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Myth Busting: Are Studio Films More Profitable Than Indies?

With an annual production budget that exceeds $3 billion, independent movies rival the major studios’ spend on filmmaking, even as indies vastly outstrip the studios in sheer volume. There are seven major movie studios: Warner Bros., Disney, Universal, Sony/Columbia, Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount, but countless independent film houses. Using Sundance as a bellwether of the entire independent film sector, culturalweekly was the first to quantify the amount of money spent on independent films.

They estimated that the median spend on an independent film is $750,000 an average of 100 people work on each film, through all phases of production and post-production. The topline findings indicate that fewer than 2% of the fully-finished, feature-length films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival (as a proxy for indies globally) will get any distribution. Of the more than $3 billion invested annually, less than 2% will ever be recouped. As a non-profit dedicated to advancing independent filmmaking, these results sound dire to our fundraisers. Are we fueling a largely unsuccessful industry?

Not at all! When it comes to box office dollars, the recipe for a successful movie is pretty simple: small budget + massive ticket sales = huge profit. If done correctly, this means an enormous return on investment (ROI) for the clever minds behind the film.

When we dig into the data, of the 20 the most profitable movies in modern filmmaking, more than half are independent. So here's to independent thinkers and storytellers. Keep making films that move us, and the profits will follow.


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