As star power seems to lose a bit of luster every summer season, it becomes harder and harder to even qualify what the word "sleeper" even means. Before its release last year, The Hangover was touted so widely as a potential sleeper hit that it became pretty much a box office guarantee and something of an oxymoron.
It seems that the general consensus is that anything that makes a truckload of cash that's not based on a comic book or TV show, not a sequel, and not headlined by major stars can be called a sleeper. The funny thing is how few films are left when you remove the sequels, adaptations, and star vehicles from the upcoming summer season. Which could break through? What will be this season's District 9, the true out-of-nowhere sleeper of last year? Is there a Hurt Locker in the bunch? It may be too soon to tell what could take off in August, but there are a few films we have our eyes on below the blockbuster line. Here's eight you should mark on your calendar.
(Note: Synopsis information courtesy of IMDB.com.)
Release Date: May 28th, 2010 (VOD on April 30th, 2010)
Starring: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, and Richard Fitzpatrick
Director: George A. Romero
Synopsis: On an island off the coast of North America, local residents simultaneously fight a zombie epidemic while hoping for a cure to return their undead relatives back to their human state.
Why It Could Wake Up: Call this our optimistic pick of the season as Romero’s third Dead movie in six years seems unlikely to be a huge sleeper hit. We haven't seen Survival of the Dead yet, but the world of horror needs to keep filmmakers as talented and important as George A. Romero in business. Unless you want a never-ending stream of personality-less junk like the Final Destination and Saw sequels, horror fans out there owe it to their genre to make Survival of the Dead a sleeper hit. With the VOD debut weeks before most people will have a chance to see it in theaters, a high domestic gross seems even more unlikely (although we sure hope it surpasses the under-$1 million brought in by Diary of the Dead) but we hold out hope that Romero's continued box office slide will turn around and one of the true masters of horror will rise from the near-dead.
Release Date: May 14th, 2010
Starring: Queen Latifah, Common, and Paula Patton
Director: Sanaa Hamri
Synopsis: A physical therapist falls for the basketball player she is helping recover from a career-threatening injury.
Why It Could Wake Up: Because director Sanaa Hamri's highly underrated and mostly unseen Something New should have been a hit and it's about time Common became a romantic movie star. There are very few date movie alternatives this May and it's easy to see Just Wright developing into at least a moderate Queen Latifah hit. When she headlines a movie, $40 million domestic seems to be a bar that can't be reached, but the presence of Hamri and Common along with the dearth of romance this season could turn this into a surprise smash just as the timing proved serendipitous for What Happens in Vegas on the same weekend two years ago, turning that film into a much bigger success ($80 million) than anyone initially predicted.
Release Date: May 28th, 2010
Starring: Dany Boon, Andre Dussolier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, and Dominique Pinon
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Synopsis: A man and his friends come up with an intricate and original plan to destroy two big weapons manufacturers.
Why It Could Wake Up: Because Jeunet rules and the buzz from people who have already seen the film has been spectacular. Don't we need at least one foreign sleeper hit this season? The sad thing is that the audience for foreign language films seem to be dwindling. You would think that future generations would be more open to other cultures but they don't seem to want to read while they eat popcorn with no film not in English breaking $20 million domestically since 2006 (Pan's Labyrinth). Last year's highest-grossing foreign language film (3 Idiots) couldn't hit $7 million. It seems likely that the first film from the director of one of the most successful French entries of all time (Amelie) since A Very Long Engagement (2004) should be able to crack that low ceiling. Is Micmacs a sleeper hit if it makes $10 million? Comparatively, yes, but the potential for this one to be another Amelie and go way beyond that is there and we're hoping it's the smash it could be.
Release Date: July 2nd, 2010
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Roberts, Chace Crawford, Ellen Barkin, Ethan Peck, Rory Culkin, and 50 Cent
Director: Joel Schumacher
Synopsis: A young drug dealer watches as his high-rolling life is dismantled in the wake of his cousin's murder, which sees his best friend arrested for the crime.
Why It Could Wake Up: A potential sleeper from a director who was at least once as A-list as Joel Schumacher seems odd but the director of Batman & Robin does not have the industry respect that he once did. In fact, when this played at Sundance, Roger Ebert wrote that it was being dismissed simply because of its director's reputation for crappy movies and that this one was an underrated gem. We haven't seen it, but the idea of a director who has come across as egocentric as Schumacher venturing into Bret Easton Ellis territory with a tale of beautiful rich people acting like complete idiots is definitely more intriguing than, say, Phone Booth. Of Twelve Ebert wrote, "The film is very well acted, and dark, dark, dark. The director is Joel Schumacher, assured and fearless on a small budget and short shooting schedule which seems to add spontaneity. Schumacher is not fashionable with Sundance types, and I suspect this will emerge from the festival with reviews that don't concede its power. But it will perform." Do you want to argue with Roger Ebert?
Release Date: July 9th, 2010
Starring: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, and Jonah Hill
Directors: Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass
Synopsis: A recently divorced guy meets the woman of his dreams. Then he meets her son.
Why It Could Wake Up: The cast is excellent, the concept is funny, and Mark Duplass has been one of the more interesting indie comedy voices for years, rocking in The Puffy Chair (which he also wrote and directed), Humpday, FX's The League, and Greenberg. He's got perfect comic timing as an actor and we can’t wait to see what he can bring as a writer/director to a more high profile cast than he did in The Puffy Chair and Baghead. And look at that cast. If you've seen previous Duplass films, you know that Reilly, Keener, and Hill have that dry deadpan sense of realistic humor that should make them perfect fits with these talented filmmakers. An art house indie-size sleeper hit seems downright likely and it could even break beyond that to become a top ten film at least once.
Release Date: July 30th, 2010
Starring: Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, and Sissy Spacek
Director: Aaron Schneider
Synopsis: A movie spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party ... while he was still alive.
Why It Could Wake Up: The buzz on Get Low has been getting louder and louder for months and much of it centers around two of our best actors who could easily be Oscar contenders in a little less than a year – Bill Murray and Robert Duvall. Could this be Summer 2010’s Crazy Heart? For this one to become anything bigger than a modest art house hit, it's going to have to be great, and even then the box office ceiling is only so high. Even Crazy Heart couldn't break $40 million domestically and that's with the juice of an Oscar for Best Actor. If Duvall and Murray are as good in this piece as we're hearing they are, Get Low could end up with a similar gross, making it a relative sleeper hit for the season.
Release Date: August 27th, 2010
Starring: Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, and Zoe Kazan
Director: Josh Radnor
Synopsis: A look at the lives and loves of six friends in New York City, and how their existence is changed when struggling writer Sam (Radnor) finds himself the unlikely guardian of a boy who becomes separated from his family in the subway.
Why It Could Wake Up: Summer 2010's most likely (500) Days of Summer is this comedy from the star of How I Met Your Mother, the winner of the Audience Award for drama at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Past winners of said award include Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Hustle & Flow, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (although The Wackness winning anything proves that the air can sometimes be a little thin in Park City). Also, doesn't it seem like we're a bit overdue for a beloved "being young in New York City" movie for the new millennium? It could easily be Radnor's highly-touted directorial debut.
Release Date: August 27th, 2010
Starring: Adam Scott, Elisabeth Shue, Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Dina Meyer, and Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Alexandre Aja
Synopsis: A tremor under the surface of Lake Victoria unleashes scores of prehistoric piranhas, an event which rallies the local sheriff (Shue), who will risk everything to save her townsfolk.
Why It Could Wake Up: Because it looks SO much better than last year's one-two punch of horror crap that came on the last weekend in August with new-and-dreadful sequels to Halloween and The Final Destination and those two films combined made around $100 million domestically. Piranha 3-D looks like it could be the perfect guilty pleasure closer to a season that's going to be filled with films that you might be a little ashamed to tell your friends you’re dying to see (The A-Team, Predators, The Expendables). What better way to go back to school than with three-dimensional man-eating fish jumping into your lap? That could wake everyone up.