Magic In The Moonlight

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" kicked the summer movie season off to a lucrative start this past weekend, grossing north of $90 million in three days to improve on its "Spider-Man" predecessor (though it fell quite short of the $175 million "Iron Man 3" kicked last summer off with). Comparatively, the first weekend of the indie box office's summer didn't have much on "Iron Man" (though two very deserving films -- "Belle" and "Ida" -- had strong debuts). But that's clearly not the expectation. Grossing $10 million for an indie is essentially like grossing $100 million for a studio tentpole. Or maybe even more

Last summer, "Blue Jasmine" was a big breakout, grossing north of $30 million. For a specialty summer release, that's a huge number. Over the past ten years, the summer season has usually managed just one breakout $20 million-plus specialty hit. Seventeen summer specialty releases have hit that mark since 2003, and two of those came from last summer: "Blue Jasmine" and the coming of age dramedy "The Way, Way Back" (which made just over $21 million).

So what might be this summer's "Blue Jasmine"? There's certainly a lot to choose from (check out Indiewire's list of the 40 summer indies we're looking forward to). Though it's notably much harder to predict what indies might break out as opposed to say, how much a superhero film will gross. And it's also important not to set expectations too high for little engines that potentially could. So our suggestions for the 10 indie films that could break out beyond expectation are cautiously optimistic. We don't predict any "Jasmine"-sized hits, though it's quite likely one will happen anyway. Here's some possibilities, starting with a film that has one man very much in common with that film:

1. Magic in the Moonlight (July 25)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast:  Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Box Office Potential:  The past decade or so of Woody Allen’s long and storied career have been spotty when it comes to the box office, but lately he's been on quite the roll. Sony Pictures Classics seems to have mastered the art of releasing Allen with three straight summer platform releases that have resulted in strong grosses, including the mighty likes of "Midnight in Paris" ($56.8 million) and "Blue Jasmine" ($33.4 million) and the very respectable "To Rome With Love" ($16.7 million ain't bad for a film as poorly reviewed as it was). So to come into this summer with a new Allen film starring the incredibly marketable Emma Stone and Colin Firth? It seems pretty unbeatable, but then again, who knows how much Allen's recent personal drama will play into the film's box office.

Our bet? No "Jasmine," but a solid $23 million would still make "Moonlight" a very profitable venture (and in our predictions the third time in four years that Allen had the summer's top grossing indie).

Begin Again

2. Begin Again (July 4)
Director: John Carney
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Box Office Potential:
The film formerly known as "Can a Song Save a Life?" made its breakout potential known when it premiered back in Toronto. The Weinstein Company picked it up, and smartly sat on it until a prime summer berth where it could really soar as an alternative to blockbuster fare. Directed by John Carney (who gave us indie breakout "Once" in 2006), the film -- like "Once" -- centers around music with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo playing a musician and record company exec working on a new album, and recording everywhere except inside an actual studio.

Our bet? A gross north of $20 million. This will be the feel-good indie hit of the summer, and probably the one with the most potential to go well beyond the $20 million arena. But we don't want to overshoot things, and $20 million would still make this a very sizeable hit.

3. Chef (May 9th)
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey, Jr.
Distributor: Open Road Films

Box Office Potential: Director Jon Favreau is usually responsible for the kind of films his latest is trying to counter at the box office ("Iron Man," "Cowboys & Aliens"), so it's nice to see him at bat with the much smaller-scale "Chef," which also places him in front of the camera an embittered chef struggling to figure out how to progress with his cooking career. It came out of a SXSW premiere with good reviews, and is the first film on this list to make it to theaters (it comes out this Friday). But will Favreau's ability to make studio blockbusters (sometimes, at least -- "Cowboys" doesn't quite count) translate into an indie hit? Having Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara on board probably does hurt.

Our bet? A very respectable gross around $12 million, which yes, is probably what "Iron Man" made in its first 30 seconds.

A Most Wanted Man Philip Seymour Hoffman Rachel McAdams

4. A Most Wanted Man (July 25th)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss
Distributor: Roadside Attractions 

Box Office Potential: John le Carré adaptations have resulted in recent specialty hits "The Constant Gardener" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and "A Most Wanted Man" is certainly hoping to follow in its footsteps. And it has a lot going for it. It got strong reviews out of Sundance, is one of the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman's last roles, and has an amazing supporting cast in Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright. Based on the 2008 best-seller by Jle Carré, the film details a collection of small mysteries involving a German spy, a half-dead Russian, a CIA operative, and a Muslim community leader begin to intersect with each other and wrap themselves up in a deeper and darker plot.

Our bet? Complicated thrillers like this can be tough sells, but we think smart audiences exhausted from dumb movies by late July will push this to $10 million.