Last Year’s Sundance Boasted Record Film Sales – But Did They Pay Off?

The performance of films like ”CODA“ and ”Passing“ shows how the metrics of success are changing as the indie film market moves away from theaters

While streamers like Netflix, Apple and Hulu are expected to continue making big bids for the buzziest films at this year’s remote Sundance Film Festival, the still opaque nature of streaming viewership data has made it more difficult to measure whether buyers are getting their money’s worth — as an analysis of last year’s record-breaking deals demonstrates.

Obviously, the ongoing pandemic meant that any Sundance pickup that was aiming for a theatrical release didn’t see much box office revenue as older audiences that support art-house films largely stayed home. In July, Searchlight released the Questlove documentary “Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” simultaneously in theaters and on Hulu after acquiring it at Park City for $12 million, a record for a nonfiction film.

Theatrically, the film just grossed $3.7 million worldwide. By comparison, three documentaries that premiered at Sundance in 2018 — “RBG,” “Three Identical Strangers” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” all earned over $10 million in limited domestic release.

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Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • • Twitter: @jeremyfuster