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The 11 Biggest Winners at the Summer Indie Box Office

The 11 Biggest Winners at the Summer Indie Box Office

Even with “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” swooping in at the last minute to give the studio box office a major boost, the summer of 2014 has largely been a disappointment for Hollywood (it’s the first time since 2001 that there is no $300 million grosser — though “Guardians” should soon change that). But the little guys had more to cheer about. Perhaps as a result of Hollywood fare not proving satisfactory overall, the specialty market had quite a few success stories…

READ MORE: The 25 Highest Grossing Indies of 2014 (A Running List)

Last summer, four specialty films released between May and August — “Instructions Not Included,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Fruitvale Station” and “The Way, Way Back” — went on to gross over $10 million. A year later that total rose to six (“Chef,” “Boyhood,” “America,” “Begin Again,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Belle”), with two more likely to join them in “Magic in The Moonlight” and “Cantinflas.”

We run down 11 success stories in particular with grosses listed as of September 1st. They’re also in alphabetical order — which is only fair as when it comes to indies, it’s not always about the total gross:

Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: June 27
Total Gross: $14,442,500
Initial Theater Count: 3
Highest Theater Count: 1,105
Why Was It a Success? Though our friends over at The Playlist questioned whether it was the worst political documentary of all time, Lionsgate found many Americans flocking to Dinesh D’Souza’s “America” this summer. A follow-up of sorts to D’Souza and John Sullivan’s hit conservative documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” the film grossed over $14 million to become one of the 20 highest grossing documentaries of all time (and by far the highest grossing doc of 2014). The film questions many of America’s social and economic policies as well as the intentions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Apparently audiences agreed with the cinematic polemic: The film got an A+ Cinemascore, something only 52 films have ever done (including the likes of “Titanic” and “Driving Miss Daisy”).

Begin Again
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: June 27
Total Gross: $15,628,000
Initial Theater Count: 5
Highest Theater Count: 939
Why Was It a Success? Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine, the musical romance, which the Weinsteins nabbed out of TIFF last year (and then smartly held on to for six months), grossed over $15 million this summer — topping the $9,439,923 that “Begin” director John Carney found with his breakout film “Once” back in 2007. Over Labor Day weekend, the Weinsteins gave it a big theater boost and saw an impressive $1 million added to its cume as a result, suggesting the film could bring in more box office dollars before its theatrical run is over.

Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: May 2
Total Gross: $10,726,630
Initial Theater Count: 4
Highest Theater Count: 525
Why Was It a Success? Amma Asante’s 1800s-set costume drama seemingly came out of nowhere to manage a $10 million+ gross. This is all the more impressive because it came without the star power of a lot of the films on this list had to their benefit. So definite props to Fox Searchlight for their efforts in turning this into a hit, highlighting both what an underserved market women continue to be (as a few films on this list do), as well as offering an all-too-rare example of a film directed by and starring black women making very good money. Hopefully “Belle” opens some doors for that to change…

Distributor: IFC Films
Release Date: July 11
Total Gross: $19,062,000 (but could end up with $25 million+)
Initial Theater Count: 5
Highest Theater Count: 771
Why Was It a Success? Shot over 12 years and following the evolution of a family (played by
Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater)
over that period, the critically lauded “Boyhood” was definitely one of
the season’s biggest success stories. After averaging a stunning
$77,524 from 5 theaters in its first weekend, the film has now taken in over $19 million — the second highest grossing film in IFC Films’ history after “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Still going strong and with a potential boost from awards season still to come, the film is surely making the many folks who took a chance on it — IFC Films was invested from the get go — feel pretty darn good about themselves (and rightfully so).

Distributor: Pantelion/Lionsgate
Release Date: August 29
Total Gross: $3,325,000 (but it’s just getting started)
Initial Theater Count: 382
Highest Theater Count: 382
Why Was It a Success? Exactly a year after “Instructions Not Included” began its impressive journey to a $44 million gross, proving what the market for Spanish language films in America is alive and well, the same folks behind that film released “Cantinflas,” a bio-drama about the late (and hugely popular) Mexican actor. It’s only been out a few days but its grosses so far already warrant mention on this list. While not quite the same tall order as “Instructions,” “Cantinflas” took in an impressive $2.6 million from 382 theaters to average $6,872 in its first weekend. Notably, Pantelion is a partnership between Lionsgate and Videocine, aiming to provide the very underserved market of Hispanic moviegoers with “a steady source of exciting and original films, which include top-rated Latino actors, directors and writers.” Clearly the strategy has been paying off.

Distributor: Open Road
Release Date: May 9
Total Gross: $30,242,141
Initial Theater Count: 6
Highest Theater Count: 1,298
Why Was It a Success? While not the kind of numbers Jon Favreau might be used to with his studio blockbusters, his first foray into small scale indie territory in some time was the highest grossing indie of the summer thanks to strong reviews and Open Road’s aggressive courting of the “foodie community.” After a decent start on 6 theaters (averaging $34,160) on summer’s first weekend (on the movie calendar, that is), “Chef” consistently brought in excellent numbers all summer long to become the only summer indie to hit $30 million. Hat’s off to “Chef.”

Distributor: Music Box Films
Release Date: May 2
Total Gross: $3,656,559
Initial Theater Count: 3
Highest Theater Count: 137
Why Was It a Success? A black-and-white Polish drama about a young nun was this summer’s most unlikely box office hit (seriously), with Music Box Films utilizing rave reviews to bring the film to an extremely impressive $3.7 million gross (especially since it never went over 137 theaters — by far the lowest count on this list). Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, the film is the highest grossing foreign language film of 2014 (and expect to hear more about it if it factors into this year’s foreign language Oscar race — which it likely will).

Magic in the Moonlight
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: July 25
Total Gross: $8,291,000
Initial Theater Count: 17
Highest Theater Count: 964
Was It a Success? Well many might question the “success” status of Woody Allen’s latest, it’s only because Allen has been on such a roll lately. And yes, “Magic in the Moonlight” will not come anywhere close to grossing what “Midnight in Paris” or “Blue Jasmine” did. But the fact that it will end up with well over $10 million despite very mixed reviews is still worth noting. Clearly Allen has a fanbase that’s going to come out no matter what. “Moonlight” might not have been full-on magic at the box office, but it had enough of it to become one of the summer’s seven highest-grossing specialty films.

A Most Wanted Man
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Release Date: July 25
Total Gross: $15,628,000
Initial Theater Count: 361
Highest Theater Count: 801
Why Was It a Success? Coming off an acclaimed debut at the Sundance Film Festival, Anton Corbijn’s John le Carré adaptation “A Most Wanted Man” was definitely among the most wanted options of filmgoers this summer. With an impressive cast including Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Brühl and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final performances, the film has grossed $15.6 million with a million or two left where that came from. Smart thrillers used to be something the studios produced on a regular basis, and “A Most Wanted Man” clearly filled a gap left now that that’s not so much the case anymore.

Obvious Child
Distributor: A24
Release Date: June 6
Total Gross: $3,056,078
Initial Theater Count: 3
Highest Theater Count: 202
Why Was It a Success? Making good on its own Sundance promise, A24 successfully brought Gillian Robespierre’s “abortion rom-com” to a broad audience. Aided by exceptional reviews — particularly for Jenny Slate’s star-making lead performance — the film grossed over $3 million from a screen count that never went over 202, and like “Belle,”was another example of film made by and for women succeeding in the art house marketplace.

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC
Release Date: June 27
Total Gross: $4,476,200
Initial Theater Count: 8
Highest Theater Count: 356
Why Was It a Success?  Set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a few that boarded a train that travels endlessly around the globe, “Snowpiercer” was a big hit not only in theaters (where it took in $4.5 million), but also notably on VOD. RADiUS-TWC released “Snowpiercer” on-demand only two weeks after Bong Joon-ho’s film hit theaters, and the gamble paid off. It’s grossed well over $5 million out of theaters as well.

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