Fox Searchlight

'Secret' lies within a slimmed-down sked

As the specialty studio biz adjusts to the shifting sands of the indie biz, Fox Searchlight is keeping a low profile. Searchlight and Focus Features are still considered the market leaders, with Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics also in no danger of undergoing dramatic changes.

So far, Searchlight has dated just five movies for release in 2008, compared with 10 titles in 2007. The first two were docu “Young@Heart” and “Street Kings,” which bore the Searchlight label but were ultimately released by big Fox. Searchlight had high hopes for the emotional “Young,” about a group of singing seniors. It cumed less than desired, but still earned a respectable $3.9 million.

Last fall’s glut of specialty titles appears to have resulted in the studio units focusing their attention on a few select pics this season. This fall, Searchlight has two releases, “Choke” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” A Sundance pickup, black comedy “Choke” toplines Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston. And “Secret Life of Bees,” based on the bestselling tome, toplines Dakota Fanning.

In terms of its overall 2008 revenues, Searchlight has plenty of cushion, thanks to runaway hit “Juno,” released in December 2007. The dramedy grossed a whopping $143.5 million domestically and won the original screenplay Oscar. “The Darjeeling Limited” ($11.9 million) also did solid business, even if it didn’t break out, while “The Savages” earned awards attention and grossed $6.6 million.

The Searchlight team has demonstrated an above-average skill at picking winners, and it’ll be sure to draw on those powers in the months to come as it rounds out its 2009 slate.

B.O. CUME: $195 million

TOP PIC: “Juno,” $144 million

TOPPERS: Peter Rice, prexy; Stephen Gilula, co-COO; Nancy Utley, co-COO

UP NEXT:

“Choke” (Sept. 26)

“The Secret Life of Bees” (Oct. 17)

“Slumdog Millionaire” (Nov. 28)

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