Indie Summer? Independent, foreign films and documentaries made tiny marks this summer

belleI guess it was looking over the box office take of “Boyhood,” the most acclaimed film of the summer and certainly independent cinema’s darling of the year, that prompted this perusal of the box office tallies of the offbeat.

Summer is dominated by studio blockbusters — action pics and cartoons and comic book movies. But there’s always a worthy documentary or French comedy or boutique studio drama or farce that punches through the ennui and leaves a mark.

“Boyhood” fills that bill on several counts. It almost cracked the top ten at the box office last weekend, adding a couple hundred theaters to flesh out its release to a robust (for indie film) 771 screens. But the per-screen average has plummeted, and increasing the screen count by a third only inched it up near the $2 million mark. That appears to be a topping out point, with the movie well over $13 million and August fading into the sunset. It could reach $20 million, which makes this $4 million pic a hit. But if it sticks in theaters well into September, that would be a miracle.

Then again, Woody’s Allen’s latest, “Magic in the Moonlight” is on a lot more screens and already peaked and fading, well shy of $10 million. He is back to where he was before “Midnight in Paris.” His movies used to be $10-20 million wheezers, until that one gave him his biggest hit.

“Boyhood”‘s $13 million take is in the ballpark of “Belle,” the slave era Brit period piece that opened the summer. It is still in theaters, but barely cleared $10 million.

“Begin Again” has a couple of name stars and has cleared $13, based on Keira/Ruffalo appeal.

“America: What Would Happen If I Had Never Come Here to Attend College and Stayed to Tell Tea Party Conservatives What They Want to Hear” was the biggest hit documentary of the summer, but it won’t reach $15.

The Roger Ebert doc, an actual Oscar contender, has been out almost two months and is nowhere within sight of its first $1 million. And “Supermensch,” the Whitey Bulger crime doc and the food expose “Fed Up” didn’t add up to $2 million, all together.

You don’t expect worthy little films such as “Happy Christmas” (Anna Kendrick, mumblecore rom-com), “Land Ho!” or “Obvious Child” to climb the charts in between releases of “22 Jump Street” and “Planes 2.”

“Filth” and those other films (“The Double” with Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska) operate under a different business model, though you have to wonder had they been released into more theaters in early spring or fall if they’d made more, theatrically. They make their cash on the home video/Netflix end of the equation.

“Snowpiercer” got a boutique release. With a cast built around Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, that one seems to have suffered from a lack of love in the front office (director’s cut dispute) and won’t clear $5 million.

Here’s how to market a modest film — Open Road’s handling of “Chef.” It had pop appeal, it had Jon Favreau doing the rounds, drumming up interest in it in May. A small rollout, rapidly boosted to enough screens for everybody to have a chance to see it, and then word of mouth kept it around all summer. Closing in on $30 million.

And how will they top that? Just this afternoon, Open Road announces it is rolling the film back out into theaters in wide release the weekend of Aug. 29. So if you missed it, you have one last chance to catch it on the big screen.

This entry was posted in previews, profiles and movie news, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.