likely contender for the year's biggest specialty box office bomb.

Check out a full chart of the top grossing specialty films so far in 2012 here.






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