breakout hits random events that no-one can plan for or do they share some
kind of DNA that can teach us how to make successful independent
films, and also what genres or techniques to avoid?
answer these questions, we began with a list of over 3,000 films from The
Numbers’ financial database, investigating full financial details, including
North American (i.e. "domestic”) and international box office, video sales and
rentals, TV and ancillary revenue. We narrowed our focus to study feature films
released between 2000 and 2015, budgeted between $500k and $3 million, which
generated at least $10 million in Producer’s Net Profit, using a standard
distribution model where the distributor charges a 30%fee.
produced a list of 63 films in total: roughly four films a year over the 15
years under consideration. Almost all of the movies will be familiar to
followers of independent film, from small films that became Oscar hopefuls,
like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Winter’s Bone to horror movies like
Insidious and The Purge that got picked up by the major studios and became box
office sensations. With the list in hand, we looked for common themes and
found (with a small number of exceptions) that the breakout hits broke down
naturally into four types.