TIFF 2012: The festival’s major box office contenders

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in 'Looper' (TriStar Pictures)

While the Toronto International Film Festival is mostly known for turning out indie darlings and awards season contenders, potential box office champs have started using the fest as a major launch pad.

See also: More coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

It's easy to spot Hollywood productions during TIFF: they're the movies that get the big red carpet premieres and so-called "premium screenings." Many of them also happen to be a little more "mainstream" than most of the festival's other offerings and have wide releases scheduled for after the festival.

If you missed TIFF 2012 or just didn't care for it, here are some of the festival films primed for box office success.

See also: Lucrative deals made behind-the-scenes at TIFF 2012

"Looper"
Smart, action-packed, and thoroughly entertaining science fiction, Rian Johnson's "Looper" opened TIFF with a time-travelling, telekinetic bang. Reuniting director Johnson with "Brick" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Looper" follows Joe Simmons, a hit man whose job it is to assassinate people sent back in time by the future mafia. Things get more complicated for Joe when his employers try to "close the loop" by sending his future self (Bruce Willis) back to be executed. The fact is that "Looper" is better executed than 99 per cent of the sci-fi currently being churned out by Hollywood; it actually feels like it's bringing something new and exciting to the table. That, combined with the appeal of rising star Gordon-Levitt and the always saleable badassery of Bruce Willis, makes "Looper" one of the sure bets to come out of the festival. "Looper" will be released in theatres on Sept. 28.

"Dredd 3D"
Action movies are rare birds at TIFF, and 3D action even more so. But "Dredd 3D" was there to kick off Midnight Madness, the festival's late-night genre programme, in explosive slow-mo style. No, this is not a reboot of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Judge Dredd," but it is based on the same ultra-violent comic book source material. Karl Urban ("Star Trek") stars as Judge Dredd, a future cop given the power to dispense justice on the spot. The dystopian sci-fi flick sees Dredd charged with the training of a rookie Judge (Olivia Thirlby) on a very bad day that includes taking on a 200-storey building full of murderous drug dealers. And you thought your first day on the job was bad! Despite some minor qualms, genre fans overwhelmingly gave the film high marks at TIFF. If that buzz can last until its wide release on Sept. 21, then the sentence for "Dredd 3D" is box office success.

"Cloud Atlas"
Three directors -- the Wachowskis ("The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") -- team up for what is easily the most ambitious film to come out of Hollywood in years. "Cloud Atlas" is a sprawling adaptation of David Mitchell's century-spanning novel of the same name, one that doesn't entirely work but that's entertaining to watch play out anyway. The $100 million film weaves six seemingly disparate stories together into a yarn about the interconnectedness of a people and the far-reaching effects that their actions can have. With the Wachowskis at the helm and an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant, "Cloud Atlas" has a lot going for it on name recognition alone. However, the oft-times confusing narrative and deeply philosophical concepts at play might put audiences off. Many who saw the film at TIFF are predicting that "Cloud Atlas" will be the next "Inception" — a blockbuster movie that makes you think.

"Argo"
Actor-turned-director Ben Affleck dramatizes the story of the "Canadian Caper," a 1979 covert operation to rescue American diplomats holed up at the Canadian embassy in revolutionary Iran. And what a caper it was! CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) uses the cover story of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a "Star Wars" rip-off in Iran to get members of the embassy staff out. Both funny and gripping, "Argo" may be a potboiler thriller by the numbers, but it's one that is made extremely watchable thanks to a talented ensemble cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, and Victor Garber. If the positive reaction to the film at TIFF was any indication, both box office and awards season glory await "Argo."