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Summer Indie Box Office Preview: The 15 Films With The Most Breakout Potential

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 7, 2013 at 10:20AM

"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.
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"Only God Forgives"
RADiUS-TWC "Only God Forgives"

"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
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

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.

Before Midnight (May 24)

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.
Distributor: A24

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).


Much Ado About Nothing (June 7)
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Box Office Outlook: Joss Whedon's follow-up to "The Avengers" will be lucky to manage what that film made in its first few hours of release, and probably happy with that number. Shot over 12 days at his Los Angeles home, the film, shot in black and white and starring many of his close friends, this reworking of The Bard's classic comedy in modern day is about as far away from the excess of Marvel's multiple-film master plan as possible. And it doesn't come with anything close to that film's financial risk. Our bet is it will do quite nicely within its own expectations, using strong reviews and Whedon's appeal to gross $10 million or more.

The Way, Way Back (July 5)

Director: Jim Rash, Nat Faxon
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Box Office Outlook: Possibly the indie release with the biggest risk coming with it this summer, Fox Searchlight paid nearly $10 million for Jim Rash and Nat Faxon's directorial debut "The Way, Way Back" at Sundance, by far the most of any film at the festival. But the summer vacation family portrait should fit nicely as some midsummer counter-programming, though it's hard to say just how nicely. Our cautious bet is the film will make back the $10 million, though there's loads of potential for it to go farther.

Blue Jasmine (July 26)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Box Office Outlook: Woody Allen is generally as inconsistent creatively as he is at the box office, though his last two films -- "Midnight in Paris" and "To Rome With Love" -- were definite hits, grossing $57 million and $17 million respectively. Both were released by Sony Classics, and the distributor seems to have figured out summer is best time for Allen films to find their widest audiences. Will that continue with "Blue Jasmine," which features an extremely promising cast (though don't they all?), though is perhaps less sexy from a marketing perspective (though we don't really know much about it yet.  Our bet? Cautiously suggesting it will fall somewhere below Allen's last two efforts, at least grossing a solid $9 million.

Fruitvale Station (July 12)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Box Office Outlook: Following a very similar trajectory to last year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," The Weinstein Company's newly re-named "Fruitvale Station" is going from Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner to international premiere in Cannes to summer release in a strategy the Weinsteins surely want to end -- like it did with "Beasts" -- with some Oscar noms early next year.  It's all very possible, as is a gross close to the $10 million "Beasts" managed last summer (before adding a few more million in awards season re-release). Our bet? The Ryan Coogler-directed film grosses at least $8 million, and indeed sets itself up as one of the summer's biggest award season hopefuls.

The Spectacular Now (August 2)

Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler
Distributor: A24

Box Office Outlook: A24's other youth-focused summer release is Sundance pickup "The Spectacular Now," with up-and-comers Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (who won acting prizes at Sundance for the film) as a freewheeling high school senior and the nice-girl female introvert he attempts to "save." This film should tap into the audience that made "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" a hit last fall, and help continue the rise of its young actors. Our bet is a gross of $8 million or more.

Girl Most Likely (July 19)

Director: Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman
Cast: Kristin Wiig, Annette Bening, Darren Criss, Matt Dillon
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Box Office Outlook: Reviews for the mother-daughter film formerly known as "Imogene" are likely to be as mixed upon release as they were at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, but that's unlikely to be too much of a problem with Kristin Wiig and Annette Bening involved. Our bet is a healthy gross north of $7 million is the most likely scenario for "Girl." It's also one of many films on this list offering options for women (who have very few studio films directed at them), which could help it go beyond that.

Austenland (August 16)

Director: Jerusha Hess
Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Box Office Outlook: Another film aimed at the under-considered female audience, Jerusha Hess's "Austenland" will likely have much better buzz than "Girl Most Likely" (it got strong reviews when it debuted at Sundance), but also less star power (we love us some Keri Russell, but she's no Kristin Wiig). Though Hess -- who co-wrote "Napoleon Dynamite" with her husband Jared Hess, who directed both -- is no stranger to summer indie breakouts, and neither is Russell for that matter (she starred in the $19 million grossing "Waitress," which came out in the summer of 2007). Our bet is a cautious $7 million, but watch out for this one.

I'm So Excited (June 28)

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast:  Javier Cámara, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas, Raúl Arévalo, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Box Office Outlook: As far as foreign language directors in America go, Pedro Almodovar is about as consistent draw as they come, with 5 of his last 6 films grossing over $5 million Stateside (his last "The Skin I Live In," grossed a still-respectable $3.2 million). Every single one of those films came out in October or November, making his latest, "I'm So Excited," something of a anomaly. Being one of his most comedic films should help it fit the season, as should the presence of Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas in the trailer (even though they are basically cameos in the film). Our bet is $5 million, which should be enough to get Sony Classics excited.

Frances Ha (May 17)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Distributor: IFC Films

Box Office Outlook: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's "Girls"-esque collaboration "Frances Ha" is sure to be one of the summer's best reviewed indies (it debuted out of the festival circuit last fall with stellar notices). Though even with the added presence of box office draw Ben Stiller, the last Baumbach-Gerwig teaming, "Greenberg," only managed $4.3 million. Our bet is that even with no Stiller, buzz helps "Frances" ha her way to at least $5 million, an excellent number for a black-and-white film with a tiny budget.

Stories We Tell (May 17)

Director: Sarah Polley
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Box Office Outlook: One of the most acclaimed films from this past fall's festival circuit, Sarah Polley's deeply personal documentary about her own family is perhaps the summer's best bet for a documentary breakout. Likely to come with universal acclaim and boosted by Polley's fanbase, our bet is that "Stories" will slowly-but-surely managed $3 million over the summer.

The Kings of Summer (May 31)

Director:
Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie
Distributor: CBS Films

Box Office Outlook: Yet another film to get a title do-over after its festival debut, "The Kings of Summer" -- or the film formerly known as "Toy's House" -- offers a Walden-like adventure of three teenage friends (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) who decided to spend their summer building a house in the woods and live off the land, without. CBS Films is releasing the film in late May, and while it's unlikely to be the king of the indie summer box office, our bet is good reviews and its coming-of-age premise help it manage $3 million.


In a World...  (August 9)

Director: Lake Bell
Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed, Tig Notaro
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Box Office Outlook: Lake Bell isn't quite a box office draw, even by indie standards (yet), but her directorial debut (which she also wrote and stars in) is coming off a very well received Sundance debut (Bell won the festival's screenwriting award), and should be a minor hit that makes for a nice stepping stone for the woman behind it. Our bet? $3 million


This article is related to: Box Office, Summer, Before Midnight, Only God Forgives, Fruitvale Station, Much Ado About Nothing