Indie films challenge big studio pictures
Action blockbusters have habitually ruled the box office summer in and summer out, but The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises werenât the only films on moviegoersâ minds these past few months.
In fact, many of this summerâs independent films did surprisingly well at the box office and were welcomed with warm, critical praise.
Mike Birbigliaâs Sleepwalk with Me â with its positive reviews and an impressive opening weekend accented by a take of $65, 000 on a single screen at IFC Center in New York City â is just another example of independent films challenging the indie stereotype.Â Typically confined to critical praise but little popular recognition, as with 2008âs The Hurt Locker, todayâs indies askÂ the question as to whether these films are becoming a bigger part of mainstream cinematic culture.
The answer isnât clear-cut, but independent films have increasingly drawn more and more attention from filmgoers, suggesting they are now taking a more prominent role in popular cinema.
The shift in viewing patterns comes in large part from the industry itself.Â Whether itâs from a passion project or simply a change of pace, popular actors are making the jump from bigger, box-office hungry productions to smaller, independent films. These big names, in turn, lay the foundation for a larger box-office draw or at the very least generate a greater awareness surrounding the films.
Many of this summerâs indie smashes fall into that big fish, small pond scenario.Â Famed comedian Chris Rock starred in 2 Days in New York. Notable television actress Rashida Jones and Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg spearheaded Celeste & Jesse Forever and some of Great Britainâs finest actors â cue Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith â lined up to star in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
True, the success of a film cannot be measured based on the merit of its actors alone.Â But, by incorporating well-known stars in independent films, the mainstream appeal increases tenfold, creating the framework for a financially successful film overall.
Still, itâs not really the big-name actors that challenge the notion that independent films are restricted to small budgets, unknown actors and little popular recognition on their own.Â Instead, domestic box-office grosses speak for the newfound mainstream appeal of indie films themselves.
For this summerâs standout independent films, Hotel and Wes Andersonâs Moonrise Kingdom stand out as popular and financially successful frontrunners.Â Both took a slow but steady approach, and it paid off.Â The former received positive reviews and raked in a whopping $45.8 million domestically â middle- age moviegoers needed some alternative to The Avengers, after all â while the latter was hailed as one of Andersonâs best works and collected $43.5 million in the United States.
Then thereâs Woody Allen, the prodigal indie director, actor and screenwriter.Â At $15.9 million in the box office, this summerâs To Rome With Love failed to rival the success of last summerâs Midnight in Paris â arguably his most popular and by far his most lucrative film, raking in $56.8 million domestically.Â And yet, by proving to be a hit maker, Allenâs overall commercially and critically successful body of work defies the archetypal expectation of independent filmmaking.
Of course not all indie films did so well in terms of profits. Critics nearly unanimously reviewed Beasts of the Southern Wild as one of the best films of the year, and though it grossed $8.9 million â good by the standards of a film this small â it wasnât nearly on the same financial success level as Hotel or Kingdom.Â Ruby Sparks and Safety Not Guaranteed, in contrast, had higher revenue expectations, but failed to impress, as neither managed to breach $4 million.
It should be noted, however, that as with any genre, there will be hits and misses.Â Beasts will likely be a formidable Oscar contender, even though its box office was good butÂ not great. Alternately, The Amazing Spider-Manâs box office performance was, well, amazing at $258.4 million, but it will likely receive little critical recognition beyond effects come award season.
Hits and misses aside, there has been an overall growth spurt in the popularity of independent films.Â Go to Landmark or Arclight and see for yourself â The Dark Knight Rises played alongside Ruby Sparks, and The Avengers shared a theater with Hotel.
Independent films are becoming a more prominent part of our cinematic culture, and though they will not push blockbusters to the sidelines anytime soon, they are certainly making a name for themselves financially and popularly.
And if the transition of well-known actors to smaller films, or the unexpected box-office successes of many of this summerâs indie darlings is any indication, then there just might be a larger, integral role for independent cinema within mainstream culture.
C. Molly Smith is a junior majoring in communication. Her column âKeepinâ It Reelâ runs Wednesdays.