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Weekend Estim…zzzzzzzzz

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

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With the wide release of a Latino-targeted comedy, a 434-screen roadshow-priced Hindi sequel, and a Tom Hanks/Emma Watson thriller that couldn’t find a way to inspire audiences, The Fate of The Furious held the top spot, even as it struggles to keep the domestic grosses in line with international, which has it over the $1 billion mark worldwide. And the new Jason Blum releasing company ironically could not beat Weekend 10 of the Jason Blum production, Get Out. The only films with per-screens over $10k this weekend were in languages other than English.

This weekend’s box office is interesting on the foreign language front… and boring as hell otherwise.

The #2/#3 punch of How To Be A Latin Lover and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion seems like history being made. I don’t have the energy to spend a day going through every weekend over the last few decades to be sure, but I don’t recall a weekend on which two of the three top grossers on a weekend were foreign language.

It occurs to me that all of those news segment shout-outs to the Top 3 at the weekend box office will sound as they never have before and that I hope there is as much hype for these two films as there would be if The Circle and Boss Baby were #2 and #3.

There are, of course, odd angles to the 2/3 finish. Very weak release weekend. Only one strong holdover film. This is the only weekend of the year to date in which $11.8m would equate as a #2 finish. (Note: I hate the horse race absurdity so much… but it is how the numbers are promoted and perceived and I acknowledge it.) Also, in the case of B2, there are ticket prices for this new-era roadshow, which includes a lot of IMAX screens, up and over the $20 threshold. A film grossing $10 million on opening weekend would usually signal about a million tickets sold. But with these extreme ticket prices, it is possible that the actual audience for B2 was between 250,000-300,000 this weekend. Still impressive for a Hindi sequel, but a variation. (The same could be said, btw, about the first release of Gone With The Wind, which launched with a hugely-expensive-for-the-period roadshow.)

Lionsgate has been in the Eugenio Derbez business since 2011’s No Eres Tu, Soy Yo (It’s Not You, It’s Me) and it continues to grow the already well-established Mexican star. This is his fourth US release as star and it is the widest and highest-grossing opening. The Spanish-language market in the US has been wildly under-serviced (more so than any other minority group, given its outsized ticket buying) and Lionsgate, Fox, and others have been trying to find a way to mainstream it. If How To Be A Latin Lover outdoes Instructions Not Included by grossing, say, $60 million US, it will turn a lot more heads.

Now… on to the boredom. There isn’t a lot more to say about The Furious, their fate, or how fast they gross.

In said boredom, I looked at the influence of Chinese box office on the very biggest films of the last 2 years, 4 months.

There have been 11 billion-dollar grossers in this period. Only two would not be counted as billion-dollar earners if you discounted the Chinese box office to be consistent with returns everywhere else in the world. Last year’s Zootopia, which did $235 million in China, would now be a $906m grosser. And The Fate of the Furious, which would still be at $901 million worldwide, bringing in $319 million so far in China.

Overall, there would be only minor movement in the overall rankings for these mega-hits if we asterisked China. The F&F movies are, by far, the biggest Chinese grossers in these last 3 calendar years. But a new Transformers is coming, so that could be a new record coming as well. The last Transformers movie is another case of a billion-dollar grosser being brought under the billion mark by The Chinese Asterisk. $320m gross, worth roughly half of the half international usually returns… so instead of $1.1 billion worldwide, it would be $945 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but while we are comparing pixie-dust dream numbers, relevant.

Meanwhile, Finding Dory and Rogue One, which each cracked a billion, but not $1.1 billion, would not be dragged under a billion because they performed weakly in China, losing only $19m and $35m respectively to The Chinese Asterisk. Similarly, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the third $2b movie ever, would still be a $2 billion even with a $62 million Chinese Asterisk haircut.

Perhaps most importantly to Hollywood… every single film that grossed $800 million or more worldwide has gotten a Chinese release. So whatever cherry-picking is still going on by Chinese authorities, they are letting the popular stuff through into their still-evolving, but undeniably massive market.

Friday Estimates by Are We There Yet? Klady

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

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This weekend’s dismal box office is a result of majors clearing out two weeks of space after The Fate of the Furious combined with a couple of weak WB releases just before Fate that will each be under $3m this weekend.

Even had Fate performed as expected/feared domestically, there would still be plenty of room for other films in the weeks before and after. The exhibition business is structured for it. Would it have made sense for a movie like King Arthur to try to take advantage of the space between Fate and Guardians instead of hammocking between Guardians and Alien: Covenant? I think so. Would Amityville: The Awakening been better served in this slot than the intensely crowded July 4 pre-week? You betcha.

Ironic that the Wall Street Journal just did a piece about how wide open distribution has become in the non-Summer window while we were in a month with only one serious major studio release.

Last year, the widest and highest-grossing opening for a non-English market domestic release was No Manches Frida with $3.7 million on 362 screens. The biggest Indian film was a $3.2m launch on 331 screens for Dangal. There is solid business in these markets, playing to diverse audiences in North America in limited release. Dangal was not only the high mark for these films with $12.4 million, never going wider than 338 screens, but the high grosser for all films that never went wider than 500.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not only about to blow away the opening record for these films with its 434-screen opening, but will likely outgross Dangal‘s US run in one weekend.

Right after that is Lionsgate’s latest experiment in the Spanish-speaking market, How To Be A Latin Lover, starring Mexican star Eugenio Derbez, doubling the opening day of their last effort with Derbez, Instructions Not Included. That film played strong for a month. Will this fast opening make for a shorter run?

This makes it all the more painful for STX, unable to open The Circle, starring the lead of a billion-dollar grosser this year and Tom Hanks, to as much as $10 million.

Summer 2017: Here We Go (Wide)!

Friday, April 28th, 2017

summer movie screen

The summer movie season will be 35 movies deep (first weekend of May through the 2nd weekend of August). It’s not out of the norm, although last summer saw an unusually dense August (which went three weekends deep with studio activity).

9 Wide releases in May
13 Wide Releases in June
9 Wide Releases in July
4 Wide Releases in the 1st 2 weekends of August.

Of summer 2017 films, twenty-four come from The Majors. The other 11 wide openings offer the launch of Annapurna as self-distributor; the first film to be released by Europa via STX; the rare equivalent of a retro Paramount Vantage release; another that seems to represent the idea of “The New” Focus Features; the second release from a new self-distribution by a hugely successful producer (Blumhouse Tilt, first release today), a new indie distributor (Entertainment Studio), three horror films from established indies (A24, TWC, Broad Green), and one each from Lionsgate and Open Road.

What does history tell us about what is coming?

Disney has has two of the Top 3 domestic grossers in each of the last three summers. In some ways, Summer 2017 is Peak Disney (at least for now). No messing around trying to release anything other than blockbuster sequels. Guardians, Pirates, Cars. Done.

The two times in the past four summers in which the “opening day” film wasn’t in the domestic top 3 were Marvel characters – Thor and Spider-Man. But in the summer when Amazing Spider-Man 2 was soft, Marvel’s August release, Guardians of the Galaxy, “won” the summer. So it’s probably a good bet that Guardians 2 will be on top or at least Top 3 this summer, domestically. But there is also a good chance that Pirates 5 and Cars 3, which both dropped significantly domestically last time around, will not make the Top 3 of the summer. (Cars, as Disney likes to point out, sells a massive amount of licensed product.)

That summer of Guardians, three years ago, is significant to this summer because not only is Spidey also coming back, but so is Transformers (that summer’s #2), and Apes (that summer’s #5). That’s 4 of Summer 2014’s Top 6 domestic grossers cycling through with sequels in the same summer. Left out are the Disney live action reboot of an animated film (Maleficent back then) and an X-Men movie… both of which were already released (Beauty & The Beast and Logan). Godzilla was #7 that summer… and we have already had Legendary’s big animal movie for this year, Kong: Skull Island.

So when someone tells you that Hollywood is obsessed with repeating itself… you have a good argument. Next summer also looks like a 3-year reunion… sequels from summer 2015’s #1 Jurassic World 2, #2 Avengers 3, #5 Mission: Impossible 6, and #7 Ant Man 2. Pixar doesn’t have a sequel to Inside Out (#3), but it does have The Incredibles 2. Minions (#4) has the next in its family this summer, Despicable Me 3. And #6 from Summer 2015, Pitch Perfect has its second sequel coming early… this Christmas.

But wait! Next summer is even more steeped in self-reflection. Star Wars joins the summer with Lord & Miller’s Han Solo prequel. Deadpool 2. Ocean’s 8 (couldn’t find 11 women in Hollywood… ha ha). Another Purge. Another Hotel Transylvania. A reboot of Predator. A reboot of Scarface. And I am suspecting we will be spared Barbie: The Motion Picture and another “Untitled Disney Live Action Fairy-Tale”… neither of which may not be ready to shoot soon enough to make it?

But let’s look at this summer. If I was forced, with a gun to my head, to predict how this summer will work out domestically, I’d say (in order of guessed domestic gross):

OVER $300m
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Transformers: The Last Knight

OVER $200m
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Despicable Me 3
War for the Planet of the Apes

OVER $150m
Cars 3
Dunkirk
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The Mummy
Wonder Woman
Alien: Covenant

OVER $100m
Annabelle: Creation

$50m – $100m
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Captain Underpants
Detroit
The Dark Tower
The House
Baywatch
The Emoji Movie
Rough Night
Girls Trip
Snatched

UP TO $50m
Atomic Blonde
Midnight Sun
Baby Driver
Amityville: The Awakening
All Eyez on Me
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
It Comes At Night
Wish Upon
47 Meters Down
An Inconvenient Sequel
Everything, Everything
Lowriders

Of course, the BIG question is worldwide box office, not just domestic. Again, the gun pressed against my temple, the worldwide grosses over $400m:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $1.25 billion
Transformers: The Last Knight – $1.1 billion
Despicable Me 3 – $1 billion
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $975 million
Spider-Man: Homecoming – $850 million
War for the Planet of the Apes – $750 million
The Mummy – $725 million
Alien: Covenant – $650 million
Wonder Woman – $580 million
Cars 3 – $525 million
Dunkirk – $500 million
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – $475 million

It’s worth noting that the only two films in this group of 12 (and the domestic top 17) are, in any real way, “movie star-driven,” and they are Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy, so an iffy proposition. Does Depp make Pirates or did Pirates make Depp? How much of the Mummy gross will be Cruise and how much will be the familiar concept?

As for esthetics, we don’t know… yet.

What I do know is that there are at least 14 movies that I am really, really looking forward to seeing this summer. If most of those are worth the time, it’s a pretty great summer.

Obviously, Detroit and Dunkirk are the wide-release adults in the room. Two great filmmakers. And I am thrilled by Nolan doing a project about real life. To see his brain work within those boundaries could lead to the best work of his career.

Ridley Scott is still a master… seeming to get closer to the original Alien. Win.

I love Luc Besson. I don’t know if people will buy Valerian, but sign me up twice. So much so that I bought a subscription to a pay-streaming service to watch some of the old French cartoons.

I don’t hear great things about Pirates, but it was made by indie artists, so I’m very curious.

The Apes films are underrated, even as well-reviewed hits.

I hope Rough Night kills. Baywatch looks gloriously stupid. And Edgar Wright is always a happy screening to add to the calendar.

So I am looking forward to these months… which hasn’t been true for me for a few years.

RIP Jonathan Demme

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

demme

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (spoiler-free)

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Guardians 1 2Guardians 2 is the epitome of a sequel to an unexpected smash hit.

James Gunn brought an esthetic to the first film that is widely accepted as key to the film’s success. He even shared credit for the screenplay (with Nicole Perlman).

And so, with the sequel, Gunn gets the room to run. An extra million here or there? Great. An even more complicated storyline than the original? Hell, audiences loved that convoluted ride… not going to argue much. Etcetera. Elements that audiences loved in the original? Pile ’em on!

Of course, any sequel (particularly those not planned as sequels before the original was produced) suffers from familiarity. The excitement of the new, especially unexpected the good kind of new, is a huge benefit that few sequels can find. The Alien movies were unique, for instance, as Aliens had a wildly different tone and style than the original. Likewise, Cameron benefited from major technological advances and a budget many times the size of the original in going from The Terminator to T2: Judgment Day.

In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, there is all the stuff you loved the last time… times five. Baby Groot is relentlessly cute and Grooty. Rocket has a bigger role here and seems to have been improved technically. (Nothing wrong with Rocket the last time, but the CG work seems able to relax and make him feel even more just another character.) Remember how funny it was when Drax laughed hard at something in the last time? His sense of humor has developed so that we get a big barrel-chested laugh every 15 minutes or so.

Gamora has lost some of her edge, as she has become more of a reflection in Quill’s eyes than a fully formed character. And Quill is… pretty much the same, though they have upped the ante on his tools a bit… or at least it felt that way.

Holding over from the first film in more significant roles are Yondu and Nebula.

And then they added three more major characters: Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Kurt Russell as Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha. If you are like me, you might think that Ayesha is being played by Masters’ wife from “Masters of Sex,” but I was wrong.

guaridan masters

Also… Stallone in about three minutes of screentime (leading to Guardians 3). Fun to see him. Not doing much here.

Avoiding spoilers, the reason why most of these non-Guardian characters are in the film is the same… to continue the theme of family. More family. And of course, as the major sub-theme of the original was Star Lord’s mommy, in this film, the major sub-theme is…

Mostly, it is still fun and the excesses are pretty harmless. I LOVE Mantis as a character and wish she had more active screen time and dialogue. Full-on Groot should be back for the next movie. I am always happy to spend movie time with Michael Rooker.

The significant problem is, surprise, another kind of overreach. You see, there are things that play really well in comic books that are almost impossible to pull off in a live-action feature film. And Mr. Gunn proves that here. It’s not that it’s HORRIBLE. It’s not. Not even terrible. But one of the big ideas in this film just doesn’t work. It never becomes clear and clean enough to work.

You’ll know when it happens.

This idea is really, really cool – triply if you are stoned – but whatever takes something from a cool thing that you imagine in your head when you read (or look at comic) just doesn’t come together.

Aside from that, the action gets muddled, though there are a couple of exceptionally good action gags. But weirdly, there are also a few that seem clear and obvious but get muddled up.

There are cases where I prefer the second, more indulgent movie. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom comes to mind. Mad Max. Magnum Force. T2. Empire. Wolverine. (Godfather II is not on the table.)

But Guardians V2 isn’t Bad Boys 2 or Ghostbusters 2, either. It’s more in line with Beverly Hills Cop II or Die Hard II. Familiar… some good new (bigger) jokes… but just not fun the way the originals were.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 isn’t a clunker. That would be way too harsh. When this review tomatoes, it should be Fresh… because there isn’t a rating for “still looks good, but is a bit softer than you like your tomatoes so maybe you’ll just mix it in a salad or make a sauce of it.”

Weekend Estimates by Waiting For Guardians Klady

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Weekend Estimstes 2017-04-23 at 9.11.27 AM

The Fate of the Furious holds onto the top spot with no competition of significance arriving. DisneyNature’s Born in China plays like a family film and is the top newcomer with a projected $5 million. Warner Bros.’ Going in Style is holding better than expected while Unforgettable escapes and the studio waits for Wonder Woman. What are the odds that a second movie with “Forgot” in the title would open on a single weekend? Not good. Like Phoenix Forgotten‘s box office draw. The Promise opens to $4.1 million, which is actually above extremely low expectations. A24 tries out the 1,000-screen opening turf and finds it unfriendly as Free Fire can’t crack $1,000 per-screen.

Friday Estimates by Still Fate Less Furious Klady

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

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A blah weekend as we head into the Guardians explosion, which will be the second $100 million-plus opening of the year after Furious Fate opened to only $98.8m.

Speaking of The Fate of the Furious, it is now on track to land between the grosses of Fast 5 and Furious 6, nowhere near 7. The weekend drop will be closer to 60%, which isn’t embarrassing for such a big opener.

Beauty is in a space without comparisons. Already past a billion worldwide, where it finally lands is coming closer, but has a lot of give. Regardless, Beast.

The newcomers didn’t land.

I have spent no effort trying to figure out why Unforgettable outdoor had no WB markings. But it escaped more than it was released.

The Promise is one of those horrible cases of a lot of talent with a ton of good intentions making a terrible, unsellable movie. The Armenian genocide is a worthy subject for a great film. But it has yet to happen.

The latest in Disney’s now sidebarred nature series opened to almost exactly what the last film in the series grossed on its opening Friday.

On the indie side, not pretty. The two most hopeful releases, Forgotten Phoenix (trying the Paranormal angle but without building up enough heat) and Free Fire, which is the second widest launch in A24’s history and will generate one-eighth of the opening of the widest release, The Witch.

BYOB Weekend

Friday, April 21st, 2017

byobfoodpoisoning

The James Gray Thing

Friday, April 21st, 2017

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I don’t get it.

And now, six features into James Gray’s directing career, I think I am done apologizing for it.

My experience of Gray’s films has been, consistently, “great acting… why doesn’t the story work?”

And yet, some of the smartest critics I know are true devotees of everything Gray does. They must be hip to something that I am not seeing, right?

Where I see a 1930s/40s backlot jungle movie, they see a lush, elegant dip into the profoundly exotic.

I see Charlie Hunnam as I have usually seen him (a serviceable, professional, hunk actor) out of his depth, not offering the emotional range that this character demands. They see him making a breakthrough performance of great depth.

Where they see restraint and subtext in the inaction of Gray’s work, I see a puzzle that simply doesn’t interest me.

I think the reason that Joaquin Phoenix has been so critical to Gray’s work is that he brings the kink that Gray just isn’t interested in bringing… even though his films are all about passion. The way Spielberg hits the wall when it comes to sex or Fincher hits the wall when it comes to heartfelt emotion, Gray is drawn to big emotions underlying his work, but then seems to make every effort to keep it under restraint.

Perhaps Gray is the great tantric filmmaker and I am just the heathen who wants to have the emotional explosion every time.

Or, as Richard Brody of The New Yorker put it: “James Gray’s films are the public trace of a secret doctrine: don’t follow the words, follow the music; don’t believe your eyes, believe your heart. He’s a devoted, meticulous, fanatical realist whose clear, tough, physical dramas sublimate themselves into undertones and overtones, murmurs and intimations, reminiscences and dreams.”

Yeah. That makes sense. And it bores the crap out of me.

Really, my thoughts about why so many critics revel in Gray’s work is that they are deeply moved by the withholding nature of Gray. Ironically, the only James Gray movie to gross as much as $4 million domestically is the one movie critics hated, We Own The Night. Ironically, this is also the second-lowest grossing Mark Wahlberg movie of the last decade (20 films).

I think they like that the emotion is (mostly) secret. I think they feel he is, somehow, a feminist, in that his women suffer in a more realistic way than in most “Hollywood” movies (but suffer they do). I think they prefer emotional restraint on the paint drying level to scenery chewing (or their idea of what that means).

My decades of film obsessing has included many directors with whom I didn’t connect early on only to fall head over heels a few films later. I am thrilled when it snaps in. Peter Weir, Danny Boyle, Lars von Trier, Robert Altman, Almodóvar, Jane Campion, Iñárritu, Baz Luhrmann, Haneke and Mike Leigh are amongst the filmmakers that took time for me to make a strong connection… to understand what they were up to and to fully appreciate it. There is usually one film that, finally, connects, and sends me off to reconsider all the other work I had seen and have not connected with before that moment. I am glad to say that only one filmmaker on that list is no longer with us and I now joyously anticipate every new work from each of the others, resilient even after disappointments.

But I don’t think this is ever going to happen for me and James Gray.

I think his fans in the critical community are right, really. What disconnects for me in every film, it seems, is what turns them on about his work. And thus, I have to assume that this thing – genius or defect – is deeply embedded in Mr. Gray. I just don’t like that flavor.

It would be perverse, in a way, to wish for James Gray to make a movie I loved. (And keep in mind, in spite of not connecting, I respect the work he gets from actors and completely understand why they want to work with the guy.) If he made a movie I loved, he would have failed himself.

It’s not fun being the stick in the mud who won’t go there with a guy that so many colleagues love. I don’t take pride in raging against the work. Given the commercial insignificance of Gray’s work, hating on his work is like pulling wings off a fly. The whole thing makes one feel like a vulgarian, however irrational that is in context.

I still hate The Immigrant (great performance by Cotillard… but what a mess) and will scoff every time I hear or read a critic talking about it as an overlooked masterpiece. The Lost City of Z belongs in conversation with Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s jungle work like Trump belongs on Mount Rushmore. Give me The Mosquito Coast on white men trying to figure out their place on the planet every time.

But… I am taking the James Gray chip off my shoulder. I’m sure he’s a great guy and would be a wonderful thinker with whom to spend a four-hour dinner. No need to be frustrated about how some see his work or being emphatic about taking shots at the work.

Like mushrooms, I will keep trying them with an open mind every couple of years, not really expecting my palette to change, but hopeful, as I am missing out on something that so many others love. And if my tastes don’t change… just order something else. Not so bad.

STRIKE! (oh oh oh oh oh oh) What Is It Good For?

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

The mostly-unlikely-to-occur Writers Guild Strike that is being threatened is a blurry mess. If you read media reports about what is happening and why it is happening, you get a parade of takes so varied that a showrunner would scream at a writer to find the damned idea they are writing about for 22 minutes, 42 minutes, or we’re-streaming-so-we-don’t-really-care-how-long-it-goes.

We know that:
• WGA Health are is running at a deficit. WGA wants more money and AMPTP wants Trumpcare.
• Episodic TV is shooting fewer and fewer episodes and wanting the same commitment from writers as they used to get for 24 a year for a lot less money.
• The streaming residual deal, made a decade ago, sucks.

The core problem is, WGA, like DGA (which never strikes… except for four hours once.. because they are not built to need these fights), is still negotiating like it’s the old days. Incremental improvement.

If you think the television business changed between the 1988 strike and the 2008 strike, you can’t even imagine how much it has changed in the years since then. There was a massive revenue spike from DVD sales going into the 2008 negotiation that the WGA had been pushed out of in earlier negotiations. That was the core of the fight going into the negotiations in 1988. Then, it was taken off the table because it had already been negotiated.

Residuals on series originating on network TV are, currently, 5% of WGA minimum for 6 months of streaming on whatever SVOD or MVPD platform on which you are airing. That means (using the highest level of minimums):

$2600 a year for a sitcom episode
$3800 a year for an hour-long

On the other hand, in the old television universe, where reruns were the norm, a writer gets paid $14,000 for a sitcom rerun and $25,000 for an hour-long rerun. (To be clear, that is the actual minimum pay for network reruns today.)

For the compensation for a single network rerun to be as low as the compensation for a year on Netflix, Hulu or the like, a broadcast network would have to rerun an episode seven times.

There are many variations. For instance, if you write a show for a SVOD/MVPD, it includes a year on the “network” (Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/etc) and then, in subsequent years, a writer gets paid a percentage of the “applicable network prime time residual base”… 30% in Years 2 & 3, 25% in Year 4, and downward until, after 12 years, it locks in at 1.5% a year.

The point is that the WGA is getting platformed to real injury.

I get why it seems like this union is in a lofty position when, for instance, they complain about paying more than they currently pay for better health insurance than I have (full disclosure – I’m a former WGAw member)… perhaps rising from $600 a year to as much as $5000 a year for their families, while I am paying $14,000 a year for my family. But this is one of the perks of being a working writer in Hollywood. The same people also have a lack of job security and all kinds of other vulnerabilities. In this case, the issue is that the structure of how a mid-level screenwriter made a living has changed dramatically.

When you achieve status in an industry where the working salary is, say, $250,000 a year and the working salary suddenly drops to, say, $175,000 a year, yeah, you are going to survive. But it is a major cut to your life. It isn’t like you make $25,000 a year and it gets cut to $15,000. But if your family earns $100,000 a year and that gets cut to $75,000… still a major event in your lives.

And as the WGA has pointed out, ad nauseum, the companies they are employed by are doing well, thanks. This isn’t a greedy employee trying to bleed a struggling boss.

In any case, when the WGA went out on strike in November 2007, they left, however unintentionally, the SAG hanging out to dry. The SAG members who were fighting against what came to pass (including the AFTRA merger) saw that the middle class of actors would be squeezed by the end of network reruns that were a significant part of an actor’s revenue stream. WGA ended their strike, took the perceived win (buying the con there was no money in streaming and that they would renegotiate later, followed in less than a year by the first $100 million a year deals for big production companies to stream). SAG took the horns.

A decade later, here we are, discussing how the WGA middle class is being squeezed by the end of network reruns as we knew them.

But it’s bigger than that now, really.

When the entire television industry has changed so dramatically, what is the point of building on old contracts as though the same goals are being achieved?

This is probably about to be adjusted, but in the last contract, the distinction for the bigger SVOD/MVPD businesses was 15 million or more subscribers. That means only Amazon Prime and Netflix. (Hulu is almost there.) But they have, respectively, 65 million and 53 million domestic subscribers. It is just silly that they are paying no residuals in the first year a show runs on their services (it’s included in the original writing payment). Similarly silly to a network show paying less than $5000 an episode for a year of streaming. (Yes, individually bought episodes – on iTunes, for instance – pay more. 1.2% of “distributor’s gross”)

It’s really time to take a look at how television (the primary issue in this threatened strike) is made, how it airs, and how shows make money. The will always be a ton of variables, negotiated by the most successful for themselves. But the 2007 negotiation and this negotiation feel like WGA leadership is fighting for benefits to make up for the lack of logical, foundational benefits.

The weight of this would hang on writers, too. Some who currently benefit from being successful on broadcast networks would make less money. But overall, writers would do better. Change is uncomfortable.

The WGA Basic Agreement is complicated. But I am looking at the broad strokes. The nitty-gritty details always seem to be worked out okay.

Historically, the production fees for television writers and the distribution were connected financially. Writers took the chance that if the show didn’t succeed, they would only be paid for the work done to get through production and (most likely) one airing. But if the show succeeded on network TV or even cable, the “residuals” would be quite significant… in many ways (while re-running on network air), as though a writer was getting a bigger payment for that work.

This still exists. But the percentage of television series and thus, writers, operating under this conceit has shrunk massively. That is why WGA writers (and Health/Pension) feel under attack. A big chunk of revenue has vanished, even as more shows are made and aired.

So if you had a wide-open, not-prenegotiated field, how would you address the changes?

Change the definition of the windows.

There is, literally, more detailed information available about what is watched and how many TVs are watching than ever before. Very little is publicly shared. They all know how many TVs are tuning in.

But we still live in a world where “residual” payments are defined by the bias of the 110 domestic household market made up almost completely of cable and satellite subscribers… even though we know that most cable/satellite subscribers consume content on only a sliver of their available channels.

Flip side, Netflix has 50 million domestic subscribers and they get a free year without residuals of any kind on their in-house shows… even though we generally assume that many of their shows have more viewers than many network shows.

Somewhere in the middle, there is a fair answer.

It should not matter, in terms of payment to union members of all stripes, what kind of delivery system on which a show lands. This is already true… but it is going to be truer every year. This is the future.

If you really wanted a fair system for TV, every outlet in every delivery system would be given a ranking every year, based on the size of their overall audience (via some formula that would engender fairness), and the level of their residuals would be adjusted annually. With success, an outlet would pay more in residuals. In failure, less.

Give the networks an annual payment option also. Stop offering financial encouragements them to push reruns to streaming. I’m not saying to give them reruns for free. But what if the networks and every other outlet with more than 50 million “subscribers” paid minimum-and-a-half for that first year of re-runs, whether they were showings on the network or streaming and always accessible? 15 million to 49.9 million subs might pay minimum in that first year. 5 million to 14.9m, 3/4 of the minimum. Etc.

I am not offering this as the perfect numbers, but an idea about how we think of outlets and the attached residual payments.

The issue of a TV episode as a unique event vs the idea of an episode as one of a constantly-accessible group (a season or multiple seasons) is head-spinning in terms of what is fair. Payment should not be directly connected to the number of TVs playing a show, as that would open a dangerous can of worms. Netfilx, as you know, doesn’t want to tell anyone specific numbers, ever. But how does one handle a massive library of available titles, like Netflix’s, fairly to Netflix and the union members? Perhaps another idea would be that there are tiers within the Netflix (as the example) library, defined by Netflix and subject to highly confidential audit. One rate for series with fewer than 100k views a month, another from 100k – 1 million, etc.

This would cost the successful streamers and cable outlets more in residuals and, probably, take some of the burden off of the “broadcast” networks for paying writers. But the real goal would be to spread the greatest cost to those who are having the most success and to leave room for smaller enterprise and, indeed, failure.

I’m not saying that I have The Answers. One look at the 687-page WGA Minimum Basic Agreement and you know there are a ton of variables. But I do know that continuing to build on what exists as though nothing has changed is not a good choice. Reconfiguration should be done not under that threat of strike, but in the years between, with a serious effort on both sides to consider overall numbers as well as modern content delivery.

I haven’t addressed Health and Pension for a couple of reasons. First, the money that gets paid into those funds is not driven by reruns. Second, I don’t believe the deficits are an issue that is a contribution percentage issue, but an overall revenue issue. The most likely way to solve one is to solve the other.

I don’t believe that it is AMPTP’s position to tell WGA or any union how to handle their members’ healthcare, I do think that part of WGA’s problem is that it is facing the same demographic issues of the rest of the healthcare world, and they probably need to be less generous to membership for the next decade or two. But this is an issue that calls for conversation and people can take positions on other side reasonably. The current system of how money flows through WGA members, less so.

I don’t think a strike is needed because I don’t think there is enough to win (or lose) at this point. The can is likely to get kicked down the road with or without a strike.

The system needs a radical rethink. And the negotiators, on both sides, seem to be seeing this all still on the level of how much money is moving this way or that in total, not really as a series of thousands of individual deals.

Soylent Green is people, people.

Weekend Estimates By The Len Of The Furious

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

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DP/30: Norman, Richard Gere, Joseph Cedar

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Friday Estimates by Tardy Klady

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

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Friday Box Office Not By Klady (yet)

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Len got us the wrong numbers this morning and is now out of pocket, so look for his chart later.

Opening day for The Fate of the Furious is off by over $20 million – almost a full third – from Furious 7. Disappointment rarely is so exciting! (Should be the tagline for the movie).

Internationally, it is killing, as expected. The weekend estimate from the studio is $430 million overseas, $192 million of that from China, which (of course) returns half of what the rest of the world returns to the studio. Still, $240 million aside from China, $100 million in real dollars from one market out of the US (China), and something around $100 million domestically is nothing to complain about.

As crap as this episode of is, China will make the $800m worldwide bottom a $1 billion bottom. And that makes it very, very profitable.

So what is the strategy going forward? Because Universal has to know, even though they are getting away with it, this is not a road to keep traveling based on the box office alone. They tried to upgrade. They failed. So now, they need to try to upgrade in some other way to keep people coming to #9 and #10 and onward.

Besides other bad choices, I think the big mistake on this film was thinking that Charlize Theron, who is great, was going to juice the franchise. But she isn’t this franchise’s speed. She plays a Bond villain. Honestly, Jessica Chastain is more the speed. She isn’t the box office star that Theron is, but she brings a grounded energy that is a better fit. Donald Glover would be huge in this series (likely won’t do it, even less so after Lando). Go get Channing Tatum, who is believably physically, but brings a different kind of charm to the piece. Add Ilana Glazer and bring some real comedy and some overt female sexuality.

And hire Michelle MacLaren next time. Or some director who LOVES cars. Why aren’t they hiring Walter Hill? Does Billy Friedkin want to direct something that big at his age? (He’d tell me to fuck myself for asking… but you gotta.) Get the tires back on the ground. Come up with some giant, crazy action sequences, but bring it back to something more intimate. Brad Bird won’t do it. McQuarrie won’t do it. Jordan Peele would be a hip pick, though I am not sure he really wants to do a big ride movie. Bong Joon-ho could kill it. Go get Gareth Evans. How about Karyn Kusama?

Anyway… I like F Gary Gray, but this was his first giant machine movie and he overreached. He will make many more terrific, commercial movies. This isn’t his thing. Coming off Compton, he seemed obvious, but instead of bringing the franchise to him, he “let” the franchise eat him. Move on.

Beauty and the Beast becomes the tenth $450 domestic grosser of all time today, seventh fastest all-time.

Review: The Fate of the Furious (spoiler-free)

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

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A lot of people complain about the current state of cinema.

I don’t tend to buy it. Change is uncomfortable for people and whatever “the kids” like often brings the wagging fingers of more, uh, mature folks.

I gave up on the Fast/Furious franchise a few films back… the giant safe being dragged around Brazil, I believe it was. Fast Five. I didn’t feel Justin Lin had broken the foundations of cinema. I was done. I enjoyed the actors, including the addition of The Rock and whatever Hot Chick o’ the Sequel they had added, but there was enough in the world to keep me amused without the same gags over and over and stunt/effects that were over the top.

Michelle Rodriguez is resurrected in Furious 6. Paul Walker died too young before Furious 7 was done, but ends the movie alive and retired while they added another international action star to the mix, Jason Statham.

So after two films off, I figured it was time to try it again. I have fond memories of screening the first The Fast & The Furious fairly early at Universal 16 years ago and liking it a lot more than I expected to at the time. (As a director, Rob Cohen had burnt away any of my admiration for Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story with Daylight and The Skulls. TF&TF felt like him taking a step back to cleaner, simpler filmmaking. xXx and Stealth would soon send him back onto my least admired director list.)

WTF?

I found The Fate of the Furious such a shocking mess of extreme, belief-unsuspending CG-driven crap that I couldn’t quite believe it. So much so that I actually DVRed Furious 7 that very night to see whether Justin Lin had taken them down this road to this degree over the two films I missed.

He had not. James Wan took over with #7. But he hadn’t either.

There is a lot of crazy stuff in Furious 7, but it’s not cars-on-ice-being-chased-by-a-submarine unbelievable. Or should I say, stupid?

I was fascinated by this ongoing mega-franchise as it represents so much of what has been going on in the industry in the 8 years since the reboot with Fast & Furious. That film represented the return of Vin Diesel, settling into his sweet spot in a career that literally consisted of one other hit with him as the star, ever. (That would be The Pacifier. Including his turns as the voice of Groot in the Guardians franchise is absurd.) But more so, it took the sense of the international and the multiethnic that had developed in the sequel and the threequel and embraced it fully. It was a reboot and a de-boot. Perhaps most importantly, it mirrored the massive expansion of international box office. That film doubled the best of the first 3 films overseas. Then #5 doubled that. #6 saw a 25% bump. And then Furious 7 doubled that high for the series.

Short of Lucasfilm or Marvel, this once modest franchise stands as the model for much of the industry’s franchise ambitions.

For The Fate of the Furious, Universal added more muscle. Why-would-you-want-to-be-called-Dwayne-when-you-are-The-Rock Johnson is now a regular. Statham and Kurt Ruseell are now regulars too. “The Family” is stabilized with Tyrese, Ludicris, Nathalie Emmanuel (who only works in massive franchises… this and “Game of Thrones” and The Maze Runner), Michelle Rodriguez and Vin. So add Charlize Theron, because… why not?

So what do you do with all this extremely familiar firepower?

Add F. Gary Gray off of his triumph with Straight Outta Compton. After all, here is a guy who knows how to do action with more of a character base than a CG base. Set It Off, The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen. He’s never made a movie where effects ate the movie.

Until now.

The first sequence is a good idea. Dom and Letty in Cuba. Raw. Cool old cars. Okay. Bet then, the sequence starts with the camera practically licking the lovely buttocks of first-time “actress” Lisandra Delgado, who may never act again, but will be invited to every party in L.A. for the next couple years, ride on a private jet included. I don’t recall any race-starting hottie being objectified in this way in the series before.

Stuff happens… and then there is a sequence in New York that doesn’t just strain credulity, but muddles it, shreds it, chews it up, swallows out, and craps it out. Really, this is the filmic opposite of the chase in The French Connection. The intimacy, the intensity, the sense of reality… all non-issues in this sequence. Logic? Forget that stuffy old idea.

At the core of the stupidity of this sequence is how it is executed by The Villain. One computer technician doesn’t just take control of some unwitting hack-vulnerable elements to raise the stakes. This one computer technician singlehandedly takes control of an action sequence that would require some precision work by no fewer than a few dozen well-organized minds at the tip-top of their evil game. And no doubt, hundreds of people (if not more than 1000) were involved in making this sequence come to life for the film. But I didn’t need to see a warehouse with 200 computer consoles, making a NASA launch look minor, in order to suspend my disbelief in a big, fun, silly action movie. But one guy? No.

Did I mention that Charlize Theron, who has a remarkably high skill level in the land of fantasy and CG, looks like she is being held hostage by a big check and fear of turning 40 throughout the film as she reads the weak (as usual) screenplay with a subtext of knowing how bad it is? (This is one of Vin Diesel’s charms. He is 100% go no matter how bad the writing.)

Jason Statham is having fun and his Parkour-master stunt double is doing a lot of his work. Jason is there for the tough guy jokes. He has the one truly likable sequence in the film – not spoiling it for you – and sadly, they lay on that about two beats too long for it to be as memorable as it should have been.

The Rock is having fun chewing the hell out of the scenery in the way a guy who knows he may be the biggest movie star in the world throwing out another film that might do a billion dollars.

Somebody get Tyrese Gibson’s character some irony. He’s doing what’s written and doing it fine, but he really could use a character blender for at least two acts. The two black guys chasing the one black woman is stale as hell, even though Nathalie Emmanuel actually maintains dignity for her character and never looks less than supermodelesque. Ludacris remains unfazed, cashing those checks and being just find hanging out.

I feel pain for Michelle Rodriguez, who is an interesting actress and human who gets the bulk of the “oh my God… did they really think that they could get away with that without the audience cringing?” lines. But I bet she is at peace with it and would tell me to f*** off if I said this to her. Fair enough.

I won’t explain all the many ways this film commits movie suicide. There are moments that work, here and there. But the pressure to top the stunts from previous films have pushed this, the 8th film, very close to self-parody. There is a giant disconnect, by design, between The Villain, who flies around in a plane and turns up and escapes from certain tight spots like a magician, and what is actually happening in the physical world. The ambitions of the techno-angle feel a decade old. Mr. Gray, who can bring it, still has a bad tendency to shoot in close-up too much, killing a sense of space in the action (a function of his first really big action film or his desire as an intimate filmmaker to prioritize humans… either way a car wreck).

Thing is… not everyone will hate it. Some will be satisfied with actors they like, lots of gun fire and fast vehicles, and the big strokes of the “we are family” storyline.

I am avoiding spoilers here, but I will say that I chafed in this film… a lot… by the idea that many, many dead people -good or bad – are of less value than one person who someone loves deeply. This is a constant part of this story. And it can’t be hidden behind, “Hey man… action movies.” I love many big, stupid, murderous action films. Give me the original Total Recall any day… human life is meaningless in that film. But that is the point. You are rooting for the hero and his survival, as in many action films. Nor is there the “we’re making a point of making the hero choose between his lover and 200 people on a boat” idea of The Dark Knight. The Fate of The Furious endlessly argues, without much thought, that endangering scores of thousands or more is less important than some relationships. The whole film is too silly for this to be hateful… but it poked at me for the entire running time.

We’ll see whether there is any audience consternation about the push to the ungrounded action. (Note: the fastest submarine ever recorded went 40 mph with miles to get to speed.) People love the familiar. This screenplay tugs and rubs through much of the franchise history to keep things faux fresh.

But it is hard to believe that something this important to Universal and on turf this well-trod by 7 previous movies led to something that really feels outside of the franchise. If there was an ice cream flavor that actually numbed your tastebuds rather than activate them, this would be the movie embodiment. Tofu with nothing to leech flavor from but the bowl. A manila envelope. Fate of the Flavorless.

BYOB: Where To Go With The Hot Blog

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

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If you had the power to decide what direction this blog was going – aside from “write more” – what would you like to see?

Weekend Estimates by Klady & The Baby 2

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

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Both estimates are likely high, but Fox outdid Disney, projecting a 3.8x Friday-to-weekend gross for The Boss Baby over a 3.7x ratio projected by Beauty & The Beast by Disney, even though the assumption would be that the soft opening of Smurfs: The Lost Village Opening would come out of Baby‘s hide more than Beauty‘s. The other wide opener, Going in Style, did okay, slotting into a space without many, if any, legitimate comparisons.

Fox’s 10-pack of releases from DreamWorks Animation is near its end, but going out strong with The Boss Baby looking like it will pass last summer’s Trolls, and with Captain Underpants on his way, hoping to be the Twilight of the under-13 set. It will be fascinating to see if Universal can bump the DWA franchise up a notch, which has never cracked $750m worldwide aside from Shrek films, to where Disney/Pixar and sometimes Illumination lives.

Beauty & The Beast will join the billion-dollar club this week. It’s doubled the #2 earner domestically (Logan). And it still has an outside shot at catching Frozen ($1.28b) to become Disney’s top princess film ever.

Smurfs: The Lost Village is the third of the series for Sony Animation and remains in line with grossing more than three-quarters of it revenues overseas, even on this opening weekend. If the opening projects out as the other two films did, this is a $300 million worldwide grosser, even with just $60m domestic.

Going in Style is one of those movies you want to root for… but… we’ll see. The opening isn’t deadly, but WB has to have the patience for the film to find its (old) audience.

Ghost in the Shell crashed this weekend. A 61% second weekend is not shocking for a big action film coming off a big opening. But this comes off a soft opening. And I wonder whether the studio legitimizing the whitewashing stories to explain last weekend’s opening had an impact. The issue may have gotten more air from that than from the original complaints. Either way… tough going for what will be remembered as an underrated (however imperfect) movie.

The Zookeeper’s Wife expanded nicely. Not excitingly, but nicely.

Fox Searchlight’s Gifted didn’t rock the world on its 56 screens, but the per-screen is pretty solid under the circumstances. Can word of mouth help it in expansion?

Colossal was the per-screen monster this weekend with $30k per, but Their Finest may be showing the stronger potential legs, with an appeal to older audiences.

And the indie that has done the most business that you are least likely to know about is Kedi, from Oscilloscope, which is about cats on the streets of Istanbul and is the small distributor’s #2 grosser of all time already.

Also, The Shack is on its way to matching last year’s top religious entry, Miracles from Heaven, as it becomes the fifth religious-audience-only niche film to do $60 million domestic in the past four years.

Friday Estimates by Baby & The Beast Klady

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

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False Trends: The End Of Movie Stars

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The industry is learning quickly – more quickly than much of the media – that there is IP that, handled well, leads to explosive financial results. But not all IP. Not even most IP.

Every single film that has opened to more than $78 million domestically has been IP-driven. The problem is that most IP-driven films these days are so expensive that they NEED to open to more than $75 million just to be within range of “successful.”

So we are back to the start of the same old process that has gripped Hollywood since the studio system broke up in the late 1960s. Take the idea, polish it up, get excited… then feel it’s necessary to add a real live movie star to prime the pump.

The mythology of the end of movie stars is a popular media meme. What writers see is the lowered value of the stars of their youths – Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others – and no replacement for the remarkable runs these actors had in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But they are missing big pieces of the factual puzzle.

1. The runs of this group of stars was an anomaly, not a norm. The rise of the $20 million opening star was driven by front-loading box office to opening weekend. These actors were the most popular of their time. The math changed around them, they didn’t change the math. And then the math changed again.

2. Human movie stars still open a significant number of movies based heavily on their popularity… arguably the same number of movies as in the 00s, 90s and 80s.

3. Massive openings are a function of remade CG-driven genres and franchises. They represent 100% of the openings over $78 million. There is not a single case of a primarily actor-driven film opening over $78 million. This doesn’t devalue the actors who appear in massive movies/franchises. They add something tangible. But they aren’t (with a few very specific exceptions) driving openings. But the mega-movies are not replacing actor-driven films, but have created their own exclusive category.

What inspired me to write this piece is observing that there is a clear trend of including “movie stars” in big IP-driven movies that hadn’t previously seen the need. In some cases, “movie stars” are characters from other IP-driven movies (see: Marvel). Regardless, the need to boost value of already steroid-muscular IP CG extravaganzas with familiar, beloved actors (some of whom only have real financial power in specific roles) is back.

But before we get into the current situation, let’s look back at how we got here, beginning with the question, “What is a movie star?”

In the modern box office era, Movie Stars are defined by how well they open movies. That is the job. They are bait to launch the film. In the best careers, there is the sense that those stars also have the best taste, choosing projects that not only open, but play well, leading to big grosses. ($100m domestic used to be the border for a blockbuster. This has also changed. )

For me, the idea of the modern box office movie star really starts in earnest in 1993. Why?

Eight of the Top Ten openers in 1993 were star driven. One reboot (of a TV show), but no sequels…

Ford – The Fugitive – $23.8m
Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire – $20.5m
Cruise – The Firm – $25.4m
Hanks – Sleepless in Seattle – $17.3m
Roberts – The Pelican Brief – $16.9m
Stallone – Cliffhanger – $16.2m
Schwarzenegger – The Last Action Hero – $15.3m
Eastwood – In The Line of Fire – $15.3m

Also notable about 1993, Jurassic Park. The Spielberg effects extravaganza was the top opener of the year with $47 million… almost double the #2 (The Firm).

It is a myth that Hollywood was full of originals or fresh ideas in those “good ‘ol days.” 1993 is interesting because of all those originals. In both 1991 and 1992, the Top 5 openers were all sequels or reboots. In 1990, 4 of the Top 5 were sequels or reboots (Total Recall was the newbie). In 1989, the Top 2-6 were sequels and the #1 was… Batman.

Let’s unpack this. 1991 was the first year ever with five $20m openers (4 sequels and The Addams Family).

1994 was the first year with more than five $20 million openers. There were 7. Four were from stars Cruise/Pitt, Schwarzenegger, Hanks, and Ford. The other 3 were The Flintstones, The Mask, Star Trek: Generations, all three starring or based on TV talent/shows.

In 1995, we saw nine $20 million openings. Six had major movie openers: Jim Carrey in a Batman movie, Jim Carrey in a sequel, Tom Hanks animated, Hanks going to space, Bruce Willis sequel, Kevin Costner in Waterworld. The other three were non-movie-star-driven films: a Bond, Cargo, and Mortal Kombat.

That was 22 years ago and from here in 2017, you can see the clear bifurcation over years. And you can see the evolution of the $20 million opening as the standard for a major opening movie star.

1996 had 12 $20m openings. Three cartoons (if you include Space Jam) and a live-action adaptation of an animated film (101 Dalmatians). Also, 5 movie-star openings by Cruise, Gibson, Murphy, Cage/Connery, and Schwarzenegger. (Carrey was just under a $20m launch with a movie called a bomb, The Cable Guy). Twister & Star Trek. And on top, Independence Day, which made a movie star of Will Smith, another TV guy who made the giant leap successfully and embodied the movie star ideal.

1997: 16 $20m openings – 9 movie star openings – Smith, Clooney, Ford, Carrey, Williams, Cage, Cage/Travolta, Roberts, Foster.

1998: 17 $20m openings – 8 movie star openings – Sandler, Willis, Gibson, Carrey, Hanks, Murphy, Williams, Smith

1999 – 22 $20m openings – 14 movie star openings – Myers, Sandler, Roberts, Smith, Willis, Judd, Travolta, Roberts, Hanks, Cruise, Gibson, Schwarzenegger, Murphy, Connery/Zeta-Jones

$20 million was (and is) the standard. Actors are making $20 million and more. As our starting point, 1993, was a few years after the start of sell-through VHS, 1999 is three years after the launch of sell-thru DVD and the massive revenue was now flowing.

In 2000, the next wave of change arrived. There were still 11 or 12 movie-star-driven openers, but just three in the Top 10 openings of the year, both in sequels (Mission: Impossible II, The Klumps and The Perfect Storm, which was as much as the wave as the Clooney).

However, the IP was clearly becoming a new kind of movie star. The Grinch, X-Men, Charlie’s Angels, Gladiator

Now we’re up to 2001… Top 10 openers… not one true movie star opening in the group and the only two you could really argue to be star-driven were Hannibal, a Ridley Scott non-sequel-sequel to Silence of the Lambs that had Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, and Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. But even then, these two stars was playing very specific, iconic roles (one of style, one of spandex).

You could go 13 top openings straight before you hit the overtly talent-driven Ocean’s Eleven.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Planet of the Apes
The Mummy Returns
Rush Hour 2
Monsters, Inc.
Pearl Harbor
Hannibal
Jurassic Park III
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
American Pie 2
Shrek
The Fast and the Furious

We were now into the CGI era, which leapt again in 2002 with Spider-Man, the first $100 million opening, and the next movie version of “you will believe a man can fly.”

Movie Stars, as we knew them in the previous decade, could not be expected to open a $100 million movie based on their audience relationship.

In fact, the numbers are pretty remarkable when you look at them. Try these on… 68. 69. 66, 62, 62, 77, 65, 77, 60, 69

Those numbers match Carrey, Jolie, Pitt, Downey, DiCaprio, Smith, Cruise, Hanks, Gibson, Damon, aka the 10 individual movie stars who have had the highest domestic openings outside of a supersuit or animation or a franchise bigger than themselves and those high openings.

Bruce Almighty, Maleficent, World War Z, Sherlock Holmes, Inception, I Am Legend, War of the Worlds, The DaVinci Code, Signs, The Bourne Ultimatum. Mostly films with a lot more going on than a movie star… but let’s give them that.

You wondering about Clooney? Bullock? They share Gravity as best domestic opener at $56 million. Ben Affleck? Pearl Harbor, $59 million. Scarlett Johansson? $44 million for Lucy.

And there is an outlier, though it takes a little work to get there… Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, which was in limited for three holiday weekends before going wide in January to $89 million.

But… there is (for now) a “pure” star power ceiling that is undeniable.

If you look at the box office with that star ceiling as a given, you naturally see the numbers differently. I count 61 movies that opened between $40 million and $70 million in the last 5 years (2012-2016). Of those, 16 were sold, first and foremost, as movie star vehicles (not counting sequels or otherwise established franchises). Jolie, Pitt, Damon, Tatum/Hill, Bullock/Clooney, Cruise, Smith, Johnson, Wahlberg, Damon, DiCaprio, Rogen, McCarthy/Wiig, Johansson, Washington.

I count another 49 star-driven openers in those five years between $20 million and $40 million.

So, that’s 65 star-driven openings between $20m & $70m in the last five years… or 13 each year.

In 2002 (to grab a sample year), I count 14 star-driven openings between $20m and $70m. In 2003, I count 11. In 2001, I count 9.

So are “movie stars” a dead idea or have we simply changed the economic expectations and possibilities having found the tools that not only lead to much bigger openings in the US, but around the world?

I say the latter.

But the reason I sat down to write is another phenomenon I noticed, beginning with Marvel. Last summer’s Captain America: Civil War co-starred not only Iron Man, but a bunch of Avengers and some new characters who are heading to individual films. But this really started with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which added Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This second Cap-led film certainly benefited from Avengers as well, but it also had more star power and almost doubled its worldwide gross. The third Cap film, Civil War, loaded with Avengers, grew another 61%.

This summer’s Spider-Man has almost as much Iron Man in the trailers as Spider-Man. Guardians 2 adds Stallone and Kurt Russell. Thor 3? The Hulk comes along. We haven’t seen Black Panther materials yet, but will an Avenger or two show up there, as Black Panther showed up in Civil War?

Marvel has realized that they can boost openings (and thus, the overall gross) by throwing established characters at their standalone films. And what are those characters? Movie Stars.

With due respect to the Avengers actors… few of them can open a movie to big numbers without the suit on. They are a specific kind of movie star.

It’s not just Marvel. Did they need a major movie star to open The Mummy in 1999? No. $43m opening. Third best of the year, best non-sequel. Who is the lead in 2017? Tom Cruise.

Baywatch is not only a raunchy comedy with a deeply familiar footprint, but it stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. (Biggest non F&F/animated opening for Dwayne? $57m. Director Seth Gordon’s best opening? $35 million. Both will hope to set new records with this IP-led film.)

We have a fifth Pirates… which has a whole parade of new and old characters, but is still Depp-endent. Disney would love to stop paying Depp mega-dollars for these films. But is the IP the IP without him?

The Apes series added Woody Harrelson, who co-starred in the Hunger Games movies, which opened over $100m. (Apes’ best is $73m.)

Even Transformers, whose stars are CGed, is keeping Mark Wahlberg (star power added in the last film) and adding Sir Anthony Hopkins and Hunger Games co-star Stanley Tucci.

The fear – particularly in the media – has been this sense that the machines are taking over. But the CG is not your enemy. This summer, there are few movies chasing the dragon without a legit movie star or a raise of the ante with a strong second-tier opener.

Two of the big summer 2017 films are going out without traditional movie stars, but are from tip-top-tier directors who are the stars of their movies: Sir Ridley’s Alien: Covenant and Sir-to-be Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Baby Driver is a much smaller movie, but is also director-led from beloved Edgar Wright.

That leaves King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Wonder Woman, Valerian, and The Dark Tower as the four non-star summer movies. And all three are seen as big risks.

Dark Tower has McConaughey, but the question of whether he really helps open a big film (aside from his talent) is hanging out there.

Arthur is Guy Ritchie and without Downey as Sherlock, his best opening is $13.4 million.

Wonder Woman is DC brand… and for all the screaming, Green Lantern opened to $53 million, so it will be interesting to see what the standard for success is there.

Valerian is the new passion explosion from Luc Besson… which feels a lot like his passion explosion The Fifth Element, which had a big star in Bruce Willis, but still opened to $17 million, twentieth best for 1997, mid-range by that era and Bruce Willis’ standards. (Personally, I consider Besson an auteur on the level of a Scott or Nolan, but I can’t argue that he is widely seen as such in the U. S. at this point.)

Lots of details about this summer’s films, but to the point… all four of the large scale films without major box office stars have someone on the money side wishing they had found a spot for a big movie star or two for protection about now. I’m sure Besson isn’t thinking about that… but you can be sure that STX is. If DeHaan and Delevingne break out into box office stars with this film, the win would be even greater (like Guardians). But in these last months before release, trying to sell an action space comedy with Emma Stone and Logan Lerman might seem more attractive to a marketer.

Maybe the producers of Dark Tower see something mighty happening and see the franchise working without the extra distraction. Very possible. But WB isn’t going to be happy if Wonder Woman opens to $60 million. And King Arthur just smells of death.

But the biggest thing is getting the good people in the media to change how they approach the conversation. It is factually unreasonable to expect any movie star to open any movie that isn’t led with IP goodness to over $75 million. Really, anything over $50 million is extraordinary. $20 million is still a solid standard for movie stardom. And there are as many of those as ever.

False Trends Sidebar: How The Myth Of The Death Of The Movie Star Came About

Friday, April 7th, 2017

There’s a reason why reporting on movie stars has become focused on “the problem with movie stars” instead of a realistic judgement of how the industry has changed.

As always, follow the money.

The first commercial DVD release of a feature film was Twister, for Christmas stockings in 1996.

The industry decided to make DVD a sell-thru product, as opposed to the rental business that was the primary DVD revenue stream. (The first big push for mass sell-thru VHS – aside from Disney classics – was Batman in 1989. It did well, but rental remained the primary business until DVD.)

Independence Day and Jerry Maguire, among others, followed. And then, the rell game changer in 1998… August 31… Titanic. (And Men in Black and Liar Liar and Jurassic 2 and Air Force One, etc, etc, etc.)

The DVD gold rush was on. This was one period where the idea that every movie could be profitable was pretty much true. You had to work hard to lose money. Mediocre theatrical runs became hits, hits became blockbusters, and blockbusters became life changers.

And that was when we saw the rise of the $20 million movie star. Not just the ones at the very top either. The biggest stars were demanding $30 million in cash, plus real points.

This wasn’t a case like Jack Nicholson as The Joker, when he got a massive backend payday because no one at the studio really believed the film would make as much as it did. In this period, agents cleverly figured out what the DVD revenues would look like and would demand that their clients get paid the amount that would be equal to a big chunk of that, as the unions had agreed to limit the amount that talent could get out of the DVD revenues. So they took it a different way.

And then 2006.

Costs in all areas had grown wildly out of control, in no small part because of all that crazy DVD money. The cost of production had gone wild. Marketing budgets grew exponentially and the cost of marketing DVDs was catching up to the cost of releasing the films in theatrical (allowed because there was significantly more money coming into studios from the DVD than theatrical). Talent salaries were in the nosebleeds, even for non-sequels.

Two stories defined the gravy train coming to a sudden halt. One was Tom Cruise and Mission: Impossible III, which went wildly over budget and generated 27% less at the box office than M:I2. The way the deal had been done, Tom Cruise (also producing) walked away with over $65 million. DVD was already softening for feature films – the overall numbers made more attractive by TV series sales – and even with $400 million in theatrical, Paramount was about to walk away with some red ink. Sumner Redstone wanted Tom to reconsider the deal to allow breathing room for the studio. Cruise refused. And that is when it suddenly became all about Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch. That was bull. Follow the money.

The second story was the end of Used Guys, a movie most of you won’t recall, because it was never made. The package was Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, and Jay Roach. Carrey had delivered his ultimate cash cow with Bruce Almighty in 2003. Stiller had Dodgeball, Meet The Fockers (with Roach), and Night At The Museum on the way at Fox. And Roach was the comedy king with Austin Powers and Fockers giving him four $300m ww grossers.

The budget for the comedy crossed the $110 million line. And Tom Rothman pulled the plug.

This was no small thing. Rothman had bet big on Stiller and was deep in business with him on the forthcoming Night at the Museum. And indeed, Stiller (who exploded in Fox’s There’s Something About Mary) would not make anything other than a Museum sequel with Fox for six years after this deal went bad.

Everything didn’t just stop on a dime and change in 2006. There were overpriced movies, bloated ideas and overpaid movie stars for years after. But 2006 was the year when Hollywood started to say “no.”

And when Hollywood started saying, “no,” the agents – who create 70% of the press in this town – freaked out. The sky was falling. They couldn’t deliver the way they were delivering. And that is when the “movie stars are over” mythology started taking hold.

And the freaking out continues.

Over the past decade, bit by bit, studios have tightened the reins. And sure enough, movies are still making money. Big movies, small movies, middle movies.

The questions for studios have little to do with movie stars. It’s whether a $30 million investment, a $100 million investment, or a $350 million investment is the best way to maximize profits. And there are good arguments for and against each of those levels… and for balancing the 3… and for picking just one level and staying with that.

Movie stars in 2017 are playing on all those levels. In the heyday of DVD, they were getting paid the entire production and P&A budget for the $30 million level themselves. But by investing in the smaller productions, some of those stars are making some very impressive money for having taken the risks. (And some are not.)

Movie stars aren’t dead. It’s just not like the good ol’ days… you know, 10 years ago.