The summer movie season is a time when people flock to multiplexes to catch the latest action movie, superhero saga, or all-star cast feature. However, tucked away in the smaller- to medium-sized auditoriums of the large complexes or showing at those urban art houses are the indie features eager to be discovered. Though overlooked this time of year, it is a robust market where breakout potential is possible. Most indies have played the festival circuit, the test markets for elitist taste and barometric pressure cooker for low-budget hits and duds. Adults, both young and old, tend to flock to these movies, as was the case in recent years with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, and Midnight In Paris. Small to middle-size studios love these kinds of movies as they become the envy of a niche industry. It has been an honor to be the “little movie that could” during the competitive summer months. Rave reviews and palatable premises tend to score big with crowds looking for alternative entertainment. Besides, one of these directors could get tapped to make a blockbuster film, as was the case with filmmaker Colin Trevorrow, who made last year’s summer indie darling Safety Not Guaranteed. He is tentatively working on the new Jurassic Park IV movie. TMB will take a look at some of the indie movies opening this summer that might actually make it to a theater near you.
Before Midnight, the third installment following Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, has potential to attract adults not easily amused by superhero movies, especially older crowds who have watched and become emotionally invested in writer/director Richard Linklater’s first two movies. We shouldn’t expect too big of a hit. The first two movies were not big money makers, each amassing $5 million each at the box office. Sony Pictures Classic has a tendency to show up big during the summer, releasing quality work that often towers over its Oscar slate later in the year. Rave reviews and strong word of mouth will be crucial to lure unfamiliar audiences to escape to Europe for the latest installment featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Maybe it could preform beyond expectations? (Opens May 24th.)
The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola’s anticipated follow-up to Somewhere is similar to Spring Breakers: young, well-off, pop-culture obsessed girls committing crime. The comparisons could stop there. The Bling Ring is based on actual events. Emma Watson stars — or at least appears to steal the show — in this quasi-art house feature. The hipster crowd would want to see this as well as younger girls. The unusual coalition could pay off this summer at the box office, and could easily happen as long as the ads are accurate. The $20 million price tag for The Bling Ring is high by indie standards, but over a million views in the first 36 hours the trailer posted on YouTube is a very promising start to brand awareness and ultimate summer success. (Opens June 14th.)
Hard working indie-actor/filmmaker Joe Swanberg (TV’s Young American Bodies, V/H/S, LOL) might have his mainstream acting breakout with You’re Next as well as directing the SXSW hit Drinking Buddies. I adored this fun little gem of a movie when I saw it at SXSW and know audiences will too. Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) are co-workers at a Chicago brewery. They’re made for each other . . . except they’re both seeing other people (Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston). If Magnolia could execute a marketing campaign focusing on beer and Olivia Wilde, Drinking Buddies has potential during the dreadful dog days of summer. (VOD July 25, theatrical late August.)
A hot cast, an emerging filmmaker and a zeitgeist premise could connect with audiences eager for something unique during the summer months. Fox Searchlight is great at selling a hip and relevant movie in a barren market during this time a year. The East could succeed during the summer months as much as a counter-cultural alternative as the characters. However, the first trailer made this engaging, intelligent, sophisticated Michael Clayton-style thriller (with more suspense) look like a home invasion horror film. It didn’t do the movie any favors for adult audiences potentially turned off by this misdirection. The second trailer is more true to its premise and deserves a serious minded audience. (Opens May 31st.)
Out of all the indie features of this summer, this is the one that stands out from the pack. A changing release date usually means it is a hard sale. The Weinstein Company’s decision to move Fruitvale Station from autumn to summer doesn’t bode well for the awards consideration for the film. Neither does changing the original title (just Fruitvale). Nevertheless, it could follow in the footsteps of Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild as the gritty, emotionally charged Sundance winner to art house summer hit that receives multiple Oscar nominations. And who knows where it could go? It is based on “the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.” Octavia Spencer co-stars in a film that, as we will be reminded, drew multiple praise at Sundance. (Opens July 12th)
From the producer of Safety Not Guaranteed and Little Miss Sunshine, The Kings of Summer focuses on teenagers spending the summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. Shaping up to be this year’s Moonrise Kingdom or Napoleon Dynamite, I have a feeling this is most likely to cross over to be the sarcastic, quotable, indie darling of the summer. Out of all the smaller movies, this will appeal to everyone and probably offend no one. To a certain degree, this reminds me of the little-seen but exceptionally heartfelt Son of Rambow. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“Funny Or Die Presents”) and filmed in Cleveland, it premiered to rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. (Opens May 31st.)
William Shakespeare and Joss Whedon: need we say more? Two specific fan bases will by eager to seek this out. Will others? Directed, produced, and written by the beloved Joss Whedon, his fans are devoted since last year’s terrific success with The Avengers and the modest cult classic Cabin In The Woods. Much Ado About Nothing could be about something for audiences. A black and white look is unexpected and could work in the movie’s favor. One could easily predict this eclipsing The Conspirator ($11 million) as the all-time highest grossing movie from Roadside Attractions. Few are making that bold a prediction, but I think it could happen. (Opens June 7th)
Ryan Gosling reunites with the Drive filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn in a film competing for the Palm D’or and released later this summer via Radius/The Weinstein Company. According to the synopsis, Only God Forgives follows Julian (Gosling), who runs a Thai boxing club as a front organization for his family’s drug smuggling operation, as he is forced by his mother Jenna to find and kill the individual responsible for his brother’s recent death. The talented Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars. Only God Forgives has potential to divide and ultimately conquer the niche audiences while probably struggling at the mainstream box office. (Opens July 19th.)
The Way, Way Back
The Oscar-winning The Descendants writing duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their filmmaking debut in The Way, Way Back. It is the funny and poignant coming-of-age story of 14-year old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), an overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up and finally begins to find his place in the world — all during a summer he will never forget. This has potential to be the summer indie hit for most ages and could be the breakout role Anna Sophie Robb has struggled to achieve. (Opens July 5th.)
Other Movies to Keep an Eye On…
Smaller May Releases
The screen adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist could strike a nerve with audiences in light of the Boston terrorist attacks, or could even keep them away! Film festival favorite and Michael Moore-supported Bidder 70 is the environmentalist documentary about land preservation. Strongly buzzed Sundance horror film Black Rock, written by Mark Duplass, is released in theaters. However, it might be too small for even scary movie fans to take notice. A slew of Telluride Film Festival feature films are being released as well and might not be as big as studios were initially anticipating. The always stunning Michael Shannon stars in The Iceman and it looks like a tough sell during this time of year. I wish Frances Ha would be a breakout hit, because I admire the polarizing genius of Noah Brambauch. Look for his latest, sweet movie starring the underrated Greta Gerwig. The poignant documentary Stories We Tell focuses on actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley’s exploration of her family’s past. In a better movie-going world, one where the word ephemeral was more widely used, this would be a hit. Finally, Focus Features is releasing the documentary about Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange in We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. This film has received mixed reviews and sometimes what’s a big deal on the Internet does not translate to the big screen. This is an odd choice for a Focus Features summer release. Contrast that with last year’s Moonrise Kingdom and Paranorman.
Smaller June Releases
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, the airplane disaster comedy I’m So Excited doesn’t have me all that excited, and I usually enjoy the director’s work. Building on positive reaction at SXSW, 20 Feet From Stardom chronicles backup singers who perform just behind or to the side of the famous musician. The funny and insightful look at trash television and an outspoken host who combines the worst of Jerry Springer with Rush Limbaugh are on display in Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie. Media savvy, political junkie Americans will find this freak show display interesting. Anna Kendrick is the most notable actress in Rapture Palooza in what is described as “Two teens battl[ing] their way through a religious apocalypse on a mission to defeat the Antichrist.” The Weinstein Company hopes to appease the Quartet loving senior crowd with An Unfinished Song. A better trailer would help. We will see if they succeed and if old people will show up to literally anything with old people in it.
The follow up to the indie horror movie V/H/S that overwhelmingly under performed at the box office, V/H/S/2 aims for a summer release date. Curious if momentum has generated interest for a second movie in the warmer months, none the less. Kristen Wiig is a failed New York playwright transitioning from “Next Big Thing to Last Year’s News” in Girl Most Likely. With a supporting cast including Annette Benning and Matt Dillion this could be a minor indie hit. Shailene Woodley makes what might be a career defining turn in Spectacular Now and continues the trend of emerging studio A24 picking movies where younger actors sketch their acting chops in indies. Woody Allen’s latest Blue Jasmine will set typical expectations for his style of filmmaking. It will at least bring us a movie close to his next monster hit. This probably won’t be it. Earth shattering buzz at SXSW, the genocide documentary The Act of Killing is an emotional experience from what I’ve been told. Bring the tissues as this supplies the activist anger. Sundance hit Blackfish chronicles the story of Seaworld abusing animals and might have an impact due to the aquisition from CNN Films, but maybe not the big screen.
Aubrey Plaza stars in The To Do List, about a woman feeling sexually pressured to be more experienced before she goes off to college. The much buzzed Lovelace about the infamous porn star Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) finally opens including a very recognizable cast. Magnolia Pictures releases the Berlin Film Festival award winning comedy/drama Prince Avalanche. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch co-lead in the movie about highway construction workers in 1988. Its supposedly better than it sounds. From Felicity to Jane Austin, Keri Russell stars in Austenland about a woman who travels to a “Jane Austen theme park in search for her perfect gentleman.” That’s a girls night out movie. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints described as “the tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.”
As you can see, indie movies aren’t even in short supply during the summer months!