By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 3, 2013 at 2:57PM
Last summer, when Indiewire reported on
the indie box office for the first half of 2012, we saw a hopeful turn
in comparison to the year prior. A year later, it seems reasonable to
suggest that trend has held and that all is generally healthy at the specialty box office so far in 2013.
At this point in 2012 the top five specialty releases -- "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Moonrise
Kingdom," "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen," "Bernie" and "Friends With
had taken in $83.2 million. That was up from $68.1 million in 2011, $45.2 million in 2010, and
just $26.5 million in 2009.
This year is essentially on par with that number, with $80.1 million coming from "The Place Beyond The Pines," "Mud," "Quartet," "Spring Breakers" and "Before Midnight." Notably, their collective gross is much more spread out then last year, when "Best Exotic" was responsible for nearly 50% of the total. 2013 hasn't seen a breakout of that proportion (yet), but it has seen 4 films gross over $10 million (compared to 2 last year) and 30 gross over $1 million (up from 27 last year).
In fact, compared to the specifics of last year, it's been an on par year -- or better one -- with regard to the amount of films reaching important specialty milestones:
2011 - 1 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2012 - 2 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2013 - 3 specialty films grossed $15 million+
2011 - 4 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2012 - 2 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2013 - 4 specialty films grossed $10 million+
2011 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2012 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2013 - 6 specialty films grossed $5 million+
2011 - 15 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2012 - 15 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2013 - 18 specialty films grossed $2 million+
2011 - 28 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2012 - 27 specialty films grossed $1 million+
2013 - 30 specialty films grossed $1 million+
As noted, the biggest two grossers from that lot were Focus Features' "The Place Beyond The Pines" and Roadside Attractions' "Mud," which have grossed $21,403,519 and $20,495,326, respectively (the later release, "Mud" should end up slightly surpassing "Pines" in the end).
"Pines" opened to a stunning $69,864 average on 4 screens in late March before expanding to over 1,500 screens (and a position in the overall top 6 at the box office) by week 4. "Mud" was more aggressive, opening on 363 screens in late April to a $6,104 average before showing remarkable holding power in its next few weeks. Both films notably weren't the tiniest of indies. Each had very marketable names attached to them (Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in "Pines," Matthew McConaughey and at this point arguably Reese Witherspoon in "Mud"), and had reported budgets of $15 million ("Pines") and $10 million ("Mud"). That said, star power increasingly can mean very little for a film no matter its size, and strong reviews and great word of mouth were clearly the films' greatest assets. It's certainly not easy for any platform release to exceed $20 million in the first half of the year (last year, only "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" did), so for both these films to do is no small feat. Releasing these films -- both of which warrant awards buzz -- in the spring instead of during awards season was a risk that paid off nicely for Focus and Roadside (the latter of which had its biggest grosser ever with "Mud").
Speaking of "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," The Weinstein Company clearly was trying to tap into those same older audience wallets that made that film such a hit with Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet." Like "Hotel," the film is set in a retirement home and co-stars the box office and TV ratings bonanza that is Maggie Smith. The film had an awards qualifying run which resulted in nothing more than a Golden Globe nod for Smith, but that didn't seem to matter. Opening in the general deadzone for new year releases that is mid-January, "Quartet" averaged over $1,000 per theater for 14 consecutive weeks, eventually topping out at $18,381,787 (in addition to the nearly $40 million it made overseas).
On the opposite end of the demographic spectrum was the fourth and final specialty release to gross over $10 million so far this year -- Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers." Starring a quartet of actresses that were barely born when Maggie Smith turned 65 (alongside James Franco), upstart distributor A24 very smartly waited until many folks were on actual Spring Break to release the film, which debuted to a lot of buzz at Venice and Toronto last fall. It paid off to the tune of a scorching $87,667 average in its 3 theater debut, followed by a quick expansion to over 1,000 screens and two weekends in the overall top 10. In the end, the $5 million budgeted film -- which was marketed nearly exclusively through social media -- grossed $14,123,771.
It hasn't always good news. Fox Searchlight -- which last year had the bragging rights attached to "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" around this time and had just released "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- has had a particularly rough go at it so far, proving the rule that names don't necessarily mean much with "Stoker" (starring Nicole Kidman) and "Trance" (starring James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson) both big disappointments. There also haven't been as many foreign language and documentary breakouts, with really a singular example for each in Sony Classics' Oscar-nominated duo "No" and "The Gatekeepers," both technically 2013 theatrical releases. But in general, specialty distributors should be able to look at 2013 so far and be hopeful. And even just as the next month makes clear, there's a lot more to come.