15 Biggest Box Office Hits That Premiered at Sundance, From ‘The Blair Witch Project’ to ‘Get Out’ (Photos)

Brian Welk
·5-min read

Sundance is the biggest market for indie films around, and for good reason. The festival has a history of finding the quirky, independent crowd-pleaser that goes on to be a box office smash. 2020 saw a record sale of $17.5 million for the Andy Samberg comedy “Palm Springs,” which proved to be one of Hulu’s biggest movies ever. And while some films fizzle at the box office despite their festival hype, many more manage to sustain that buzz all the way until Oscar season. Here’s a few that made a splash at both Park City and for wide audiences. All box office figures are domestic numbers.

15. “A Walk in the Woods” (2015) – $29.5 million

It should come as no surprise that Robert Redford premiered a movie he starred in at at his own festival. But he also proved that he still carries some box office clout. The film, acquired by Broad Green Pictures, was behind only “Dope,” which was picked up for $18 million, in terms of festival acquisitions in 2015.

14. “(500) Days of Summer” (2009) – $35.9 million

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel starred in this inventive indie rom-com from director Marc Webb that Fox Searchlight distributed to make it one of the sleeper indie hits of the summer of 2009.

13. “In the Bedroom” (2001) – $35.9 million

“In the Bedroom” was the first film to ever score a Best Picture nomination after making its premiere at Sundance, and its four additional Oscar nominations, including for Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei, were the most received by any Sundance film until the release of “Precious” in 2009.

12. “Brooklyn” (2015) – $38.3 million

The period-piece romance starring Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant to New York wowed audiences and buyers, with another heated bidding war ensuing that ultimately went to Fox Searchlight for $9 million.

11. “The Big Sick” (2017) – $42.8 million

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s debut screenplay about their own romance sparked a bidding war among buyers, eventually landing with Amazon for the sum of $12 million, which was only the second highest acquisition behind Netflix’s pickup of “Mudbound.”

10. “Hereditary” (2018) – $44.1 million

The biggest box office hit of Sundance 2018 was a midnight screening picked up by A24. “Hereditary” earned critical and audience acclaim for its disturbing portrayal of grief and its destructive power, and was declared by many to be the finest performance of Toni Collette’s career.

9. “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) – $44.5 million

The deadpan, oddball comedy “Napoleon Dynamite” made a star out of Jon Heder and went on to become a cult hit as well as a big success considering its minuscule budget of just $400,000.

8. “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire” (2009) – $47.6 million

Lee Daniels’ heart-wrenching film “Precious” made such waves at Sundance that Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey announced that they would be leading the film’s marketing, jumping on board as executive producers. It made a star out of Gabourey Sidibe and won an Oscar for Mo’Nique for her fiery performance as Precious’s cruel mother.

7. “Manchester By the Sea” (2016) – $47.7 million

Amazon paid a whopping $10 million for the rights to release Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By the Sea,” and it went on to make the tech, streaming giant a major player on the indie festival scene and even netted some Oscar nominations in the process.

6. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) – $52.7 million

This beloved comedy with Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell was made quickly and cheaply and became a surprise success in Britain, with audiences launching it to be the highest grossing British film in history at the time of its release.

5. “Saw” (2004) – $55.2 million

It’s hard to believe that a movie that has spawned a half-dozen sequels actually made its premiere as an indie film at Sundance, but Lionsgate nabbed it days before the festival, launching the career of James Wan in the process.

4. “The Butterfly Effect” (2004) – $57.9 million

Ashton Kutcher was at the peak of his fame when he appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. Though critics weren’t kind to the movie or to Kutcher’s performance in the psychological thriller, it went on to be a box office success, making $96.1 million worldwide.

3. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – $59.8 million

“Little Miss Sunshine” might be the quintessential Sundance movie, a quirky, happy-go-lucky family comedy about an offbeat group of individuals that would prove to be a massive crowdpleaser. Fox Searchlight acquired it for $10.5 million in a heated bidding war, which at the time was among the highest amount spent for a Sundance title. The film also won two Oscars, including for Alan Arkin and earned a nomination for its child star Abigail Breslin.

2. “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) – $140.5 million

When it first premiered at Sundance, “The Blair Witch Project” was hyped as though the actors in the film were either “deceased” or “missing.” Critics raved about how the horror film introduced the “found footage” technique to the movies, leading Artisan Films to acquire it for $1.1 million. The film then received months of publicity and word of mouth attention that the film was actually based on real events. And because it was made on a shoestring budget of just $60,000 before grossing $250 million worldwide, it has subsequently become one of the most successful independent films of all time.

1. “Get Out” (2017) – $176.0 million

Jordan Peele’s debut film “Get Out” ended up being a studio film distributed by Universal, but it earned its indie cred by premiering at Sundance before surprising audiences with its record-setting box office run a month later in Feb. 2017.

Read original story 15 Biggest Box Office Hits That Premiered at Sundance, From ‘The Blair Witch Project’ to ‘Get Out’ (Photos) At TheWrap