Specialty films saw a mixed bag over the summer at the box office, though the groans of gloom among some are somewhat off-base. The Big Sick from Amazon Studios/Lionsgate was clearly a front-runner out of the gate and topped the list if one considers it a “specialty” title. Focus Features’ The Beguiled from Sofia Coppola had the best gross of any film that stayed under 1,000 locations throughout its theatrical run ($10.6 million), while The Weinstein Company’s Wind River hit $10 million last weekend after expanding to more than 2,000 theaters.
Meanwhile, Paramount’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power lays clear claim to the summer’s highest-grossing documentary with $3.3 million as of last wekkend, though it still has a way to go to take the title for all of 2017 — Magnolia’s Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro claimed $7.12M after opening in February.
There were disappointments this summer, of course, on the specialty side. Patti Cake$, which was picked up out of Sundance by Fox Searchlight to much fanfare for the $10 million price it fetched, has eked out only about $200,000 since opening August 18. Fellow late-summer release The Only Living Boy In New York has cumed under $400K since bowing August 11 despite a cast led by Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan and Kate Beckinsale. 3 Generations, an early May rollout starring Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon, barely hit $70K.
But as the summer blockbusters faced tough headwinds, some industry veterans who have made limited releases their specialty maintained optimism overall.
“I think the year has been pretty good so far,” said Amazon Studios’ Bob Berney. “I think people get focused on August because generally, business has been rough. I think it’s film-related rather than any big trend. When you see a swing, it usually is about the movies. Lost City Of Z did well in theaters this past spring and is now doing well in ancillary. Wind River is also doing well. There are smaller films that open well, but don’t continue in [subsequent weeks]. A lot of the smaller Sundance films have that challenge, particularly in the summer. These films need support.”
Added Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker: “It’s obvious that some specialized films continue to perform when aimed at a specific crowd such as female, gay or older audiences. What’s missing are the home runs. People talk about it being a weak summer because there haven’t been several of those. The Big Sick was one, but once you get passed that, there weren’t many that did huge numbers. There were some that did well, however, and we had several of those.”
Amazon Studios tapped Lionsgate to release The Big Sick theatrically, a pattern it has established with a handful of distributors for its titles since entering the theatrical distribution biz. Big Sick has so far had the year’s highest opening-weekend per-theater average of any movie when it launched in late June, grossing $421K in five locations ($84,315 PTA) — all the more impressive given that the Sundance 2017 film directed by Michael Showalter is not chock-full of A-list actors. By its fifth weekend it was in wide release, peaking at close to 2,600 theaters. It spent a month with more than 1,000 runs and, as of last weekend was playing in 700 locations. Its cume is at $39.5M.
Amazon partnered with five distributors for its seven releases from May through August. Their combined total came to about $42.9M ahead of Labor Day weekend, the bulk of which is The Big Sick but also includes The Wall ($1.8M, released with Roadside Attractions) and Landline ($897K, released with Magnolia Pictures). A24’s summer take topped $20M, with most of that coming from its wide release It Comes At Night ($13.88M), followed by early May release The Lovers ($2.19M) and July’s A Ghost Story ($1.54M). Sony Pictures Classics came in with $15.7M, lead by Maudie ($5.77M), Paris Can Wait ($5.6M) and Norman: The Moderate Rise And Fall Of A New York Fixer ($3.8M), the latter of which opened in mid-April but played in theaters through late July.
Bleecker Street spent most of its summer with two wide releases, Logan Lucky from Steven Soderbergh starring Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, as well as Megan Leavey by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and starring Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez and Tom Felton. The latter opened in June in 1,956 theaters, cuming $13.1M as of last weekend, while Logan Lucky rolled out in 3,000-plus locations August 18. Its cume was nearly $15M by the end of last weekend. Bleecker Street also worked with Amazon Studios on Lost City Of Z, which opened in mid-April, grossing most of its $8.6M total ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
On the foreign-language side, China’s war-action title Wolf Warrior 2 has cumed $2.54M since opening in late July, while the company’s Korean historical drama A Taxi Driver has totaled $1.1M since its August 11 bow. Of note is Bollywood title Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, which took in $20.1M domestically. It opened in late April, with the bulk of its gross coming before Memorial Day weekend.
As a whole, summer specialties grossed about $124M through last weekend, which compares to about $120M over roughly the same time period last year. The macro takeaway suggests the specialty marketplace is on par compared with the year before, but factors including number of films in release, the number of day-and-date rollouts and more play into comparisons.
The $124M figure does not include films like The Big Sick and others which have “specialty” pedigree, like Annapurna’s Detroit, which opened in 20 locations but then went wide (it played three weeks in wide release before going down to 525 locations this past weekend, with a cume-to-date of $16.2M) or Logan Lucky. Using those cumes would jump the total by nearly a third depending on how one defines “specialty.”
Through the final week of August, 31 titles had grosses of seven or eight figures in the specialty realm, a bit above last year’s 27, and 25 the previous year. Again, because some were hybrid limited/wide releases, the overall number of films with cumes at of $1 million or more is consistent with 2016. Some titles included may have opened ahead of the traditional summer window (May through Labor Day weekend), but had the majority of their theatrical gross landing within the time period.
“I thought it was a decent summer,” said Annapurna pictures president of distribution Erik Lomis. “It was better than last year. The Big Sick did very well. Wind River is going to get in the high teens or maybe $20 [million]. And there were smaller films like Paris Can Wait that did well. I look at it as a function of what gets in the marketplace and not time of year. We tend to cram at the end of the year, and while I understand it, we can still do business all year.”
The albatross in the proverbial room remains: how the rise of streaming, the “golden age of television” and the Netflixes of the world have moved into the premiere viewing space traditionally dominated by theatrical. But there is cautious optimism for the long-term viability of cinematic exhibition. Berney noted that theater chains like AMC and Regal have shown greater appetite for specialty titles in the recent past, though he said distributors will have to ante up more to support films they truly believe in. While he sees upheaval with the growth of streaming, he said he thinks it will ultimately be a positive overall.
“High-quality television and streaming taps the same audience as independent film with high-quality directors and stars,” he said. “It could have an impact, but I think good films and filmmakers elevates everything and floats the whole ship… It’s going to force the quality to be really great, but it raises the bar.”
He added: “Audiences want something more than Marvel, reboots and blockbusters, and I think that’s hopeful.”
Here are the grosses for select summer titles that spent time in wide release, as of the weekend of August 25-27 (source: ComScore):
The Big Sick (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate) — $39.21M
How To Be A Latin Lover (Pantelion/Lionsgate) — $32M (April 28 release)
Detroit (Annapurna Pictures) — $16.17M
Logan Lucky (Bleecker Street) — $14.9M
It Comes At Night (A24) — $13.88M
Megan Leavey (Bleecker Street) — $13.16M
Wind River (The Weinstein Company) — $10.03M (one weekend in wide release so far)
Top grossing summer films for titles that remained below 1000 theaters, as of the weekend of August 25-27 (source: ComScore):
The Beguiled (Focus Features) — $10.54M
Beatriz At Dinner (Roadside Attractions) — $7.05M
Lowriders (BH Tilt) — $6.17M
Maudie (Sony Pictures Classics) — $5.77M
Paris Can Wait (Sony Pictures Classics) — $5.6M
The Book Of Henry (Focus Features) — $4.2M
The Hero (The Orchard) — $4.02M
Sleight (BH Tilt) — $3.9M
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer (Sony Pictures Classics) — $3.8M total ($3.36M grossed May-July)
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power (Paramount) — $3.32M
My Cousin Rachel (Fox Searchlight) — $2.7M
Wolf Warrior 2 (Well Go USA) — $2.53M