×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Summer of love for specialty labels

Crossover titles shine during lackluster season

The mainstream box office has gone limp at times this summer, but the “specialty” market has proven special indeed.

The summer box office in general is just 0.003% ahead of last summer, and with ticket-price boosts since a year ago, that means admissions are off considerably. At the same time, it’s clear that arthouse and other so-called specialty pics have been booming.

The niche market defies easy quantifying. But industryites agree that specialty exhibition is having a summer to remember.

The season had no single phenom such as last summer’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But independent distribs and studio specialty units have pumped out a consistent stream of quietly successful releases.

What’s more, arthouse pics have succeeded by sticking around (in contrast with yet another summer of one-week-wonders among commercial pics).

For example, Sony Picture Classics’ “Winged Migration,” a modestly budgeted documentary about birds, is winging its way into an amazing 18th frame of theatrical release.

Even better news is that the niche riches are widespread. Fox Searchlight tops specialty distribs with $70 million in total summer grosses. Newmarket is second with $13 million, and Sony Classics third with $11.4 million.

“Migration,” which seems to pull in potheads and nature lovers in equal numbers, was one of the summer’s more offbeat specialty releases.

And a New Zealand family pic has seen good platformed success, with Newmarket’s “Whale Rider” swimming north of $10 million.

Of the specialty pics this summer, the biggest success is Fox Searchlight’s “28 Days Later” — so successful it almost can’t be counted as a specialty pic. Searchlight went wide from the start with its horror-thriller, which had developed considerable Internet buzz prior to its release.

The Danny Boyle-helmed pic has grossed $42 million, recently bolstered by the release of a version with pic’s originally shot ending tacked on after the credits.

“That really worked,” Gilula said. “It turned out not to be a gimmick but something that’s sparked actual debate about various film issues.”

Searchlight also eked a few extra bucks from its “Bend It Like Beckham” with a late-summer re-expansion of the femme soccer drama, originally launched in spring.

Move — which has extended pic’s domestic haul to $30.1 million — keys on burgeoning commercial appeal of co-topliner Keira Knightley, co-star of Disney’s family popcorner “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

Like “Greek Wedding,” several of the top pics broke out beyond the typical arthouse audience — “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Whale Rider” drew families, while “28 Days Later” appealed to young horror buffs.

Foreign pics and docs also got a boost this summer from filmgoers tired of endless sequels.

British-French drama “Swimming Pool,” from Universal’s specialty unit Focus, has grossed $6.5 million domestically, and Miramax’s London-set suspenser “Dirty Pretty Things” has taken in more than $1.3 million although it has yet to hit even 100 theaters.

And Paramount Classics’ European drama “The Man on the Train” has steamed to a notable $2.4 million.

Docs continue on the roll kicked off by “Bowling for Columbine” this spring — “Winged Migration ” is winging toward $8 million, and there’s also been ThinkFilm’s spelling-bee docu “Spellbound,” which has rung up $4 million-plus, and Magnolia’s troubled-family snapshot “Capturing the Friedmans,” grossing more than $2 million.

But there have also been a few arthouse misfires: Specialty disappointments included Miramax’s Sundance attention-getter “Blue Car” and “Jet Lag” with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno.

Independent distribs and studio specialty units generally acquire titles for low seven-figure sums on spec, but the occasional commercial crossover sees profit in substantially higher ranges.

These pics’ summertime appeal is tied to the notion that some moviegoers will seek out alternatives to explosion-filled action pics and gross-out laffers.

“Most of the press devoted to the mainstream blockbuster films has been pretty negative, and in a way that has helped the smaller films get good press,” observes Paul Dergarabedian, prexy of B.O. tracker Exhibitor Relations. “These films come out looking great.”

The specialty marketplace will heat up again with the approach of winter’s awards season, traditionally used to promote art films to wider auds.

But industryites say at least a smattering of summer’s specialty titles could still be on voters’ minds when Academy balloting begins.

“These films tend to have better legs than the bigger films,” Dergarabedian notes. “I think ‘Beckham’ could be a factor. I don’t know that it’s going to be an awards winner, but it’s definitely had an impact.”

One or more of the summer nonfiction pics should definitely figure in Oscar’s docu category, he adds.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Germany's Leonine Buys ‘Dark’ and '4

    German Indie Studio Leonine Buys ‘Dark’ and '4 Blocks' Producer W&B TV

    Leonine has acquired “Dark” producer W&B TV from Endemol Shine. Fledgling German studio Leonine had already bought Wiedemann & Berg Film and established itself as a Munich-based movies, TV, and digital production and distribution group. It has now added the W&B TV unit to its roster. The production company is behind several big German dramas [...]

  • iHuman

    Cinephil Acquires AI-Themed Political Thriller Documentary 'iHuman' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tel Aviv-based Cinephil has acquired worldwide rights to Tonje Hessen Schei’s (“Drone”) “iHuman,” a political thriller documentary about artificial intelligence, power and social control. U.S.-based sales agent ro*co films is representing North America on the film, which will have its world premiere in the Frontlight section of Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival. “iHuman” follows the [...]

  • 'Feast of the Seven Fishes' Review:

    Film Review: 'Feast of the Seven Fishes'

    Early on in “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” two characters debate the optimal way to decorate a house for Christmas. One favors an “understated” approach, with white lights and little more; the other argues that the holidays are no time for subtlety, advocating green, red and gold sparkle as far as the semi-blinded eye can [...]

  • Queen & Slim

    AFI Fest Film Review: 'Queen & Slim'

    Going to the movies can feel a lot like agreeing to a blind date: It’s normal to feel a little wary — but also a bit excited — at the potential before agreeing to spend two hours with characters you don’t know. If the film is any good, it wins you over early on, enough [...]

  • Steven Spielberg Branko Lustig

    'He Left Me Speechless': Steven Spielberg Remembers Branko Lustig

    Steven Spielberg has offered a touching remembrance of Branko Lustig, the Holocaust survivor who produced “Schindler’s List” with Spielberg and Gerald Molen and died Thursday in Croatia. “I was heartbroken to hear of Branko’s passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends,” Spielberg said. “When we first met to discuss ‘Schindler’s List,’ he [...]

  • Dylan Brosnan and Paris BrosnanGolden Globe

    Pierce Brosnan’s Sons Paris and Dylan Brosnan Named 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors

    Pierce Brosnan’s two youngest sons, Paris and Dylan Brosnan, have been named as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced on Thursday evening. Paris and Dylan are also the sons of journalist and author Keely Shaye Smith. The ambassador(s), a title that typically goes to the son or daughter of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content