How Well Did 20 of Last Year’s Most Buzz-Worthy Toronto Film Festival Movies End Up Doing?

The summer movie season ended over Labor Day, but that was so 10 days ago.  Hollywood has already moved on to awards season, which un-officially kicks off every year with the one-two punch of the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in early September.  This year’s TIFF kicked off nearly a week ago (9/4) and wraps up this weekend (9/14).  As usual, a couple of films became such instant hits with festival-goers they kicked off a bidding war among the studios, most notably Chris Rock’s Top Five, ultimately nabbed by Paramount.  Plus, there have been several break-out performances already being thought of as Oscar-bound, particular Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

In recent years, TIFF has seen the premieres of eventual Oscar winners like Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, The King’s Speech, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, but it’s also been the place would-be awards contenders like The Fifth Estate went to die because audiences didn’t like what they saw.  That’s simply the nature of the film festival game, and TIFF’s calendar proximity to Telluride makes it that much more difficult for it to score as many exclusives as it otherwise might be able to (e.g., Michael Keaton’s buzzy Birdman just premiered at Telluride, not TIFF).  However, it has become arguably the festival most worthy of film fans’ attention, less artsy than Cannes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and more of a home to genuine Oscar contenders with actors we’d all recognize.

However, from a practical standpoint, how likely are we to ever see any of these movies Toronto audiences are currently gobbling up?  How much should we really be paying attention to the buzz?  After all, there was Oscar buzz for Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man) and Hugh Jackman (Prisoners) at last year’s TIFF.  That didn’t turn out so well for them, awards-wise.  Plus, there are some TIFF ’13 films which got distribution deals but have still yet to play in theaters (or on VOD).

Let’s look back at the buzziest films from last year’s TIFF to see how they ultimately fared in terms of awards and distribution. Here they are, culled from this IndieWire list of all TIFF 2013 films:

The World Premieres

12 Years a Slave


The incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and finally freed in 1853, 12 Years a Slave was the smash hit of TIFF ’13.  Directed by film festival darling Steve McQueen and featuring Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodward in supporting roles to the star-making performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, the film was greeted with standing ovations at the TIFF, taking on an instant “must-see” status.   It dropped in theaters in early November, turning into a modest domestic hit and fairly big hit overseas.  It eventually won so many awards, including the Best Picture Oscar, that Wikipedia created an entire page just to keep track of it.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, pulling in $56.6m in the US, $187.7m worldwide
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Yes, winning Best Picture at the Oscars
  • Did People Like It?: Yes, although don’t force them to have to watch it more than once, 97% approval on RottenTomatoes

All the Wrong Reasons


This was one of those products of morbid curiosity, one of Cory Monteith’s final feature film roles making its worldwide debut less than a month after he had died of a drug overdose. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t receive much attention beyond that, and has yet to make it to theaters, supposedly set to air as a TV movie in Canada at some point this year.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: No
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No
  • Did People Like It?: N/A

August: Osage County


August: Osage County had the prestige of being based on a Pulitzer Price-winning play, George Clooney among its producers, a distribution deal with The Weinstein Company, and an all-star ensemble cast of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, and Dermot Mulroney.  However, its overly grim story and scenery-chewing performances amused many for all of the wrong reasons, and it divided audiences at TIFF.  Nonetheless, the Weinstein’s turned it into a modest box office hit upon its Christmas 2013 release, and multiple Oscar nominations that very few felt very good about the next morning.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, scoring $37.7m in the US, $74.1m worldwide against a $25m production budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Yes, with acting nods for both Streep and Roberts at the Oscars
  • Did People Like It?: Kind of; a very mixed reaction with 64% on RottenTomatoes, some at least loving Streep’s performance, others finding it unintentionally hilarious

Bad Words


Jason Bateman’s directorial debut about a 40-year-old man who uses a loophole in the rules to make a mockery of the National Spelling Bee, all of it playing a bit like a much blacker version of About a Boy.  Allison Janney and Kathryn Hahn were also along for the ride, and it was a big enough hit at TIFF to get a distribution deal with Focus Features.  Unfortunately, it fizzled upon its theatrical release this past March, with critics torn over the black humor.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, earning $7.8m worldwide against a $10m budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Not really an awards kind of movie
  • Did People Like It?: Kind of; Mostly a mixed reaction, with 65% on RottenTomatoes.



A costume drama depicting the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate bi-racial daughter of an aristocratic Royal Navy Admiral. Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet also prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. With Gugu Mbatha Raw in the title role and supported by the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton, and Matthew Goode, Belle had actually secured a distribution deal right before TIFF, eventually coming out in North America this May.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes; a very limited release, earning $15.5m worldwide
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Not yet
  • Did People Like It?: 83% on RottenTomatoes

Can A Song Save Your Life? (eventually renamed Begin Again)

Begin Again

Basically, an attempt to do an American version of Once, centering around a New York musician (Keira Knightley) and her budding relationship with a record producer (Mark Ruffalo).  The Weinsten Company picked up distribution rights at TIFF, but did not put it into theaters until just two months ago.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing $15.9m domestic, $36.3m worldwide against a $25m budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Not yet
  • Did People Like It?: You betcha, 82% approval on RottenTomatoes

Dallas Buyer’s Club


Never bet against the McConaissance, with Dallas Buyer’s Club coming out nowhere at TIFF with its fact-based story of an HIV-positive Texas man and his efforts to sell non-approved medicines and supplements to help others in their medical treatment.  It was in theaters less than 2 months after TIFF, and eventually delivered Oscar wins for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, eventually grossing $29.8m domestic against a $5m budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: It was a huge presence at pretty much every single awards show
  • Did People Like It?: Heck yeah, with a 93% approval on RottenTomatoes

Devil’s Knot


AkA, the West Memphis Three movie starring such notables as Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, and Stephen Moyer.  It was in line for a big awards season push, but TIFF audiences were not kind to it, resulting in a quiet theatrical release in Canada in January and even quieter limited theatrical/VOD release in the US in May.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, just barely
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No
  • Did People Like It?: Not according to the 21% approval on RottenTomatoes

The Double


From director/writer Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd), The Double deals with a timid man whose world is upturned when a new co-worker is not only his exact physical double but also far more confident, charismatic and good with women (didn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer do an episode just like this with Xander?).  It was a big enough hit at TIFF to pick up a distribution deal from Magnolia Pictures, making it into UK theaters around 8 months later.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing less than $2m
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Not yet
  • Did People Like It?: Yes; 82% on RottenTomatoes

Enough Said


Director/writer Nicole Holofcener’s latest ode to the problems of moderately wealthy white people (Friends With Money, Please Give), Eough Said premiered at TIFF a mere two weeks before its theatrical debut, instantly picking up buzz for Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ performance as a masseuse who discovers one of her new clients(Catherine Keener) is actually the ex-wife of her new boyfriend (James Gandolfini).

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, as a platform release slowly building word-of-mouth on the way to $17.5m domestic/ $25.2m worldwide
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Kind of; most of the big awards bodies ignored it, but pretty much every single notable Critics Association showered it with praise
  • Did People Like It?: No…They LOVED it, with 96% of RottenTomatoes critics agreeing

The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate

Ah, yes, the great WikiLeaks tell-all movie, starring Benedick Cumberbatch, which came into TIFF like a conquering hero and left it utterly defeated, drowning in a sea of bad reviews.  It hit theaters  a month after its TIFF premiere, and put up some historically terrible numbers for a movie playing in as many theaters as it was.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing just $3.2m in the US, $8.5m worldwide against a $28m production budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Nope
  • Did People Like It?: Nope, 37% on RottenTomatoes, although most everyone thought Cumberbatch was good as Julian Assange

The F Word (eventually re-named What If)


A truly unabashed rom-com filled with every cliché in the book, starring Danielle Radcliffe and Juno Temple as a guy and a gal caught in “the friend zone,” What If is one of those you either hate it or love it kinds of movies.  Its distributor attempted a platform release of it last month, but even in bigger markets which are typically kinder to smaller films What If has yet to catch on, scoring just $6.5m.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, though it took nearly a full year
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: It’s not that kind of movie
  • Did People Like It?: Mixed; 66% approval on RottenTomatoes.



Daniel Radcliffe is a guy who begins to grow literal horns on his dead after he is believed to have murdered his girlfriend in this adaptation of a book form Stephen King’s son.  Unfortunately, the reviews at TIFF weren’t great, and though the film secured distribution from the Weinstein Company it has yet to make its way into theaters, though they do have it scheduled to finally come out this Halloween.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Not yet
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: N/A
  • Did People Like It?: Not really; 45% RottenTomatoes approval

Labor Day

Labor Day

After Juno and Up in the Air, director/writer Jason Reitman was due for a fall, but we didn’t know that going into TIFF where Labor Day and its cast of Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, and JK Simmons seemed like a slam dunk.  Sure, Reitman’s most recent film, Young Adult, had been a box office non-entity, but it brought in great reviews for stars Patton Oslwat and Charlize Theron.  Not even that happened for Labor Day, which was dumped in theaters outside of awards season in the last weekend of January

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing $19.2m worldwide against a $18m production budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Heck no
  • Did People Like It?: Nope; 33% RottenTomatoes approval

The Last of Robin Hood

Last of Robin Hood

An Errol Flynn biopic starring Kevin Kline in the lead role, covering the final years of Flynn’s career when his affair with an underage starlet (Dakota Fanning), enabled by her fame-seeking mother (Susan Sarandon), created an avalanche of bad publicity.  Last of Robin Hood already had a distribution deal prior to TIFF, but it has had to overcome negative reviews on the way to barely managing a limited theatrical release last weekend meaning it took pretty much a full year after TIFF for it to hit theaters.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes; Just came out last week
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: N/A
  • Did People Like It?: Not really; 28% RottenTomatoes approval, though critics like Kevin Kline’s performance

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Oh, they so clearly wanted this to be Ghandi for Nelson Mandela, or at the very least The Last King of Scotland – a lesser movie which still delivers an Oscar to its star, in this case Idris Elba – but instead it was just a movie critics didn’t really like and audiences didn’t really rush out to see when it hit theatersin time for Christmas.  By this point, it is most remembered for the song U2 wrote for the soundtrack.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing $35m worldwide against a $28m production budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No; only two awards bodies (Golden Globes, ABFF) even nominated Elba
  • Did People Like It?: Not so much; 59% approval on RottenTomatoes



A spine-chilling, twisty supernatural flick about two siblings (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) seeking to expose and destroy the paranormal entity they believe is responsible for the death of their parents.  In other word, it’s that haunted mirror movie starring Karen Gillan from Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy, hitting theaters around 8 months after its TIFF premiere..

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, earning $40.6m worldwide against a $5m budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No; it wasn’t trying to be an awards film, though
  • Did People Like It?: Yes; 76% approval on RottenTomatoes, although even among those who liked it the reaction was a bit mixed



Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) goes a bit crazy when his 6-year-old daughter, Anna, goes missing along with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, and the only good lead (Paul Dano) is released by the cops (Jake Gyllenhaal) it quickly becomes time to go all vigilante justice on the situation.  Also starring Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, and Terrence Howard, Prisoners had the look for a surefire Oscar candidate, but instead it became something perhaps even better: a box office hit which wasn’t quite what the Oscars were looking for.  It hit theaters less than a month after its TIFF premiere.

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing $61m in the US, $61.1m overseas, against a $46m production budget
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: Kind of, picking up stray wins and nominations here and there but only getting a Best Cinematography nomination from the Oscars
  • Did People Like It?: Yes; 82% approval on RottenTomatoes

The Railway Man


Based on the bestselling autobiography of Eric Lomax, The Railway Man tells the true story of a British Army officer who is tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during World War II only to seek revenge upon his captors later in life.   The stars of the film (Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman) ultimately received better notices than the film itself, which was eventually dumped into North American theaters this past January, ineligible for the Oscars

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes, grossing $4.4m in the US, $17.8m overseas
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No
  • Did People Like It?: Kind of; 67% approval on RottenTomatoes

 You Are Here

You Are Here

Putting Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler together in the same movie sounds like a good combination, with You Are Here revolving around Galifianakis as an off-the-grid weirdo who upon returning to his childhood home discovers that he has inherited the family fortune.  Wilson plays his best friend, and Poehler his sister gunning for the inheritance money, with Mad Men creator Matthew Wiener’s making his feature-length directorial debut.  He also wrote the script.  Coming into TIFF, it already had a distribution deal with Millennium Entertainment, but it was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews.  It only just made into theaters three weeks ago, though doesn’t currently show its box office totals yet

  • Did It Play In Theaters?: Yes
  • Did It Become An Awards Contender?: No
  • Did People Like It?: Nope; 7% approval on RottenTomatoes

Those are all the movies I will go into great detail on here, but the following are some notable films which played at TIFF ’13 but actually premiered earlier in the year at a different film festival.  Film festivals play year round, with the most notable ones being Sundance in January, Berlin in February, SXSW in March, Cannes in May, Venice in August, Telluride over Labor Day weekend, Toronto in September, AFI Fest and the American Film Market in November:

  • The Armstrong Lie (premiere: Venice)
  • Blood Ties (premiere: Cannes)
  • Blue is the Warmest Color (premiere: Cannes)
  • Gravity (premiere: Venice)
  • The Invisible Woman (premiere: Telluride)
  • Kill Your Darlings (premiere: Sundance )
  • Only Lovers Left Alive (premiere: Cannes)
  • Parkland (premiere: Venice)
  • Philomena (premiere: Venice)
  • Rush (premiere: London)
  • Under the Skin (premiere: Telluride)

So, of the 20 big movies which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, 7 were in theaters by the end of the year, 3 were would-be awards contenders ultimately dumped in the box office/awards dead zone of January, 6 have yet to come out or only recently came out in ultra-limited release, and the rest came out at some point earlier this year.  Those movies which already had distribution deals prior to TIFF were more likely to hit theaters quickly but usually only if the movie was a hit with audiences in Toronto.  The big disappointments at the festival were The Devil’s Knot, The Fifth Estate, Labor Day, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and You Are Here while the real hits were 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Enough Said, and Prisoners, which pretty much completely corresponds to how each of those films fared with critics and audiences.

If I were a distributor I would be looking at all of this and seeing a whole lot of financial failure, emphasizing just how hard it is for anyone to make money in independent film.  As a movie fan, though, it all kind of renews my interest in what’s going on right now at the current Toronto Film Festival because although awards contenders like Birdman, Foxcatcher, and Boyhood have already premiered at other festivals or played in theaters recent history indicates that while the majority of these Toronto films will ultimately fizzle with wide audiences some of them are bound to be amazing, regardless of box office performance.

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