July 23, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY’s State of the Indies


Now that we’ve looked through all the major and mini-major Hollywood studios (Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Lionsgate/Summit) and examined their summers, today we’ll wrap up our summer studio survey with snapshots of some of the more prominent independent studios.  Summer isn’t their key season–the August/September film festivals will kick that off, and then they’ll be fully occupied through the holidays–but it does include some of their major releases.

This hasn’t been much of a summer for indies.  Last year at this time The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, both with eventual US tallies of $46M, were already in theatres, and this year nothing is remotely close to those breakout hits.  Still, there have been some modest successes.

Note:  because the nature of the independent game is that films are often acquired for US release alone or subcontracted out overseas, we’ll only look at US results here (thru 7/22), unlike the worldwide grosses we examined for the majors.

SONY PICTURES CLASSICS:  SPC usually releases its films via a steady, measured expansion that rarely peaks above a couple of hundred theatres nationwide.  Once or twice per year, though, it pushes its chips to the middle of the table and bets on a big-time hit.  That worked spectacularly 2 years ago with Midnight In Paris, which brought in $57M.  This year, though, that spot went to BEFORE MIDNIGHT, which turned out to have little appeal beyond its arthouse base.  It’ll probably end up with $8M, a tidy amount for a very small movie that centers on lengthy–and brilliant–conversations (and better than the $5-6M earned by the earlier films in the series), but not the result a studio wants from a 897-theatre release.  Other than that, summer films have included an underwhelming result for Almodovar’s I’M SO EXCITED ($675K to date), and OK returns from LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED and  FILL THE VOID ($1.5M each).  Still to come is Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE (7/26) and the Sundance rom-com AUSTENLAND (8/16), with the studio’s plans for later this year still mostly unclear. 

FOX SEARCHLIGHT:  The studio has been on a losing streak since Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, with disappointments like Hitchcock, The Sessions and Stoker piling up.  This summer it released THE EAST ($2.2M), but its big hope is THE WAY, WAY BACK, which Searchlight bought for a huge $10M at Sundance (not counting marketing costs).  It’s earned $4.6M to date and is only in 304 theatres.  This weekend will be critical, as the film more than doubles its theatre count–if its numbers can hold up, it could become the hit the studio badly needs.  Searchlight doesn’t have any other releases scheduled for the summer, with award hopes mostly resting on 12 YEARS A SLAVE in the fall. 

FOCUS FEATURES:  Focus, which is Universal’s arthouse wing, hasn’t opened anything since spring (its Place Beyond the Pines is so far the indie hit of the year at $21.5M).  Its next release is the Edgar Wright comedy THE WORLD’S END (8/23) and then the British thriller CLOSED CIRCUIT (8/28).  After that, it’s quiet till the Matthew McConaughey vehicle THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB in December. 

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY:  FRUITVALE STATION is off to an excellent start, with $1.3M in just 34 theatres.  It will expand to semi-wide release over the next 2 weeks.  UNFINISHED SONG hasn’t found much of the Marigold Hotel audience it was seeking with $1.1M.  Beyond that, Weinstein has mostly released small-scale films through its Radius division, including the documentary 20 FEET FROM STARDOM (a very good $2.4M to date) and the new ONLY GOD FORGIVES ($300K last weekend at 78).  The studio is planning a busy August, with Lee Daniels’ semi-retitled THE BUTLER,  Wong Kar Wai’s THE GRANDMASTER and SATANIC all opening in the 2 weeks before Labor Day.  After that, of course, it’s high season for Harvey Weinstein, with Oscar hopefuls like GRACE OF MONACO, MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY in the queue.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS:  The studio beautifully handled MUD in the spring, and it’s battling Place Beyond the Pines as the #1 indie of the year thus far.  Summer has been softer, with only $3.7M so far for Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, $1.5M for Sarah Polley’s tricky documentary STORIES WE TELL and a $700K opening for last week’s GIRL MOST LIKELY.  Roadside still has Lake Bell’s Sundance comedy IN A WORLD… on 8/9, then its Oscar play will be October’s ALL IS LOST, which got raves at Cannes for Robert Redford’s performance and J.C. Chandor’s direction.

IFC:  Mostly a VOD player, but the studio gave a push to FRANCES HA this season and had an merely OK $3.9M result, not even as much as director Noah Baumbach’s last movie, the less-well-reviewed Greenberg.

A24:  Sofia Coppola’s THE BLING RING got mostly indifferent reviews and slumped after a decent opening, with $5.6M to date despite a 650-theatre release.  A24 has James Ponsoldt’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW, a considerably less tabloid-y piece of work than their past releases, opening on 8/2.

CBS FILMS:  KINGS OF SUMMER was another Sundance movie that didn’t survive its trip off the mountain, with $1.3M to date.  CBS has THE TO-DO LIST opening at 500 theatres on 7/26, and then 2 major releases later this year:  the Michael Douglas/Robert DeNiro/Morgan Freeman dramedy LAST VEGAS (11/1), and the Coen Brothers INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (12/6), which got a rapturous reception at Cannes.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."