"Iron Man 3" kicked the summer movie season off to a very lucrative start this past weekend, grossing $175 million in just three days to find the second biggest opening weekend of all time. Comparatively, the first weekend of the indie box office's summer didn't have much on "Iron Man" (though a different man -- "The Iceman" -- had a nice debut). But that's clearly not the expectation. Grossing $10 million for an indie is essentially like grossing $100 million for a studio tentpole.
Last summer, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom" were huge breakouts, each grossing north of $40 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. Fifteen summer specialty releases have hit that mark since 2003, and three of those came from last summer: "Marigold," "Moonrise" and, yes, "2016: Obama's America."
So what might be this summer's "Marigold" or "Moonrise"? There's certainly a lot to choose from (check out Indiewire's list of the 50 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 15 indie films that could break out beyond expectation are cautiously optimistic. We don't predict any "Moonrise"-sized hits, though it's quite likely one will happen anyway. Here's some possibilities:
Only God Forgives (July 19)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Box Office Potential: The last team up of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling -- "Drive" -- grossed $35 million, but that was from an initially wide release of nearly 3,000 theaters. Their follow-up, "Only God Forgives," is unlikely to be so aggressive. Debuting at Cannes in May before hitting theaters (day-and-date with VOD and digital) in July, "Forgives" is an important film for distributor RADiUS-TWC. A label under The Weinstein Company that focuses on both theatrical and VOD/digital release, the distributor released 5 films in its first year, and none of them managed to gross over $500,000 theatrically (though one of its films, "Bachelorette," did very well on digital). The potential for "Only God Forgives" to be its first theatrical hit is certainly there, given Refn and more over Gosling's appeal. Our bet? A gross north of $15 million, not to mention extremely strong VOD/digital returns.
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Box Office Outlook: The two films that preceded "Before Midnight" -- "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" -- each grossed a bit over $5 million in 1995 and 2004 dollars, respectively. Considering the legacy and fanbase those films have found since via home viewership, it seems reasonable the third chapter could gross as much as those two combined. Reviews for the Richard Linklater-Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke collaboration have been remarkable out of the festival circuit, which can't hurt either. Our bet? At least $12 million, and a massive per-theater-average out of the gate.
The Bling Ring (June 14)
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien.
Box Office Outlook: Coming off the
success of this March's "Spring Breakers," upstart distributor A24 is
hoping lightning will strike twice with another film about misbehaving
teenage girls, this time directed by Sofia Coppola instead of Harmony
Korine. Just a few weeks after it screens in Cannes, the film -- based
on the true story of a group of rich Californian teens who
decided to start a heist gang and begin robbing celebrity's houses --
has some of the biggest potential of any film on this list. Having Emma
Watson in the cast certainly helps, as does the fanbase of Coppola. Or
will audiences be over the auteur cinema meets girls-gone-wild (albeit
suggestively less wide here than in "Breakers") premise? We'll find out soon enough, but our bet is that it seems pretty unlikely the film will gross less than $10 million (which would be a huge step up from the $1.7 million Coppola's "Somewhere" grossed).