"Little Miss Sunshine"

Indies let the sun shine in
Finding breakout hits was tough as smaller pictures fought for recognition.

By Gregg Goldstein
The Hollywood Reporter
September 7, 2006

NEW YORK -- Indie studio executives tend to be perennial optimists. But this summer proved to be a test of their upbeat demeanor because there was no avoiding one inconvenient truth: The collective grosses of the top five independent companies, as measured by their market share from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, were down nearly 36% from last summer's top five.

Even the handful of breakout hits spread less sunshine than last year's summer indie leaders. There were a few movies that passed the $20 million mark: Fox Searchlight's crowd-pleasing comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" ($35.7 million), Lionsgate's horrorfest "The Descent" ($25.4 million), Paramount Vantage's surprise hit eco-documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" ($23.2 million), Rogue Pictures' action-packed gang drama "Waist Deep," ($21.3 million) and Picturehouse's musical ensemble comedy "A Prairie Home Companion" ($20.1 million). The Weinstein Co., utilizing the services of distributor MGM, saw "Clerks II" pull in $24 million, while the company's Dimension Films posted its best number with the Internet horror flick "Pulse" ($19.3 million).

By comparison, Warner Independent Pictures' summer 2005 documentary pickup "March of the Penguins" waddled away with $63.6 million by Labor Day, Lionsgate's "Crash" grossed $53.6 million, and the now-overhauled Paramount Classics pimped "Hustle & Flow" to the tune of $21.9 million through summer's end.

Those three films went on to win Oscars, but even lower-brow fare like the kiddie sci-fi flick "The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D" gave Dimension, then a part of the Walt Disney Co., $39.1 million, while the Jet Li martial arts movie "Unleashed" kicked in $24.5 million for Rogue Pictures.

As for the $118 million that "Fahrenheit 9/11" grossed in summer 2004, nothing this summer came remotely close. The studio specialty divisions, several of which were created or upgraded to chase the growing potential of indie hits, found themselves facing new realities. Part of this season's shortfall can be attributed to the lack of potential appeal of individual film titles; not enough of them registered strongly enough on the elusive buzz meter. But other forces -- a crowded release schedule, the lure of DVDs -- also might have been in play.
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