By Peter Knegt | Indiewire June 27, 2014 at 10:42AM
There's been a bit of a drought so far this summer when it comes to indie hits. Beyond "Chef" and "Belle" (both out for around two months now), no specialty film has hit $4 million. But this weekend offers the most promising opener in some time: John Carney's "Begin Again," a musical romance starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley that has been winning over audiences at film festivals left and right. Can it break out? And what about "Snowpiercer," the new film from Joon-ho Bong that has been long anticipated by a passionate many? A cast including Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans can't hurt it either. Or Joe Manganiello's stripper doc "La Bare," for that matter? Can it manage a life outside VOD (where it will surely do quite well). Here's our predictions for those films and other new indie releases (in alphabetical order):
- La Bare (Main Street Films)
Director: Joe Manganiello
Criticwire Average: No grades yet.
Where It's Screening: New York, L.A., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas this weekend. It hits VOD on August 19th.
Box Office Expectation: "Magic Mike" star Joe Manganiello explores behind the scenes of an iconic male strip club in this documentary, and clearly that's a marketable entity. But will folks head to theaters this weekend, or wait for the privacy of VOD? After acquiring the film at Slamdance, Main Street Films is sending it off to six markets ahead of an August 19th VOD release. It'll be interesting to see how things turn out. Maybe some bachelorette parties will add it to their agendas? Either way, an average over $6,000 would be within expectation.
- Begin Again (The Weinstein Company)
Director: John Carney
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def
Criticwire Average: 10 critics gave it a B average
Where It's Screening: In LA and New York. It will go to 45 theaters next weekend.
Box Office Expectation: The Weinstein Company has been sitting on the film formerly known as "Can a Song Save Your Life?" since Toronto, and with good reason: It's the perfect kind of summer counterprogramming that has hit big in the past (see Carney's "Once," among other things). Good reviews, a crowdpleasing story, marketable actors: "Begin Again" has what it takes. But will it break out? If it averages over $20,000 this weekend, it's off to a good start in that regard.
- The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (FilmBuff and Participant)
Director: Brian Knappenberger
Criticwire Average: 10 critics gave it a B+ average
Where It's Screening: In 12 cities across the US.
Box Office Expectation: With strong reviews coming out of its Sundance debut, "The Internet's Own Boy" has the makings of a small doc success. The film depicts the life of American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself early last year. FilmBuff and Participant are confident enough to send it off to 12 cities, which is a bit risky. But if "Own Boy" can average over $5,000 from those theaters, that's respectable enough for now.
- Snowpiercer (RADiUS-TWC)
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Cast: Chris Evans, John Hurt, TIlda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill
Criticwire Average: 17 critics gave it a A- average
Where It's Screening: 8 theaters across the US: 3 in New York City, 2 in LA, and one each in Austin, Seattle and San Francisco.
Box Office Expectation: With exceptional reviews, a very notable cast and over a year of many a fan's anticipation, the arrival of "Snowpiercer" likely trumps "Begin Again" as the overall indie event this weekend. And while it's appeal is probably a lot more niche in the long-run, it could very well give "Again" a run for its money in the weekend per-theater-average race. If it was in 3 or 4 theaters, that would be more or less assured. But on 8 (though it's a mighty 8), it might be tough and we'll say a $15,000+ average is a safe bet for it's first weekend out of the gate. But here's hoping for higher.
- Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (Magnolia)
Director: Joe Berlinger
Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a A- average
Where It's Screening: 3 theaters: Two in the Boston area and at NYC's IFC Center. It's also on VOD.
Box Office Expectation: Another acclaimed doc to come out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, Joe Berlinger's "Whitey" depicts the trials of gangster James 'Whitey' Bulger. Using his legal proceedings as a entry point to explore corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement, the film is going day and date on VOD this weekend, which may or may not hurt how it fares in its 3 theaters. That considered, a $6,000 average would be within expectation.
- Yves Saint Laurent (The Weinstein Company)
Director: Jalil Lespert
Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski
Criticwire Average: 5 critics gave it a C+ average
Where It's Screening: Film Forum in New York, the Landmark in LA (it actually already opened Wednesday).
Box Office Expectation: This isn't the Yves Saint Laurent biopic that debuted at Cannes last month to good reviews. It's the one that premiered in Berlin a few months before that to fairly mediocre ones. Whether that matters given interest in the fashion designer and the fact that The Weinstein Company is behind it remains to be seen. But if "Saint Laurent" can average north of $12,000 from its 2 theaters, it's in good shape going forward.
Peter Knegt is a regular contributor to Indiewire and our box office columnist. Follow him on Twitter.