With a diverse line-up from Love & Friendship and Cafe Society to Hillary’s America and Swiss Army Man, Specialty films made small gains overall this summer compared to last year’s hot-weather season, grossing more at the box office fewer titles.
As a whole, summer Specialties grossed about $120 million through last weekend, while last year, the total through Labor Day weekend came to about $111 million. For the purposes of analyzing the Specialty box office, films falling in that category are those released by studio specialty labels such as Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics as well as established indie distributor such as an IFC Films or Magnolia Pictures in addition to the array of smaller and boutique companies. Additionally, there were a number of Bollywood/Indian releases stateside this year, including three summer bows landing in the top 20.
Through the end of August, 27 titles took in seven or eight figures in the Specialty box office, edging out last year’s 25. Last year, however, there were five films that broke eight figures vs. three as of the last week for 2016 (a fourth, Hell or High Water, could join the group once final numbers are tallied).
Figures for this summer round-up were provided by comScore. Some titles included here may have opened ahead of the traditional summer window (May through Labor Day weekend), but reflect the “date range” gross within the period. While most people in the industry might agree on what constitutes a summer studio release, some measure of subjectivity trails the Specialties.
“In a summer that was loaded with high profile major studio films that left many reviewers and movie-goers disappointed, the specialized film marketplace provided many a bright spot during this all-important movie-going season,” said Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian. “Films as diverse as Woody Allen’s Café Society, the sports-themed documentary Gleason, A24’s fantasy/sci-fi The Lobster, the totally original and innovative Swiss Army Man and, most recently, Lionsgate/CBS Films’ acclaimed crime drama Hell Or High Water delivered some of the most satisfying, critically revered and in many instances profitable movies of the May through Labor Day period.”
There were a number of co-releases this summer, including the season’s top box office release, Love & Friendship, which opened via Amazon and Roadside Attractions May 13. The Whit Stillman directed title starring Kate Beckinsale, Steven Fry, Xavier Samuel and Chloë Sevigny bowed in four theaters its debut weekend grossing $133,513 ($33,378 average), going on to cume over $13.9 million through last weekend.
Along with the summer’s highest-grossing film, Roadside Attractions also boasts the summer’s best total at the box office among Specialty distributors, a perch it enjoyed last year. The distributor had a date range gross of nearly $26.9 million from May through the final weekend in August. The July 1 debut Our Kind of Traitor, released with Lionsgate, placed second among Roadside’s summer roster at over $3.14 million, while on its heels is last weekend’s launch of Southside With You, now about $3M.
“The reviews were fantastic and we certainly marketed that everywhere we could,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen about the release of Love & Friendship this past week. “That was true right out of Sundance so we had momentum. Amazon showed us the movie in December, so we had our materials out for a long time.”
Cohen said that Amazon’s high-profile appearance on the theatrical scene is not a paradigm shift as some had predicted, but instead the company has worked with Roadside and others on their acquisitions mostly within established convention. “They hired Bob Berney who has a lot of experience. They’ve embraced the film world and haven’t gone against the grain in terms of how it’s done,” said Cohen. “We’re doing Manchester by The Sea with them…I think they’re doing full 90-day roll outs now. Obviously you can’t get a 900 screen count if you’re doing less than that [3 month] window.” Cohen noted that their first co-release, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, last December did not include the traditional theatrical window, but he expects their future collaborations will adhere to the 90-day rule.
“You can argue back and forth about [Amazon] inflating prices, but they’ve embraced the virtues of this side of the business and are not trying to subvert it or drastically change it,” added Cohen. “That’s why we’ve enjoyed working with them. We are both working towards a common goal, which is to make these movies as successful as they can possibly be.”
Each Roadside summer release grossed seven figures aside from Love & Friendship’s eight figures. The company’s summer total includes spring debut-holdover Hello, My Name is Doris starring Sally Field, which grossed over $1.4 million in theaters during early summer ($14.44 million overall). Last year, Roadside had a summer cume of nearly $30.8 million, lead by Mr. Holmes (over $16.83 million cume) and Love & Mercy ($12.5 million cume).
Roadside’s frequent releasing partner, Lionsgate, placed second this summer with over $21 million at the Specialty box office. Lionsgate had a few wide blockbuster releases over the period, though those numbers are not included here. Two titles, Woody Allen’s Café Society starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg as well as Hell or High Water (released with CBS Films) starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, represent around 90% of the company’s limited release total. Café Society crossed the $10 million mark this past week, while August 12 opener, Hell or High Water had a cume of over $9.2 million ahead of Labor Day weekend. Over the final summer holiday, Hell or High Water was set to be in over thirteen hundred theaters. Lionsgate’s summer 2016 Specialty figure represents over a three-fold increase from summer 2015’s $6.45 million.
This year’s highest-grossing non-fiction title, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, is also the second-best title in terms of box office of the season. Directed by Dinesh D’Souza, the feature outflanked Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, which had been the number one doc of the year before Hillary’s America hit theaters ahead of the Republican National Convention in July. The film, however, has not reached the box office heights of D’Souza’s previous election time take-down doc 2016 Obama’s America. That film cumed nearly $33.5 million back in 2012. His latest will likely not reach half that number during the rest of its theatrical run.
Back on the narrative side, A24 scored with its pick up of The Lobster last February from ailing distributor Alchemy last winter. The title opened in May with the year’s highest per theater average at the time at $47K in four locations. It has cumed over $8.68 million, a total that is 30% higher than the rest of the distributor’s summer grosses combined. Swiss Army Man, which the company picked up out of Sundance, played well at the box office despite mixed reaction at the festival, with a cume at over $4.18 million, while Green Room, starring the late Anton Yelchin took in nearly $1.5 million over the summer months. Altogether, A24 totaled about $14.69 million from 11 releases that opened or were held over in summer, 2016. Last summer’s cume for the company was nearly $29.5 million, rocketed by Ex Machina ($16.8 million) and Oscar-winning doc Amy ($8 million).
The Meddler ($3.94M summer gross — $4.26M altogether) starring Susan Sarandon and Maggie’s Plan starring Greta Gerwig, Bill Hader, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore (nearly $3.34 million) were Sony Pictures Classics’ big titles of the season. The company also had some traction with Equity ($912K) and Dark Horse ($905K), all of which are the bulk of SPC’s $10.47 million total this summer. Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker called this season “tough” overall for both the studio releases and independents, though he’s seen the ups and downs before.
“The business has been spread over many movies, so there have been few hits,” said Barker. “It’s cyclical. There are definitely good movies out there. Some have [done well], but others deserved to do better.” In 2015, SPC had five titles gross over seven figures: Irrational Man, Testament of Youth, Infinitely Polar Bear, The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Grandma, which buoyed the distributor toward its $12 million-plus date range gross.
Bleecker Street’s Captain Fantastic by Matt Ross had a robust start when it opened in July with a $23,456 PTA in four theaters. The Viggo Mortensen starrer grossed over $5 million by the end of the last August weekend, representing over half the company’s summer total. Its mid-August release, Anthropoid has shown momentum, grossing nearly $2.8 million as of the last weekend in August. Overall, Bleecker Street grossed over $9.8 million, well ahead of last year’s nearly $8.17 million.
“What’s important is to keep audiences going to theaters, and I think a number of specialty releases did just that,” said Bleecker Street’s president of Distribution Jack Foley. “There were a lot of variety like Captain Fantastic, Café Society, Love & Friendship and they’re doing a great job with Hell or High Water. Even some of the studio [offerings] like Bourne helped the core audience to keep going to the movies. It’s a habit that can be easily broken and hard to start back up again.”
The summer of 2016 was a comparatively quiet one for Fox Searchlight vs. 2015. The company had only two releases over the period, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, based on the popular ‘90s British comedy series, and A Bigger Splash with Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton. Absolutely Fabulous opened in late July in 313 theaters grossing over $1.86 million its debut weekend ($5,946 average) and cumed over $4.65 million as of the last August weekend. A Bigger Splash, which opened in early May, has cumed just over $2 million. Those combined grosses along with the date range grosses from earlier releases brought Searchlight’s summer total to about $6.7 million, a contrast from last year’s $23.25 million, fueled in part by Far From the Madding Crowd ($12.23M) and Me and Earl and The Dying Girl ($6.75M).
The Orchard’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople landed in the top 10 among Specialty releases this summer at $4.23 million. The Sundance debut had its theatrical bow June 24 in five theaters, grossing $78,439 ($15,688 average). Director Taika Waititi’s last film What We Do In The Shadows “was a huge success for us, grossing over $2M in VOD/digital/cable,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson ahead of Wilderpeople’s release in June. “We know how to reach that audience and based on [What We Do In The Shadows’] fervor, we expect that audience will come out to Hunt For the Wilderpeople.” What We Do In The Shadows, which was released theatrically in 2015 by Unison and Paladin, broke $3.5M in theaters.
Other summer standouts include IFC Films’ The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Stephen Fry and Jeremy Irons, which grossed nearly $3.76M during the summer date range. Including its late-April opening weekend, the title cumed over $3.86M. And The Film Arcade scored with Mike Birbiglia’s comedy Don’t Think Twice at over $2.35 million. The feature actually still holds the title for best per theater average of the year. It initially screened in a single theater its opening weekend in July, grossing $92,835.
The following listing, with numbers provided by comScore, reflects the Top 20 specialty releases, with titles and distributors followed by each film’s opening date and summer date range gross (as of August 29).
The Top 20 Specialty Releases, Summer 2016
1. Love & Friendship (Amazon/Roadside Attractions) May 13 $13,984,602
2. Hillary’s America (Quality Flix/D’Souza Entertainment) July 15 $12,490,674
3. Café Society (Amazon/Lionsgate) July 15 $10,027,574
4. Hell Or High Water (CBS Films/Lionsgate) August 12 $8,753,319
5. The Lobster (A24) May 13 $8,686,142
6. Sultan (Yash Raj Films) July 6 $5,248,781
7. Captain Fantastic (Bleecker Street) July 8 $5,063,270
8. Absolutely Fabulous (Fox Searchlight) July 22 $4,660,667
9. Hunt for The Wilderpeople (The Orchard) June 24 $4,269,160
10. Kabali (Tamil & Telugu) (Cinegalaxy) July 22 $4,197,177
11. Swiss Army Man (A24) June 24 $4,182,740
12. The Meddler (Sony Pictures Classics) April 22 $3,947,582
13. The Man Who Knew Infinity (IFC) April 29 $3,758,799
14. Maggie’s Plan (Sony Pictures Classics) May 20 $3,339,104
15. Our Kind of Traitor (Lionsgate/Roadside) July 1 $3,146,079
16. Southside with You (Roadside/Miramax) August 26 $2,868,956
17. Indignation (Roadside Attractions) July 29 $2,807,469
18. Anthropoid (Bleecker Street) August 12 $2,780,286
19. Sing Street (TWC) April 15 $2,545,421
20. Don’t Think Twice (The Film Arcade) July 22 $2,354,867
Summer 2016 Specialty Distributor Ranking
The following listing includes select specialty distributors’ Summer 2016 date range grosses as of August 29 (theatrical only; numbers provided by comScore).
1. Roadside Attractions: $26.80M
2. Lionsgate (Specialty only): $20.13M
3. A24: $14.69M
4. Sony Pictures Classics: $10.47M
5. Bleecker Street: $9.84M
6. Fox Searchlight: $6.69M
7. IFC Films: $6.37M
8. The Orchard: $5.66M
9. The Weinstein Company: $4.35M
10. Well Go USA – $3.78M
11. The Film Arcade: $2.35M
12. Magnolia Picures: $2.1M
13. Broad Green: $1.36M
14. Music Box: $1.24M
15. Kino Lorber: $361K
16. Oscilloscope: $281K