The critical darling of this year's Sundance Film Festival will arrive in theaters sooner than expected.

"Fruitvale," which won the festival's Grand Jury and Audience awards in January, is set to hit the big screen on July 26 -- three months before it was initially slated to debut at the box office.

The Weinstein Co., which purchased the drama for $2 million at Sundance, quietly changed the film's release date last month.

Starring newcomer Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale" is based on the 2009 shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, an African American who was killed by a BART transit police officer in Oakland. The movie received rave reviews when it screened at Sundance, inspiring early Oscar buzz.

Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar in a scene in Ryan Coogler’s "Fruitvale," inspired by the Oscar Grant case.
Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar in a scene in Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale," inspired by the Oscar Grant case. ( Photo: Sundance Institute)

The move to July is somewhat unconventional, given that award-season contenders are typically released between October and the end of the year. Eight of the nine best picture nominees at the 2013 Academy Awards hit theaters during that three-month time period, and the only Oscar contender that came out earlier in 2012 was "Beasts of the Southern Wild," another Sundance favorite that debuted in June.

The Weinstein Co. is no doubt hoping to replicate the success of "Beasts" -- which also earned an Oscar nod for director Benh Zeitlin and actress Quvenzhane Wallis -- or other past rare summertime critical darlings like "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Midnight in Paris."

"We want to take advantage of the counterprogram slot in the summer," said Erik Lomis, the independent studio's head of theatrical distribution. "It's a very powerful movie and it has a chance to catch the zeitgeist in a more effective way. And there are certainly plenty of films that have come out in the summer that have gotten end-of-year accolades."