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By Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

They’re called art house films, or specialty films. You know, the ones that never show up at your local multiplex. Except that every once in a while, they do.

Look what happened with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the saffron-scented romcom about a group of British pensioners who resettle to cheaper digs, and sunnier climes, in a rundown hostelry on the subcontinent. The John Madden-directed indie, starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel (as the eager-to-please young hotel manager), opened quietly in late 2011, only to become a surprise international hit.

Ultimately, it earned $137 million, and then millions more in DVD, cable and ancillary sales.

No surprise: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now in theaters, reteaming most of the original cast, and sending Tamsin Greig, David Strathairn, and Richard Gere to join them in Jaipur.

So, what are the production heads at Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, the Weinstein Company, Focus Features, and other specialty houses waiting for? What about following up on other recent classics of indie cinema that also did quite nicely at the box office? Here, then, are a half-dozen hotly anticipated sequels that could be making their way to a theater — in a parallel universe near you.

Birdgirl. What exactly’s going on when Emma Stone pops her head out that hospital window at the end of the Academy Award-winning best picture Birdman? She looks down, and appears terribly worried and sad. She looks up, sees something, and a smile crosses her face. In the sequel, Birdgirl Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Petulance), Stone’s Sam (for Samantha) Thomson starts hearing voices in her head, finds a winged, beak-masked suit that fits her just so, and flies around New York in search of Edward Norton to play a few more rounds of Truth or Dare.

Then she gets the idea to turn a short story by Raymond Carver into a Broadway play. The title? The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off.

Hey, Just a Memento! Christopher Nolan, disappointed in the receipts for his mega-expensive, mega-ambitious space-time wormholer, Interstellar, phones Guy Pearce to ask the Aussie actor if he’d be interested in revisiting the role of Leonard Shelby, the amnesiac sleuth of Nolan’s 2000 low-budget neo-noir mindbender, Memento. But Pearce can’t remember who Nolan is, or what their relationship was, so he uses a system of notes, tattoos, and Polaroid photos to try to track down the filmmaker.

Finally, Pearce heads to an abandoned building outside town where he meets with a man who claims he is Nolan. Pearce takes a Polaroid, then burns it, then drives off in Nolan’s Prius, having tattooed the license plate number on his forearm. The director is left standing there, extremely perplexed.

Precious Too. Gabourey Sidibe returns as Claireece Precious Jones, the Harlem schoolgirl and fried-chicken fiend, who has not only gotten her GED and her life together but has been accepted into the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. There, in a bookstore, she meets Girls star Lena Dunham, leafing through a first edition of a Raymond Carver story collection. A deep friendship is born, a hilarious Thelma and Louise-ish road trip ensues.

The Second Grandest Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson isn’t done yet. In the follow-up to his Oscar-laden 2014 hit, the artful auteur brings back most of the original cast, and sends Tamsin Greig, David Strathairn, and Richard Gere to join them in the Republic of Zubrowka, where a teenage girl wanders through a cemetery, stopping at a monument to “The Author.”

Taking one of the hotel keys that have been left on the memorial by devoted fans, she runs to the titular edifice and dashes up the stairs looking for the room that matches the number on the tag. Opening the door, she discovers M. Gustave and Zero, the lobby boy, stuffing themselves on bespoke macarons. Then a fox, nattily dressed, enters from the balcony, reading aloud from Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity — in the voice of George Clooney. Everyone has a hearty laugh, and then a hearty cry, before heading to the snow-crusted slopes for a wild toboggan ride.

Slumdog Billionaire. Dev Patel, star of the 2009 Academy Award best-picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, makes a pact with the Devil: Let him appear in two movies opening the same day and he’ll donate his winnings from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to a Mumbai orphanage.

So, on March 6, 2015, Patel can be found in the robot-police speculative fiction thriller Chappie and in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. His wily agent having negotiated a profit participation deal with gross, rather than net, profits, Patel sees another windfall. He invests the money in a start-up: a customer service center based in Wisconsin, staffed by laid-off union teachers who answer inquiries from consumers in Mumbai and New Delhi. At the end of the film, the entire cast and crew assemble on a platform at the Amtrak station in Madison and do a big Bollywood-style dance number.

Winter’s Bone 2. Unknown actress Jennifer Lawrence is discovered in Ozark mountain country, hunting squirrel and trying to keep her family clothed and fed, when she volunteers to replace her younger sister in some televised wilderness survival battle to the death. Oh wait. This sequel — The Hunger Games — actually happened.

© 2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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