From 'New Moon' To 'Hurt Locker': Summit's Big Year

The young independent studio hits its stride with Oscar wins and commercial success.

Six wins at the Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama, [movie id="357580"]"The Hurt Locker,"[/movie] capped off an extraordinary year at the cinema for Summit Entertainment. From the blockbuster successes of [movie id="414921"]"New Moon"[/movie] and [movie id="375786"]"Knowing"[/movie] to the critical triumph of "Hurt Locker," the independent studio has firmly established itself as a major Hollywood presence with a bright future ahead of it.

"Summit has become a premier player in Hollywood after [the Oscars]," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "To do that these days, you need two things: a blockbuster franchise and a Best Picture statuette. Well, Summit has both of those now with 'Twilight' and 'The Hurt Locker.' Once you establish a healthy line of income, and are known as a haven where artistic merit actually means something, you've set yourself up for a long stay in the industry."

Coming off a 2008 that brought Summit its first breakout hit with "Twilight," the studio stumbled out of the gate in 2009. The sci-fi action flick "Push," starring Chris Evans, produced an anemic $10.1 million opening (debuting at #6, behind "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" in its fourth weekend) and ultimately failed to earn more domestically than its $38 million production budget. Little over a month later, the Cam Gigandet-starring "Never Back Down" again served up a heaping portion of disappointment for Summit when it debuted with an $8.6 million weekend and ended up grossing only $24.9 million.

Was the studio just a one-hit franchise wonder? Could Summit launch a commercially successful film that wasn't based on a novel by "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer? Those questions were put to rest at the end of March with Nicolas Cage's sci-fi thriller "Knowing." Directed by Alex Proyas ("I, Robot"), the film opened at #1 at the box office with $24.6 million, beating out Julia Robert's "Duplicity" and Paul Rudd's "I Love You, Man." The following weekend, "Knowing" dropped a less-than-average 40 percent, nabbing another $14.7 million on its way to $80 million in total domestic sales (and $183.3 million worldwide).

Summit had arrived. By the end of the year, after releasing nine new films, Summit was the seventh-highest-grossing studio with $482.5 million in sales. How did that happen? It wasn't because the studio didn't suffer some box-office duds. Both the animated tale "Astro Boy" and "Sorority Row" tanked. Rather, the achievement can be traced to two words: "New" and "Moon."

In November, "New Moon" busted out the biggest opening weekend of all time. Its $142.9 million debut was a huge increase over the opening of "Twilight" ($69.6 million) and pushed it toward the fourth spot in 2009's box-office race, closely behind "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

Months earlier, "The Hurt Locker" had opened in four theaters to wide critical acclaim. The film kept adding theaters but never took off commercially; its largest weekend brought in only $1.9 million. After 18 weekends in theaters, Bigelow's film has grossed only $14.7 million.

But as awards season picked up, "The Hurt Locker" began to stand out. It won big at the Gotham Awards in early December and went on to secure key wins with the Directors Guild of America and the Broadcast Film Critics, before nabbing nine Oscar nominations. On Sunday night, Bigelow became the first woman in history to win a Best Director Oscar. These victories and the increased exposure that comes as a result should greatly increase the movie's commercial prospects in theaters and on DVD.

As Bock said, "Now if only [Summit] could figure out a way to make money from an Iraq war film," adding that the weak box-office performance of "The Hurt Locker" notwithstanding, "I think a lot of auteur filmmakers will be taking meetings with Summit in the very near future."

Combine indie credit with broad commercial prospects in the coming months, and you can see why 2010 is shaping up to be another stellar year for Summit. Did we mention that "Eclipse," the third film in the "Twilight" franchise, arrives in June?

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