Independent distributors lamented the loss of New Line Cinema and the Hollywood-level product it supplied but the global success of The Twilight Saga: New Moon shows it was not as damaging as first feared

When New Line Cinema was absorbed into Warner Bros in early 2008, many of the world’s leading independent distributors lost one of their key suppliers of Hollywood-level product. Companies such as Entertainment in the UK and Metropolitan in France had gone through good times and bad with New Line over the years, but when they were good, as in the case of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, they were very, very good.

Many at the time lamented the loss of New Line and felt that access to A-list talent and movies for independents would subsequently contract. But looking at the box-office figures for The Twilight Saga: New Moon last weekend, it’s clear to see that opportunities still exist.

The spectacular New Moon numbers prove the bigger independents are equipped to open a blockbuster as well as a studio

Distributed in major territories by companies which had signed to output deals with Summit Entertainment for its in-house productions, the first film, Twilight, was a sensation buyers were hardly anticipating when they made the initial deals. Bought by Summit in turnaround from Paramount and cast with virtual unknowns, it only became clear the film was building into a monster in mid-2008. The sequel is proving even bigger.

Seeing E1 Films in the UK take nearly $20m in the UK, SND in France scoring $17m, Eagle in Italy $14.3m and Aurum in Spain $13.7m last weekend brought back the heady days of The Lord Of The Rings openings. In Australia, Hoyts Distribution brought in $13.3m for the biggest opening ever in the territory. In New Zealand as well, it took the all-time crown, the $1.9m gross beating, you guessed it, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.

These lucky companies have another guaranteed winner next summer with the third film in the series, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

The spectacular New Moon numbers prove the bigger independents are equipped to open a blockbuster as well as a studio, and that includes all the attendant brouhaha, which in this case included a world tour of the actors and musical acts from the soundtrack.

It’s also a validation of Summit’s model, which is rooted in the international sales business. Summit, after all, was originally founded as a joint sales company for production companies Cinergi, New Regency and Constantin 20 years ago and, under Patrick Wachsberger, grew to be the pre-eminent sales outfit in the business. That dedication to the independent market continues today and it continues to be selective about selling product to studio buyers.

What The Lord Of The Rings proved and the Twilight Saga reaffirms is that this kind of independent success is good for everybody. The Twilight distributors will have more money to invest in financing and acquisitions, benefiting other independent productions, while sales companies struggling to get films off the ground in a turgid distribution world will hopefully encounter a renewed buoyancy in the international markets.

And 2010 could offer other lifts to the independent distribution community in addition to Eclipse. From Paris With Love, The Expendables, Dear John, The Book Of Eli, Let Me In, Edge Of Darkness, The Crazies and Letters To Juliet have all been made available to independents and any one could capture the public imagination in the same way Taken, Paranormal Activity and New Moon did this year. For independents, the loss of New Line wasn’t as damaging as first imagined.