The Sundance narrative films are always the hot properties going into the festival, but many of these star-studded films fade while starless films often surprise. Here’s a look at how the narrative films from the 2012 festival performed.



They acquired the audience and jury prize winners from the US Dramatic competition and both have scored Oscar nominations. The Sessions was acquired for worldwide rights for $6 million and with a $4 Million P&A (prints & advertising) minimum. It has grossed $5,818,544 in North America an additional $3,135,887 overseas. The film has since sold to dozens of territories. Beasts of the Southern Wild, meanwhile played in theaters for a whopping 20 weeks and despite never being in more than 318 theaters (60% of the max count for The Sessions at 516) grossed more than every Sundance film from 2012 except for one. Its gross stands at $11,539,605. Furthermore, it was bought at a bargain of under a $1,000,000. It has also been released in over a dozen countries that have reported box office grosses with many more sure to come in light of its best picture Oscar nominations insuring that the film will more than make back its $1.8 million dollar budget.


SPC is really known as the best company for foreign films in the US and being the latest champion of Woody Allen, but they continue to be very prominent at Sundance. They snatched up two high profile narrative films that performed on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum.

Smashed was acquired for $1,000,000 on the strength of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance. Unfortunately, it is not easy to market a serious movie about 20 somethings attempting to get sober. Despite decent if not great reviews, it will max out at under $400,000 gross even though it received the typical maximum playout that SPC has to offer with its run peaking at 50 screens. Once P&A are accounted for this film is pretty much a loss for SPC.

Celeste and Jesse Forever performed much better at the box office grossing $3,094,813, but it went as wide as 586 screens and only had 5 weekends where it averaged a  PSA (per screen average) of over $1k. Acquired for $2,000,000, this film is most likely a slight loss for the distributor, but a big profit to the filmmaker who had a reported budget of under $900,000. It has grossed just over $200,000 from releases in 8 other countries.


28 Hotel Rooms barely played in more than 10 theaters and grossed $18,869. With so few locations, the focus was clearly on digital/VOD. For a NEXT film (meaning micro budget), it is far from a terrible gross and given poor to okay reviews. Hello I Must Be Going was an opening day film at the festival, but despite playing in more theaters during its run and not being available on VOD, it only managed $106,709. At its widest, it played in 15 theaters, but the expansion was too quick and the film fizzled fast.


There are really two types of IFC releases in theaters. One is play a week at IFC Film Center in New York City and maybe one more location and the rest of the run is on VOD. The other is a theatrical push. In most cases, any late acquisitions announced well after a festival has wrapped fall into the former. Later acquisitions Price Check (2 theaters,$7,413 gross), Young and Wild (2 theaters, $5,514), and Save the Date (2 theaters, $5,719 gross)  have all grossed less than $10k in one week of theatrical release. Also not passing that threshold are The Pact and Why Stop Now (3 theaters, $2,432 gross) . As a horror film, The Pact likely performed much better on VOD, covering its mid six figure acquisitions price. The other films were targeting minority communities (Young and Wild) or relying on stars (Save the Date and Why Stop Now ) to push ill-reviewed films. VOD was not reported, but most likely these other films were all acquired for under $100,000. They should all eventually prove profitable for IFC, but not the filmmakers.

In contrast Liberal Arts has grossed $327,345 which is more than Josh Radnor’s  prior film Happythankyoumoreplease, but that film was dumped into the marketplace over a year after it won the audience award. Liberal Arts had the hot young actress Elizabeth Olson as a co star and produced a so-so gross for its over $1,000,000 acquisition price, meaning it had to do stellar on VOD, foreign and other ancillaries to be profitable

Sleepwalk With Me meanwhile  relied on a built in audience to get the message across and is truly something unique that is not easily duplicated by other indie films. It had the boost of winning Best of NEXT Audience Award at Sundance, a prime follow up at SXSW, Birbiglia’s comedian following and with, Ira Glass as producer, a tie in to “This American Life” which has a very loyal following. The film grossed $2,266,067 on 135 screens at its peak, stayed in theaters for 3 months and was followed very closely by a cable VOD release.  

This has not been a particularly strong year for IFC, but Sleepwalk With Me is its highest grossing film theatrically and the filmmakers themselves heavily promoted the film instead of relying on higher cost promotional/marketing methods as the central way of getting out the word. All parties worked overtime to push the film and it is not a model that an unknown would be able to ever duplicate.


Magnolia admitted that part of the reason it was not financing the awards campaign for Ann Dowd for Compliance was because the film lost money. While this controversial film is the third highest grossing film ever from the Next section and $319,285 is nothing to cry about, the film was also not released day and date VOD as is typical for the distributor. In its first week it amassed $43,346 on one screen, but it did not hold up well in expansion. It topped out at 21 screens in its fourth week and while the acquisition price wasn’t reported, it most likely was no more than low six figures. I think this is a case of unrealistic expectations.

V/H/S played in almost as many theaters and only grossed $100,345 (releasing in October, naturally), but as with The Pact its money came from VOD and a sequel (S-V/H/S) was quickly put through which was at this year’s fest (picked up for release by IFC). Even though $1,000,000 was spent to acquire it, this film should prove to be pretty profitable.

Meanwhile, Nobody Walks was only in theaters for 5 weeks and never played on more than 7 screens, grossing a measly $25,342 . It was acquired for mid-high six figures and the focus was clearly always on VOD. While VOD was not reported, given the cast and producing powers it is likely to have recouped.

Magnolia also released 2 Days in New York, the sequel to 2 Days in Paris to the tune of $633,210 and Magnet came to the festival with Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie which did okay theatrically with $201,406.00 and both likely had a robust life in the digital sphere.


Tribeca Film released two US Dramatic entries. For Ellen grossed $12,396 on 3 screens for 7 weeks despite the presence of Paul Dano. The Comedy however has grossed     $41,113 on 4 screens for 8 weeks and the bulk of that coming from one screen in NY capitalizing on its Brooklyn setting. Both did day and date, but I imagine The Comedy outperformed For Ellen there too.


Keep the Lights On and Middle of Nowhere did almost identical business. Middle of Nowhere was released by writer/director Ava DuVernay’s distribution company AFFRM and played in a mix of major urban megaplexes and arthouse theaters, grossing $236,806 on 25 screens for a total of 9 weeks in theatrical release. Keep the Lights On had the backing of Music Box Films and relied heavily on screens from Landmark and specialty houses in LGBT dominant markets. The film grossed $246,112 on 10 screens for a total of 16 weeks in theatrical release. Red Hook Summer hired Variance Films for its DIY theatrical and grossed $338,803 on 41 screens for total of 11 weeks in theatrical release. The Spike Lee feature was made for under $1,000,000. While it grossed more than the two films above, it did so with a brand name director.

Safety Not Guaranteed was acquired by Film District for over $1,000,000 and grossed $4,010,957 on 149 screens for a total of 19 weeks in theatrical release. The film only cost $750,000 to make and has had some international success too.

Focus Features paid over $2,000,000 for worldwide rights to For a Good Time Call but the film only grossed $1,251,749 in the US and a little over $100,000 in the UK. This may seem bad, but the film was available on VOD when it opened and has been a top performer on iTunes. It never played in more than 107 theaters. The film cost $1,300,000 to make so it also turned a nice profit for the producers.

The $2.5 Million budgeted Robot and Frank was acquired by Sony and Samuel Goldwyn for over $2 Million and grossed over $3.3 Million theatrically. It has grossed another almost $500,000 internationally.

But the big success is Roadside Attraction’s Arbitrage which they paid over $3,000,000 for and chose to do VOD/Theatrical. It has grossed almost $8,000,000 and equaled that on VOD.

Lastly, The Words was the only Sundance 2012 film to get a wide release, 2801 screens. CBS bought the closing night film for $2,000,000. It managed $11,494,838 barely out performing Beasts of the Southern Wild.


Image debuted the star studded film Goats on four screens to a PSA of under $500 and its theatrical run quickly ended in one week. The film was acquired for almost $1,000,000 coming nowhere close to the film’s $5,000,000 Budget. A loss for all involved.

California Solo is still in theaters, but with a current gross of $15,433 on 2 screens for the last 6 weeks, it is not a breakout for Strand Releasing. Unlike a lot of recent Strand acquisitions from Sundance, it actually received a theatrical release.

Teddy Bear is one of the few world dramatic films to sell and though it only grossed $16,138  for Film Movement, this is a notable success. It is a foreign mumblecore film with no name actors and it out grossed other films that have been released from the same programming section.

Sony Worldwide’s release of The First Time will likely be its last since the film couldn’t get over $25k despite opening in 19 theaters. The theatrical only lasted one week.

Madrid, 1987 and That’s What She Said did not report grosses. The latter shared screens in LA and NY then immediately went digital courtesy of Phase 4. The Film Collaborative handled the theatrical for Mosquita Y Mari. While it grossed under $15k, it is the highest grossing Lesbian narrative of 2012 that received theatrical release.


TWC Radius release Lay the Favorite is a domestic theatrical flop and not likely to justify the acquisition price of over $2,000,000. Lay the Favorite grossed only $20,998 theatrically in the US and has barely grossed over $1,000,000 abroad. Considering the production cost was $20,000,000, there are probably a lot of angry investors.

Their second acquisition, Bachelorette, cost a fraction of that production budget at $3,000,000 and has grossed almost $10,000,000 overseas ($447,954 domestically) and debuted at #1 on iTunes. The advance cost was $2,000,000. It will recoup for investors and may ultimately do so for TWC thanks to the likes of Rebel Wilson.

Millennium meanwhile is probably questioning paying just under $4,000,000 for Red Lights which grossed a puny $ 52,624 at the box office. With the star power and being a genre film, it is likely to have performed much better on other outlets, though the path to profit would be daunting at that acquisition price.  It has made over $13,000,000 overseas theatrically. Despite that, it is possible it won’t make back it $17-20 Million production budget.


  • While VOD adds costs to a theatrical, it is often a win-win for distributors and filmmakers.
  • NEXT films are doing better at the box office, but still not measuring up to the box office of the US Dramatic films.
  • 9 of the 38 Narrative releases grossed over $1,000,000 (5 premiere, 3 US Dramatic, 1 Next)
  • 8 of the 38 narrative releases failed to gross over $10k at the box office (3 Premiere, 2 World Dramatic, 1 US Dramatic, 1 Next, 1 Midnight)


Sundance received over 12,000 submissions for under 200 slots at the 2013 festival. You are more likely to get into Harvard than you are into Sundance. Yet a number of people manage to do it multiple times and even in the same year. Here are the double and triple players.

David Lowery co-wrote and co-produced Pit Stop and also wrote/directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and edited Upstream Color. All were official selections at Sundance this year.

James Franco and Vince Jolivette each have Interior. Leather Bar, Lovelace, and Kink. Jolivette is a producer on all three films. Franco co-wrote and stars in Interior. Leather bar, stars in Lovelace and directed Kink.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars A.C.O.D and The Spectacular Now. Her costar in The Spectacular Now, Brie Larson, is also in Don Jon’s Addiction.

Juno Temple is in Afternoon Delight and Lovelace.

Casey Wilson co-wrote and stars in Ass Backwards and is also in C.O.G

Amy Seimetz is not only one of the stars of Pit Stop, but this indie darling is also in Upstream Color.

Table for your reference of the docs and narratives from Sundance 2012

Film Company Deal Amount Terrtitories Sales Company Box Office/Release Section Budget Other Theatrical Countries with reported grosses Additional Countries with a release International Grosses
Bestiaire Kimstim Films US $1,428.00 New Fron NA NA  NA
Putin’s Kiss Kino Lorber N/A North America N/A $9,114.00 world doc NA Denmark  NA
The Law in These Parts Cinema Guild US Liran Atzmor, Produce $10,309.00 World Doc NA NA  NA
China Heavyweight Zeitgeist N/A US EyeSteelFilms $10,550.00 World Doc NA Japan  NA
Payback Zeitgeist N/A US N/A $17,979.00 World Doc NA Canada  NA
The Ambassador Drafthouse Films N/A US Trustnordisk $28,102.00 World Doc NA NA  NA
West of Memphis SPC N/A Worldwide Peter Jackson and Ken Kamins $46,307 Doc Premiere NA Portugal, United Kingdom  NA
The Invisble War Cinedigm and New Video N/A North America The Film Collaborative $62,649.00 US Doc NA NA  NA
5 Broken Cameras Kino Lorber N/A US CAT&Docs $74,571.00 World Doc $250,000 United Kingdom Canada, Japan, Sweden $36,372.00
Escape Fire Roadside N/A US CAA $87,577 US Doc NA NA  NA
Marina Abramovic Music Box N/A US Submarine $86,637.00 us doc Austria, Italy, Poland, Russa, Ukraine France, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom $57,127.00
How To Survive a Plague Sundance Selects High Six Figures North America Submarine $123,814.00 US Doc NA NA  NA
The Other Dream Team Film Arcade & Lionsgate Mid Six Figures North America WME $135,228.00 US Doc NA NA  NA
The House I Live In Abramorama US Theatrical $186,059 US Doc United Kingdom $8,407.00
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap Indomina Over $1,000,000 Worldwide UTA $288,312.00 doc premiere United Kingdom NA $45,388.00
Detropia DIY $377,219 US Doc NA NA  NA
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Sundance Selects N/A North America Cinetic Media, Victoria Cook $489,074.00 US Doc Austria, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom Denmark, Sweden, Taiwan $334,911.00
Shut Up and Play the Hits Oscilloscope N/A North America WME $510,334.00 Midnight United Kingdom Germany, Portugal $118,773.00
Chasing Ice Oscilloscope N/A US  (Non TV) Submarine $940,300 US Doc NA NA  NA
The Imposter Indomina N/A North America A&E Films $898,317.00 World Doc Denmark, Russia, United Kingdom Australia, France, Ireland, Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden $1,870,940.00
The Queen of Versailles Magnolia Mid Six Figures North America Submarine $2,401,999.00 US DOC United Kingdom NA $93,707.00
Searching for Sugar Man SPC Mid Six Figures North America Submarine $3,095,075 World Doc Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates France, Germany, Netherland, Norway $2,203,958.00
Indie Game: The Movie HBO And Scott Rudin
(Remake Rights)
N/A TV Film Sales Company B.O. Gross not
world doc NA Taiwan  NA
Big Boys Gone Bananas DIY Theatrical US B.O. Gross Not Reported World Doc NA Sweden, Canada, UK  NA
Bones Brigade The Film Sales Company/Sundance Artist Services DIY Theatrical and Digital Platforms US The Film Sales Company B.O. Gross Not Repoted Doc Premiere NA Japan  NA
Room 237 IFC Midnight N/A North America Betsy Rodgers 2013 New Fron NA Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, United Kingdom  NA
Under African Skies Snag Films N/A Exclusive Digital A&E Films Digital Doc Premiere NA NA  NA
The House I Live In Snag Films Domestic Distribution Digital US Doc NA NA  NA
Love Free or Die Wolfe US DVD/VOD Cinephil Digital US DOC The film will be available for educational/non-theatrical screenings beginning in October through Kino/Lorber in partnership with Wolfe, followed by airings on PBS stations nationwide as part of the series “Independent Lens.” Wolfe will release the film on DVD/VOD in 2013. NA NA  NA
About Face HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest TV Doc Premiere $500,000 NA Italy  NA
The D Word HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest TV doc premiere NA NA  NA
Chasing Ice National Geographic N/A TV Submarine TV US  Doc NA NA  NA
Marina Abramovic HBO Doc TV Pre-Fest TV us doc NA NA  NA
Me @ The Zoo HBO Doc Mid Six Figures TV Submarine TV us doc NA NA  NA
The Queen of Versailles Bravo N/A TV Submarine TV US DOC NA NA  NA
Ethel HBO Doc N/A TV Pre-Fest TV/B.O. Gross not reported Doc Prem NA NA  NA
Under African Skies A&E Films N/A TV/Theatrical A&E Films TV/B.O. Gross Not Reported Doc Premiere NA NA  NA
A Place At the Table (Finding North) Magnolia US Submarine US DOC NA NA  NA

January 29th, 2013

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Theatrical

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