Indie Film: Quality Trumps Quantity at Box Office

Discerning auds worldwide opened up their wallets for recent smart indie offerings


Smart sells. Dumb, not so much.

If there’s an encouraging lesson to be drawn from the recent performance of independent films in the international market, it’s that intelligent movies by strong directors are being embraced by audiences, while derivative, generic and poorly executed projects are being snubbed.

Look at the most recent indie hits: “Looper,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Impossible,” “Amour,” “Side Effects” and “Olympus Has Fallen,” and contrast those with expensive flops such as “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Last Stand” and “Dredd.”

The international audience wasn’t always so discerning. But ever since the credit crunch, the global recession and the parallel slump in DVD and free-TV values, the market has become focused on theatrical quality.

Foreign buyers are shopping much more selectively now for projects with that special twist to drag cash-strapped audiences out to the cinema.
Everyone wants the next franchise, of course, but lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place.

Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight” series came to its triumphant end last fall with “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2,” whose overseas take of $537 million almost doubled its domestic gross of $292 million.

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Summit’s attempt to replicate that success with another adaptation of a fantasy novel, “Beautiful Creatures,” proved a disaster, scraping up just $20 million in North America and $38 million abroad, leaving foreign buyers with heavy losses.

FilmNation’s “Looper,” with its twisty sci-fi concept and foreign-friendly cast was a much more pleasant surprise, topping out at $110 million overseas after a healthy $67 million domestically.

“Silver Linings Playbook” surfed its Oscar wave to $100 million internationallyl, not far short of its $129 million domestic take, with only Asia failing to embrace its charm.

Driven by an all-time record of $55 million at home in Spain, “The Impossible” proved the appetite of overseas audiences for tough dramatic fare with an international sensibility, grossing $153 million overseas compared with just $19 million in North America.

The austere “Amour” and the poetic “Rust and Bone” delivered similarly impressive results in the arthouse niche, both grossing $19 million worldwide.

Antoine Fuqua also elevated “Olympus Has Fallen” to strong returns — $94 million worldwide.

On the other hand — because nothing is ever that simple — equally intelligent fare such as “Lawless,” “The Master” and “Killing Them Softly” showed how hard that trick is to pull off, falling as flat overseas as they did domestically.