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As Blockbusters Revive Box Office and Awards Season Readies, Specialty Returns Start to Stagnate

Studio titles like "Shang-Chi" and "Free Guy" are still attracting viewers, and as the specialty world readies to roll out awards players, they remain a top draw.

“Stillwater”

Focus Features

The box office as a whole might be enjoying a robust past couple of weeks, thanks to the strength of such blockbuster fare as “Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but the specialty sector is not enjoying similar breakout hits. After a few weeks filled with strong performances by everything from “Pig” to “The Night House,” “The Green Knight” to “Stillwater,” things have slowed way down, if only to let the studios finish up the summer in fine fashion and prepare for the incoming deluge of awards bait titles.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that the past few weeks have not engendered any major speciality hits after an often interesting season at the box office. Things are flat, but as the festival winners and awards contenders start hitting screens in the coming weeks, this list is destined for big change. Look no further than next month, which will see the release of surefire specialty draws like “Titane,” “The Souvenir Part II,” “The French Dispatch,” and “Last Night in Soho.”

For now, however, there are other contenders creeping up the ranks of the year’s best-performing speciality films, like Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter,” which opened last week to over $1 million at the box office after premiering at the Venice Film Festival just last month. It might not have cracked the top twenty as of yet, but if it keeps pulling in an audience, Schrader might soon be able to claim one of the top-grossing specialty titles of the year.

Our list includes domestic (U.S. and Canada only, unless otherwise indicated) grosses for specialty films — which we define as independent, foreign (including Bollywood films), and/or documentary films — that opened in limited release (599 screens and under) in 2021. They also may include titles acquired or produced for 2021 distribution by an independent distributor (including but not limited to STX Films, Annapurna, United Artists Releasing, A24, Entertainment Studios, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, Open Road, and Bleecker Street) or a studio’s specialty division (including Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, and Focus Features).

Given the rapidly changing state of the box office world (and its attendant reporting), this list only includes movies that opened in theaters during 2021, including brick-and-mortar businesses and drive-ins. For more information on streaming and VOD box office takes, please check out our weekly updates in those markets right here. When provided, this list also includes budgets for each film. Last year’s list can be found here.

Grosses include all reported grosses (via BoxOfficeMojo or as provided by a film’s representative) up to September 14, 2021. This chart is updated every Tuesday afternoon (or Wednesday afternoon after holiday weekends).

1. “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train”
Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: April 23
Opening Theater Count: 1,600
Opening Average: $13,215
Current Gross: $47,700,000

2. “Wrath of Man”
Distributor: United Artists Releasing
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 5
Opening Theater Count: 2,875
Opening Average: $2,890
Current Gross: $27,466,489

3. “The Green Knight”
Distributor: A24
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: July 30
Opening Theater Count: 2,790
Opening Average: $2,417
Current Gross: $17,173,321

The Green Knight

“The Green Knight”

Courtesy of A24

4. “The Marksman”
Distributor: Open Road Films
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: January 15
Opening Theater Count: 1,975
Opening Average: $1,571
Current Gross: $15,566,093

5. “Stillwater”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: July 30
Opening Theater Count: 2,531
Opening Average: $2,049
Current Gross: $14,435,950

6. “The Protege”
Distributor: Lionsgate
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: August 20
Opening Theater Count: 2,577
Opening Average: $1,128
Current Gross: $7,307,791

7. “The Night House”
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: August 20
Opening Theater Count: 2,240
Opening Average: $1,276
Current Gross: $6,745,620

8. “The Courier”
Distributor: Roadside Attractions (acquired at Sundance 2020)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: March 19
Opening Theater Count: 1,443
Opening Average: $1,313
Current Gross: $6,613,432

9. “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” 
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: July 16
Opening Theater Count: 927
Opening Average: $2,145
Current Gross: $5,249,970

10. “Zola”
Distributor: A24
Budget (if reported): $5 million
Release Date: June 30
Opening Theater Count: 1,468
Opening Average: $1,125
Current Gross: $4,844,399

Riley Keough (left) stars as "Stefani" and Taylour Paige (right) stars as "Zola" in director Janicza Bravo's ZOLA, an A24 Films release. Cr. Anna Kooris / A24 Films

“Zola”

Courtesy of Anna Kooris / A24 Films

11. “Separation”
Distributor: Open Road Films
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: April 30
Opening Theater Count: 1,751
Opening Average: $1,028
Current Gross: $4,509,143

12. “Boogie”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: March 5
Opening Theater Count: 1,252
Opening Average: $958
Current Gross: $4,178,620

13. “Pig”
Distributor: Neon
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: July 16
Opening Theater Count: 552
Opening Average: $1,758
Current Gross: $3,138,900

14. “Minari”
Distributor: A24
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 12
Opening Theater Count: 251
Opening Average: $770
Current Gross: $3,110,580

15. “Dream Horse”
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 21
Opening Theater Count: 1,254
Opening Average: $633
Current Gross: $2,913,328

16. “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2”
Distributor: HEFG Releasing
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: June 11
Opening Theater Count: 420
Opening Average: $2,408
Current Gross: $2,893,660

“Here Today”

Sony

17. “Here Today”
Distributor: Sony, Stage 6 Films (acquired after production)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 7
Opening Theater Count: 1,200
Opening Average: $867
Current Gross: $2,807,494

18. “Finding You”
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: May 14
Opening Theater Count: 1,312
Opening Average: $698
Current Gross: $2,753,985

19. “Land”
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: February 12
Opening Theater Count: 1,231
Opening Average: $763
Current Gross: $2,577,830

20. “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures (acquired at Sundance 2021)
Budget (if reported): NA
Release Date: June 25
Opening Theater Count: 752
Opening Average: $861
Current Gross: $2,320,649

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