So, like it or hate it, Suicide Squad is the #8 domestic movie of the year and will remain so until November, right behind Batman vs Superman. BvS will generate around $175 million more internationally and even so, it is seen as a disappointment.
So you make the call. What does the $875 million outcome mean and what does the $675 million outcome mean? Both figures (will) rank in the Top 90 worldwide grosses of all time. BvS improved on the gross of Man of Steel. Suicide Squad will be the third best performing first film among comic book adaptations after Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy.
I don’t think either movie is very good, but opinion is opinion and numbers are numbers. The real smack on the two WB comic titles this year is that neither was so strong that they will slingshot the other DC titles the way that Iron Man has, leading to the billion-dollar success of Avengers and the billionaire build-outs for Captain America and, they hope, the upcoming Thor/Hulk combo film.
This is the problem for Warner Bros. The Zack Snyder extended universal is doing mediocre (in context) business and shows the huge muscle of these characters, regardless of quality. Yet, it has not collapsed… not by a long shot.
This phenomenon really started with Sony and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Both films grossed over $700 million worldwide. And yet, Sony was anxious to dump this iteration and took on Marvel as an active partner in relaunching as a MCU-connected series.
Keep in mind… only 16 comic-based films have grossed $700m+ worldwide. If that is the standard now, the future looks rough. Batman, Iron Man, and/or Spider-Man have been in 12 of those 16 titles. No comic book film has ever grossed more than $800 million without at least one of those characters (Cap: Civil War features two of the three).
Newcomers Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were both seen as underdogs and hit home runs. Fox went all-in on X-Men: Days of Future Past, all hands on deck and the biggest budget in studio history, and got the $748m worldwide gross… then backed off a bit and grossed $543 million worldwide this summer.
Peak Comic Book may have been 2014. There were four $700m+ worldwide grossers. Last year, one. This year, three. There are six mainstream comic book titles scheduled for 2017. Among them, only one Batman and one Spider-Man (and Guardians 2). There are seven such titles scheduled for 2018, with probably just one Batman and one Iron Man (and I am betting on a Deadpool sequel).
So we will know a lot more about the future of comic book movies in these next two years, for better or worse, with two brand-new solo films and two sequels to modest hits that aspire to step up to the $700m+ level. We’ll also see if Guardians is a growth business (it should be) and we’ll have the two major team-up franchises (Justice League and Avengers) within 6 months of one another.
Meanwhile, can we stop whining about comic book movies as though they are all that exists?
This massive business of very expensive, very high grossing movies has taken position on top of the film industry that already existed. But this didn’t start three years ago or 8 or 10. It was not the natural evolution of Jaws that led to Star Wars that led to Burton’s Batman.
The beginning of the CG revolution was 1991’s Terminator 2. It was the first time that massive audiences in the post-studio-system era came out to see, primarily, a CG effect.
Until that film, there were only four films that had grossed $500 million worldwide in unadjusted dollars. Two were Star Wars films, then E.T. and Ghost.
Of the 14 films that grossed over $400 million worldwide in original release, before or concurrently with T2, the only ones that were not genre/action/fantasy/animation were Home Alone, and Pretty Woman, and Dances With Wolves… all three from 1990 (suggesting that those numbers were part of a rising worldwide gross profile).
The first film to crack E.T.‘s $619 million worldwide (original) gross was Jurassic Park… not coincidentally, the next massive CG-driven experience blockbuster. Soon we would see that massive numbers were possible for The Lion King and Forrest Gump (which was also driven by a lot of seems-real CG technology). Then Independence Day.
And then Titanic. Could not have been what it was without the CG, even though it was shot with a ton of on-set, in-camera production. It was also the most expensive film ever made at the time (except perhaps for Batman & Robin, earlier that year… whole different discussion).
But still, as of 1997, the first year ever with three $500m+ worldwide grossers, there had still only been 27 films ever to gross over $400 million worldwide. In the next six years (end of 2003), that list would more than double, with 61 titles having hit the mark. Also in that six year period, we went from 5 films to ever have grossed $700m in their initial worldwide runs to 14,
Event movies, with lots of CG content, were driving a new kind of theatrical business on top of a still-robust DVD business. Potter and Rings and Spider-Man and Pirates and Pixar and Shrek changed the game in that window.
2003 set a record with 9 films grossing over $400 million worldwide. 5 were sequels. 1 was animated. One was the first Pirates. One live-action comedy (Bruce Almighty) and one original drama (The Last Samurai). There has only been one year with fewer than 7 such films since (2007) and in 2015, we had 18.
In the 100 or so years of theatrical films before 2004, 61 films had grossed over $400 million worldwide. In the 12.5 years starting with 2004, there have been another 169. And of those 169, I count 20 of them that are not overtly driven by computer graphics or franchise status. Three years stand out with threevsuch films… 2009 (Sherlock Holmes/Angels & Demons/The Hangover), 2012 (Les Miserables, The Intouchables, and Django Unchained) and 2015 (The Martian/Fifty Shades of Grey/The Revenant).
The change, I would argue, did not come with a lowering of the standards or a pandering to international or anything so nefarious. The change has come because technology allowed what has always been most appealing to moviegoers, in the US and across the globe, to rise to another level. Obviously, the expansion of international theatrical has also been a huge factor in grosses.
I have made the comparison before, but I will make it again.
What you are looking at is the old Soldier Field, which is next to Lake Michigan and was mightily cold during winter games and the new Soldier Field, which hasn’t moved or changed a lot… except that they build a modern facility on top of the old Soldier Field that adds sky boxes and high tech stuff and a wind break from the lake so the “outdoor” seating is not nearly as frigid.
That is how I see the CG-driven industry of the moment. Yes, it does take up a significant amount of the studio slates. And it takes up a wildly oversized amount of the media’s attention. But it is, essentially, an expansion of the industry and not an overall replacement for what was.
The 2000 worldwide Top 10 is how things once were:
Mission: Impossible II -$546.4m
Gladiator – $457.6m
Cast Away – $429.6m
What Women Want -$374.1m
Dinosaur – $349.8m
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – $345.1m
Meet the Parents – $330.4m
The Perfect Storm – $328.7m
X-Men – $296.3m
What Lies Beneath – $291.4m
It’s probably not quite a pretty as the memory people have in their heads. Dinosaur was an early CG effort by Disney on which they lost money. X-Men was pretty low tech, emphasizing character over computers when CG movies were insanely expensive and Fox was fabulously cheap. And The Perfect Storm was the first CG-driven drama, really.
Last year, the only non-CG-driven or franchise or animated (though it had plenty of CG) movie in the Top 10 was The Martian. So I understand the feeling that there has been a massive change.
But… The Martian did $630 worldwide. Mission Impossible 2 did $546m. Pretty similar.
Gladiator did $357 million in 2000. The Revenant did $535m last year.
Cast Away… $430m. Can’t find a great analogous film, though The Revenant has some connectivity.
What Women Want, $374m. Fifty Shades of Grey, $571 million.
Meet The Parents, $330m. There was no uber comedy last year, but Pitch Perfect 2 did $288m, Daddy’s Home did $240m, and Spy did $236m. Even the disastrous Ted 2 did $231 million.
What Lies Beneath did $291 million. Can’t find a great analogous film.
So the two Zemeckis films, a long drama with a major movie star and his throwaway Hitchcock movie (which I love) don’t match up. The rest? The business is still making those movies and people are still going to them in large numbers.
Of course, there was a Zemeckis film last year (The Walk), But it flopped.
And there were a bunch more $100m+ grossing films last year that are “the kinds of films that studios aren’t making,” including Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Trainwreck, The Big Short and even Joy.
“But why are all the pretty girls with the 5′ 2″ non-English speaker who is betting $20,000 at a time at the Baccarat table when we $20 blackjack players are so much more fun?!?!”
Same as it ever was, gang.
Spielberg has made 5 movies in the last 5 years. Retired Soderbergh is making his fourth film of the last 5 years while also doing three seasons of very hands-on television. Scorsese hasn’t pumped out as much over a 5 year period since the early 90s. Even Zemeckis (who I revere), who crashed a whole business for Disney in 2009 and was movie-jailed, has made 3 films in the last four years.
I love what is happening on TV and have endless respect for many of the former movie makers who shifted to the medium in recent years… but can you name any of the great TV success stories who made hit films before they made the leap (except as exec producers)? There aren’t many examples. I love Jill Soloway’s work, but Afternoon Delight did $175k in theatrical and Vince Gilligan has never directed a feature. He did write two of my 1000 favorite features, Wilder Napalm and Hancock, both of which showed the glorious kink that would show up on Breaking Bad. But not really a movie guy. Frank Darabont is brilliant… and was a decade away from his last film hit before “The Walking Dead” happened. Etc.
We go from reading and often mocking trend stories to believing them to being convinced of their absolute veracity.
There is no “normal.” The film industry changes constantly. We have seen four major paradigm shifts in the last 30 years. That’s a ton of change. There are great successes and great failures. Important and unimportant trends.
But every time I see a movie these days with a bunch of Chinese company names on the front credits, I remember the German money and the Japanese money and the French money and the corporate money and on and on and on.
You can play the complaints about movies by almost anyone over 40 on a loop that could have been created any time since the 1960s… we all try to rationalize how it really is different now… but it’s not… not by much.
On a one-on-one or internal studio level, there is a lot of room for improvement. Absolutely. Start with more inclusion, continue with more creative ideas about engaging audiences, and then focus on improving the same old same old, because there is a ton of room for that. But big picture?
Everyone’s first rodeo is their first rodeo.
Go see Pete’s Dragon and Kubo or go to your local arthouse and see art, because art is lovely and enriching. But stop the whining. We’ve never had more options or more movies at our disposal to enjoy and appreciate.
The calendar of weekends looks different this August, so direct comparisons are iffy. That said, this third opening weekend of August looks a lot like most third weekends in August, give or take a blockbuster. Following behind only Guardians of the Galaxy and the super-leggy The Sixth Sense, Suicide Squad has the #3 all-time August domestic gross. And by a good margin, one that continues to grow, no matter how much the media has moved on.
In terms of newbies, this is a standard launch weekend for this time of year. None of the openers are major… not even strong minor ($20 million launch). But they will still be #4, #5, and #6 for the month. And an opening like The Butler ($24.6 million) was really the exception to the rule in these dog days of summer in recent years.
Last summer, for instance, $10.5m for Sinister 2 led the newcomers “this date” with Hitman: Agent 47 landing $8.3 million and American Ultra doing $5.5 million. This weekend’s three openers will beat that group of weekend newcomers by more than 25%. The strength of the month, in terms of quality, is getting lost in the sauce. That would be two family films, Pete’s Dragon and Kubo & The Two Strings.
Florence Foster Jenkins is dropping like a regular movie, though there is still some hope that its legs will get stronger as older audiences are inspired by word of mouth.
On the exclusive front, not much excitement. Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love & Death is having a decent start, cracking $10k per on two… but not exactly fireworks.
The market will out.
One of the little-discussed reactions to the new instant-information era is the downgrading of many of our favorite (for some, least favorite) parts of the movie year, festivals and award shows.
Sundance is a true market festival in the United States and as such has become a consistent launchpad for awards movies that will be re-launched in the fall. There are ups and downs, but as a place where movies are purchased, it allows a distributor a full 7-month run up to an awards launch and commercial campaign.
Cannes has become marginalized in all categories but Foreign Language for a variety of reasons, but a big one is that English-language films that premiere there are threatened by death-by-critic, and get no benefit in the U.S. with a May premiere that is not followed up immediately with a Stateside release.
The Venice-Telluride-Toronto window remains solid. The timing is right. The media benefits are there.
The New York Film Festival, which had a period starting in 2010 of imposing itself on the award season, has reversed itself and gone back to being a wonderful local festival with minimal national implications this year. Was this a choice by the programmers or the circumstances of how distributors wish to roll out their awards hopefuls? I would guess that it is a combination. If NYFF had a big, fat opener offered to them, would they be opening with a documentary (however celebrated the filmmaker and important the issue)? Probably.
To be fair, The Los Angeles Film Festival, which is not in the awards game (early summer) also suffers this problem, having to be “creative” with event programming (opening/closing) after years of having access to higher profile films to draw audiences.
AFI comes along in Los Angeles in early November, offering a last gasp of festival season linking with award season. But last year, the results were not happy. And now, November 10 (this year’s opening night) is looking late. AFI will get some big titles by the time it rolls around. There is a value proposition for some payers. But it’s not a serious driver of anything.
One reason that AFI is looking a bit late at November 10 this year is that Broadcast Film Critics just announced that they are moving the Critics Choice Award Show to December 11.
This would seem to be a dying gasp by BFCA and broadcast partner A&E for a place at the awards table… and relevance in general. Just last year, the Critics Choice Awards added television to the mix, because everyone was waiting for a TV award show in January, right? No. Obviously not. But getting familiar talent on the TV could have led to improved ratings. Also, no one bit on a separate BFCA TV show.
BFCA also added an untelevised documentary show this November, which is ironic, as the BFCA may be the least documentary-aware film writer organization on the planet. So the BFCA award shows – now 3 – are proliferating while the opportunity for them to become TV shows or for anyone outside of the room to care is shrinking like… well, it’s shrinking. A lot.
But BFCA is one of the most healthy groups in this regard. The two major critics groups – NY and LA – still carry real weight, but neither has ever gotten interest as a TV event. The Hollywood Film Awards, an absolute con by Carlos “The Jackass” de Abreu turned legitimized con by Dick Clark Productions is heading into its second year without a TV outlet, which is making the $10 million-plus purchase of the show from Carlos a disaster. I don’t see Dick Clark Productions continuing the show for a third year of no one airing the thing. They are not a live event company. But if they happen this year, they will be in early November.
The other talent-demanding event in the fall is Deadline’s The Contenders, a marketing dog & pony show which breaks every rule of The Academy, has no apparent effect on the award season, and which every studio feels it must participate, lest they be left out in some way.
So… we have the festival launches in September. We have an eruption in early November by way of AFI/The Contenders/HFA. And now, we have Golden Globes nods, NYFCA & LAFCA award announcements, and BFCA handing out awards in the first weeks of December. Then Oscar nominations and Golden Globes in January. And The Oscars in February.
Seems like it’s all been sorted out, no?
Yeah. Funny how that works.
I will say that I think it is embarrassing for a group claiming to be a critics group to be handing out awards in the first half of December. I have always felt that way about every critics group that does it. (The primary excuse for the non-televised groups has been scheduling.) But I see this as a desperate move by BFCA to keep its television show, not to make a statement. If BFCA loses the TV deal, the show will go on and be profitable as a live event… but it’s a lot less profitable.
And I realize I left out National Board of Review. I’m not going to go back to fix that because it isn’t broken. NBR is utterly, completely irrelevant as anything other than a talking point and studios need to stop investing more than screenings in the absurdity of it.
The DGA/PGA/WGA of it all is not irrelevant. But as I have always said, they are the canaries, not the coal mines. As they should be.
What I hear every time I do a column like this is, “Not everything is about Oscar.” And that is true… to a degree. Every honor is an honor. No one knows if there will be a next honor. And many of the organizations mentioned here are legitimate and of inherent value.
It is all about Oscar.
A lot of things are unfolding at once in the Nate Parker-The Birth Of A Nation story. Once emotions are stirred, it’s understandably hard to sort them out. Some would say that you shouldn’t have to sort them out. But for better or worse, that’s how my mind works.
The Birth of A Nation is now dead in terms of Oscar and unlikely to receive a full theatrical release, as in the 1,500-screen wide opening reported as part of Searchlight’s Sundance-negotiated contract. [Editor’s note: Early Wednesday evening, Variety reports, the release and interviews will continue. Oscars are something “Fox Searchlight management considers… a secondary concern, sources say. The company, which is opening the movie wide on Oct. 7, as planned, is more interested in the film being a commercial success than it is with capturing awards.“]
This is not a judgment of the movie — an entirely different conversation — but of the situation. Searchlight bought an underdog movie at Sundance, a big move for a big movie, one with an important message as well as explosive new talent, both on the screen and behind the camera. But Nate Parker is now toxic.
This is not Woody Allen, accused but not prosecuted over allegations of something horrible after a long, hugely successful career. This is not Roman Polanski, who was an established star director, a victim of many losses throughout his lifetime, and almost immediately the beneficiary of a cultural variable as he continued to date women under 16 years of age once he relocated to France. But we are beyond arguments over simple details.
Both the best and the worst of the history and how the story is being covered is in the Daily Beast piece on Parker and his writing partner, Jean Celestin, who was also accused of (and prosecuted for) rape. Journalists Kate Briquelet and M.L. Nestel went through public documents on the accusations and subsequent criminal and civil cases, and did a pretty good job of synthesizing a narrative. On the other hand, they do a lot of spinning, enough to turn facts into factoids.
The piece opens with “It was no simple wave,” referring, as the story spins, to the exalted post-premiere moments at Sundance for The Birth of A Nation, as Nate Parker signaled for Jean Celestin to come on stage. And in a lovely piece of fictional artistry, seven paragraphs later, the writers put thoughts in Celestin’s mind, suggesting a connection to Parker waving his pal Celestin into the bedroom, it is inferred, to rape a drunk, near-unconscious woman seventeen years earlier at Penn State.
That would be okay for a prosecutor giving a closing argument, once the facts have been presented. For alleged journalism? Bullshit. If the writers and their editors believe in the guilt of these men, fine… but as journalism, it is unacceptable to lay out a list of facts purporting to be seamlessly connected when they simply are not.
My objection to the journalism here is not a defense of Parker or Celestin. But the problem of how the media leads us into these conversations is real. It’s written in the way a friend tells another friend a story… subjective. But also makes claims, in style and form, to be journalism… objective. Not okay. Some smart people I know have bought this as great journalism because it is excellent emotional writing, loaded with facts and semi-facts and judgments. But it is not good journalism. It’s just good writing. It’s storytelling, but is it the story?
Briquelet and Nestel pored over the transcripts and attempted to get down to a proper accounted. They only interviewed a couple people for the piece. But there is value in the facts… even if the presentation is profoundly flawed.
What actually happened?
This college freshman got very, very drunk, went to the apartment of two 19-year-olds, one of whom she testified that she had oral sex with the day before. A third guy was there,but didn’t go into the bedroom. She ended up having sex and/or oral sex with the roommates, but she had no clear recollection of having sex with either, or much of anything else that happened.
She woke up alone, feeling she had been raped. But at some point soon after, she testified, Nate Parker gave her a cigarette. She smoked it. There was consensual sex. And she went to sleep. “The entire night before was a blur, she claimed,” narrates the Daily Beast cut-and-paste.
When she next woke, she testified that she was in a lot of pain.
“I said I just didn’t appreciate men sleeping with a woman when she is passed out,” the woman testified.
I believe her testimony from the key pieces here. One-hundred percent.
She may have been conscious enough to seem to be present to Mr. Parker. But most of us know what it is like to be drunk and only half there (or an eighth or a sixteenth), in and out of awareness. I believe that these guys – both of them – did the wrong thing and took advantage of her.
Honestly, I can’t find an excuse for Nate Parker… neither for him having sex with a partner who had been consensual just the day before, but who was now drunk to the point she could not consent. But even more inexcusable was him choosing that moment to bring another person in the sexual act.
But now, the big question. Seventeen years later, can he be forgiven for this sin?
By some, yes. By some, no.
But the narrative behind this film was meant to be the arrival of a 37-year-old actor-writer-director at the end of a seven-year journey… breakthrough… important subject… important film… celebrate. And now, this is impossible.
Did I say “impossible?” Yeah. Impossible.
Fox Searchlight is one of the smartest distributors in the game. But they blew this one. They had six months to package this story in the best light possible, to get it investigated and reported by some significant journalist who would set the standard for discourse. But instead – and it is so dumb that I tend to think that Searchlight was not behind the choice, but that inexperienced Nate Parker was – a couple of interviews with Penske outlets, one co-written by a worn-out former NYT reporter and the other by a gossip columnist/editor who often gets the story wrong.
Not only did these outlets walk the line between cover-up and gossip attack, but they began a feeding frenzy to which Searchlight could not respond. When you go out with something like this to, say, ten outlets, you have a chance to find some balance. But when you start with two, and no one trusts the spin contained in what they have read, everyone wants a piece for themselves. And you can’t have Nate Parker doing 30 interviews about being an alleged rapist.
If they went to, say, Cara Buckley, and put it all on the table, there was the chance that the New York Times would bury the film and the filmmaker with a single article. But if the piece was not damning, everyone else chasing after would be manageable.
Of course, the deadliest blow was not the mediocre interviews, but the story of the suicide of the alleged victim, as told by her surviving brother. Only hours after the first wave.
You can try to talk your way out of that first wave… but when the “surprise” suicide landed – of course, hungrily lapped up by the same outlets who wouldn’t offer clarity on the terms behind their “exclusive” interviews – then you were withholding… even if you claim you didn’t know… even if you didn’t know… perhaps especially if you didn’t know.
What did Fox Searchlight know and when did they know it?
I don’t think we will know that for a while. But that doesn’t matter anymore.
Move along. Nothing to see here.
If I were in Nate Parker’s shoes, I would go away until after next year’s Oscars. Just get away from it all. Then do a serious piece with a serious media outlet offering sincere self-flagellation.
And then, perhaps, a slow recovery is possible.
But put the movie away. Take the award season away. Don’t go to the festivals.
No one can ever win the argument about why a date rape that seems like it might have led to a suicide is okay. No one is well served by being their own lawyer (or publicist). No one can ever be sorry enough to regain the high ground when a story like this comes to light. At least, not with enough people to make for a successful film release.
And with so much of this story being so sad and cruel and unfair in so many ways to so many… that’s probably a good thing.
UPDATED TOP 10 BEST PICTURE GUESSES
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
As noted before… these are not locked… if I could write in pencil on the web, I would. I could give you another list next week.
So… in spite of everything, Suicide Squad had a normal second weekend drop for a huge opening. There is nothing shocking or even disappointing about 67%.
Sausage Party is right there with the best Rogen/Goldberg openings (Superbad/Green Hornet), so anything less than joy around this opening seems silly.
Pete’s Dragon is a mediocre opening in the perspective of the success of The Jungle Book. But if you look at the history of Disney family films released in August, you see Planes opening at $22.2 million, The Princess Diaries opening at $22.8 million, and Freaky Friday (2003) opening at $22.2 million. In other words… Pete’s Dragon, which has no cult following of the size that would drive nostalgia box office, did the number you would expect.
And it’s not just Disney. You will find no family films opening in August to more than $23 million… ever. (That is, unless you choose to include the very violent GI Joe II or Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as family films… which I would not.) Even Princess Diaries 2 came in within a few hundred thousand of the launch of the original, stuck under $23 million.
Also worth noting… the worst performance by a Disney family August opener was $90m domestic. So expect the Pete’s multiple to be strong (added leg value for being a great film). They have a teen problem, in that many seem resistant because the film seems young to them. But if they can get some word of mouth going, there could be a Frozen slingshot, though the domestic ceiling is probably around $130 million.
And Florence Foster Jenkins sung her way into the hearts of more than half a million people this weekend, which should be the start of a surprisingly solid run for the Paramount title. The film is on the fewest screens in the Top 10 this weekend, as Paramount wades in a bit. The meat of the audience for this film – older people – will start attending next weekend and the weeks after based on word of mouth. Four times opening is doable here. That would be a big success, given the material, in the eyes of most observers. So… this opening has got to be seen as a success.
Meanwhile, Hell or High Water slid out on 32 screens to a pretty good result ($9930 per screen). I don’t know that this film is particularly scalable.
Likewise, the rest of the limited space was soft, not a single $10k per-screen title. Little Men, Disorder, and Equity were the strongest of a weak group.
It’s the biggest animated opening ever in August!!! It’s the biggest opening ever for a movie in which the lead is a dick joke!! In the PC 2010s, there has been no protest over turning Salma Hayek into a vaginal colloquialism (though it is a breakthrough for the Salma-obsessed to be focused on her taco and not her papayas)!
Sausage Party is funny. It’s cleverly animated. It’s aggressively non-PC, but perhaps a step less clever than it aspires to be. I’m curious to know how big the family audience is for this one. A $30 million opening (and maybe even a couple million better than that) is really as much as should be expected. This will be Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s biggest opening aside from, perhaps, Superbad.
Suicide Squad is where most would have expected in weekend two. But there is a legit question about whether it would be any different if the film was better.
Florence Foster Jenkins kinda danced into the marketplace with a wide, but not WIDE opening. The result is… similar to that. It’s almost exactly where Sony went with Ricki And The Flash last August. I mean, dead on. And, indeed, $26m domestic for FFJ would be a success for Paramount by any reasonable expectation.
NEWS RELEASE. TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL DOCUMENTARY LINEUP HIGHLIGHTS VIBRANT REAL-LIFE CHARACTERS
Slate includes films on Leonardo DiCaprio, Amanda Knox, Jane Jacobs, James Baldwin, John Coltrane and the “6th Beatle”
TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival’s 2016 documentary programme presents a diverse collection of works from award-winning directors including Steve James, Raoul Peck, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog, plus new talent telling stories in global hot spots such as Syria, Pakistan, and Myanmar. Leonardo DiCaprio is prominently featured in a rousing call to action on climate change in The Turning Point, in collaboration with Academy Award winner Fisher Stevens. TIFF Docs is generously sponsored by A&E IndieFilms.
“Revelations abound in this year’s crop of documentaries,” said TIFF Docs Programmer Thom Powers. “We gain fresh perspectives on high profile figures such as James Baldwin, Amanda Knox and The Beatles; and we meet compelling figures from the worlds of activism, music, sports and, not to be forgotten, classic burlesque.”
Esteemed nonfiction auteurs include Steve James with ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail, which follows the prosecution of a Chinatown bank in New York City in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis; Errol Morris profiling a longtime friend in The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography; Werner Herzog partnering with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer for Into the Inferno; and Raoul Peck bringing his cinematic version of James Baldwin’s writing to life in I Am Not Your Negro.
Breakthrough films by emerging female directors include Erin Heidenreich’s Girl Unbound, which profiles Pakistani squash player Maria Toorpakai Wazir; María José Cuevas’ Beauties of the Night, which examines aging Mexican burlesque stars; and Maya Zinshtein’s Forever Pure, focusing on an Israeli soccer controversy.
Activism is a strong theme across several films. The Ivory Game delves into the illegal African ivory trade, while Citizen Jane: Battle for the City explores our urban past and future through the lens of writer Jane Jacobs.
Music remains a vital topic in this year’s programme: The 6th Beatle is a portrait of the band’s forgotten manager Sam Leach; I Called Him Morgan offers a new perspective on the murder of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan; and Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary explores the life and work of the legendary jazz saxophonist.
The 41st Toronto International Film Festival® runs September 8 to 18, 2016.
Films screening as part of the TIFF Docs programme include:
The 6th Beatle Tony Guma and John Rose, USA/United Kingdom/Germany World Premiere This fresh take on music history argues for recognition in The Beatles’ legacy of the early promoter Sam Leach. Leach was a working- class Liverpudlian who championed the group, but was eventually replaced as manager by the wealthy, posh-accented Brian Epstein. Interviewing Leach, the band’s original drummer Pete Best and other Liverpool musicians, the film gives a touching portrait of a rock ‘n’ roll true believer.
ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail Steve James, USA World Premiere Accused of fraud, Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York City becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, forcing its owners — the Chinese immigrant Sung family — into an underdog battle to defend their reputation and their community’s financial way of life.
Amanda Knox Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst, USA/Denmark World Premiere Twice convicted and twice acquitted by Italian courts of the brutal killing of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, Amanda Knox became the subject of global speculation over the decade-long case. Featuring unprecedented access to key people involved and never-before-seen archival material, the film explores the case from the inside out. Amanda Knox is a human story that moves past the headlines to examine the often fraught relationship between true crime tragedy, justice and entertainment.
An Insignificant Man Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, India World Premiere Arvind Kejriwal is an activist protesting against India’s government corruption when he decided to form a political party and take on the government directly. His main challenger was The Congress, one of the country’s oldest political parties. With unprecedented access, this film follows Kejriwal as he tries to overcome his own shortcomings to convince the people of New Delhi that he is the honest politician they need.
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography Errol Morris, USA International Premiere Elsa Dorfman is a master practitioner of a rare photographic format, the large size Polaroid 20×24 camera. For three decades in her studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she took thousands of portraits, including those of accomplished friends like poet Allen Ginsberg and singer Jonathan Richman. Now in her late 70s, she opens her archives and her memories for this documentary by her longtime friend Errol Morris.
Beauties of the Night María José Cuevas, Mexico Canadian Premiere Eight years in the making, Beauties of the Night is a captivating group portrait of iconic Mexican showgirls, still thriving with grace and style in their ostensible golden years. Their stories speak volumes about what it means to be a no-longer-young woman in a career grounded in physical beauty and erotic appeal.
Bezness as Usual Alex Pitstra, Netherlands North American Premiere During the rise of mass tourism in the 1970s, young Tunisian men from poor families made it their business — or “bezness” — to romance women visiting from Europe. Among the children born from these relationships was filmmaker Alex Pitstra, who was raised by his mother in Holland and scarcely knew his father in Tunisia. In Bezness as Usual, Pitstra attempts to reconnect with his father and navigate the differences in their cultural attitudes and economic opportunities.
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary John Scheinfeld, USA International Premiere Revolutionary artist and innovator, John Coltrane expanded the frontiers of his craft by introducing elements from musical traditions the world over. Chasing Trane reveals the critical events, passions, experiences, and challenges that shaped the life of John Coltrane and his revolutionary sounds. It is a story of demons and darkness, of persistence and redemption. Above all else, it is the incredible spiritual journey of a man who found himself and, in the process, created an extraordinary body of work that transcends all barriers of geography, race, religion and age.
The Cinema Travellers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, India North American Premiere Once every year, travelling cinemas bring the wonder of the movies to faraway villages in India. Seven decades on, as their lorries and cinema projectors crumble and film reels become scarce, their audiences are lured by slick digital technology. Filmed over five years, The Cinema Travellers accompanies a shrewd exhibitor, a benevolent showman and a maverick projector mechanic who bear a beautiful burden — to keep the last travelling cinemas of the world running.
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City Matt Tyrnauer, USA World Premiere Jane Jacobs, whose classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities changed the way we look at and live in cities, would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year. This film explores our urban past and the future of cities through the lens of Jacobs, one of the 20th century’s great public intellectuals, and a pioneering community organizer, whose campaigns against New York’s master builder, Robert Moses, are the stuff of legend.
Forever Pure Maya Zinshtein, Israel/United Kingdom/Ireland/Norway International Premiere Beitar Jerusalem Football Club is the most controversial sports team in Israel. Loyal fans, known as La Familia, take pride in Beitar being the only team in the Israeli Premier League that has never fielded an Arab player. In 2012, team owner Arcadi Gaydamak, a Russian-born billionaire signs two Muslim players from Chechnya. Their presence turns La Familia into opponents of their own team and initiates an ideological contest with wide ripples.
Gaza Surf Club Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine, Germany World Premiere Trapped in “the world’s largest open-air prison” and ruled by war, a new generation is drawn to the beaches. Sick of occupation and political gridlock, they find their own personal freedom in the waves of the Mediterranean — they are the surfers of Gaza.
Gimme Danger Jim Jarmusch, USA North American Premiere Emerging from Ann Arbor, Michigan amidst a countercultural revolution, The Stooges’ powerful and aggressive style of rock ‘n’ roll blew a crater in the musical landscape of the late 1960s. Assaulting audiences with a blend of rock, blues, R&B, and free jazz, the band planted the seeds for what would be called punk and alternative rock in the decades that followed. Jim Jarmusch’s new film chronicles the story of The Stooges, one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time.
Girl Unbound Erin Heidenreich, Pakistan/Canada/Hong Kong/South Korea World Premiere Maria Toorpakai Wazir has spent her young life defying expectations. At age 25, she is an internationally competitive squash player. But in her family’s region of Waziristan, Pakistan, the Taliban forbid women from playing sports. This film follows Maria over several months as she represents Pakistan on the national team and carves her own identity, despite threats to her family.
I Am Not Your Negro Raoul Peck, USA/France/Belgium/Switzerland World Premiere With unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work, Raoul Peck completes the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never finished — a radical narration about race in America today that tracks the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers.
I Called Him Morgan Kasper Collin, Sweden/USA Canadian Premiere On a snowy night in February 1972, celebrated jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot dead by his wife Helen during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts those who knew the Morgans. Filmmaker Kasper Collin examines the two unique personalities and the music that brought them together.
India in a Day Richie Mehta, India/United Kingdom International Premiere, India in a Day is India’s largest crowd-sourced documentary: the story of a single day, October 10, 2015. The film is a unique document, capturing a remarkable range of characters and personal reflections on what it means to be alive in India today, submitted by individuals from across the country.
In Exile Tin Win Naing, Germany/Myanmar World Premiere Having filmed politically sensitive events such as the Saffron Revolution, Tin Win Naing fled his home country of Myanmar in 2009. Forced to leave his wife and children behind, he crossed illegally into Thailand, where he encountered the world of Burmese migrants toiling as plantation workers. Theirs is a world of exploitation and danger, but also of solidarity and resilience. This beautiful work of deeply compassionate first-person filmmaking is a testament to their struggle for justice.
Into the Inferno Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer, United Kingdom/Austria International Premiere Werner Herzog and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer take a global journey for a meditation on volcanoes and their meaning, with
stops in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Iceland and North Korea. Into the Inferno artfully blends reportage, history, and philosophy into a riveting cinematic experience.
The Ivory Game , Austria/USA International Premiere
The Ivory Game follows undercover intelligence operatives in Africa, Asia and Europe who are taking down the ivory cartels, as activists and rangers fight for the survival of the African elephant. As suspenseful as any thriller, the film follows a network of organized crime and corruption. The courage of these elephant advocates makes for a pulse-racing adventure with real-life urgency.
Karl Marx City Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, USA/Germany World Premiere During the Cold War, filmmaker Petra Epperlein grew up in the German Democratic Republic — a.k.a. East Germany. Twenty-five years after its collapse, she returns to find the truth about her father’s rumoured connections to the notorious Stasi secret service. Epperlein and Tucker tap into declassified Stasi footage to explore a world that has eerie corollaries to expanding government surveillance today.
Mali Blues Lutz Gregor, Germany North American Premiere With her radiant voice and magnetic presence, Fatoumata Diawara is a rising star in world music. In Mali Blues, we follow her as she returns to her country to give her first home concert. Along the way, we meet other great Mali musicians: the Griot Bassekou Kouyaté, rapper Master Soumy, and Tuareg guitarist Ahmed Ag Kaedi, who fled the northern desert under threats by fundamentalists. The film is a powerful testament to their artistry and resilience.
Politics, Instructions Manual (Política, manual de instrucciones) Fernando León de Aranoa, Spain International Premiere Against a backdrop of social cutbacks, unemployment and street protests, the Spanish government invites those unhappy with the system to organize their own party and run for election. A group of activists and university professors accept the challenge. Politics, Instructions Manual is the story of how Podemos was built. The documentary constitutes a practical manual about how to elaborate and communicate a political project in only one year.
Rodnye (Close Relations) Vitaly Mansky, Latvia/Germany/Estonia/Ukraine North American Premiere Russian citizen and Soviet-born Ukrainian native Vitaly Mansky criss-crosses Ukraine to explore the experiences of his own large family after the Maidan revolution. They live scattered all across the country: in Lviv, Odessa, the separatist area in Donbass, and Sevastopol in Crimea. With his elegantly composed camerawork, Mansky gains a privileged view on a time of sweeping change.
The Turning Point, USA World Premiere
From Academy Award–winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens and Academy Award–winning actor, environmental activist, and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio, The Turning Point presents an engaging account of how society can prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems, and native communities across the globe. DiCaprio interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations who provide unique, impassioned, and pragmatic views on what must be done today to transition our economic and political systems into environmentally friendly institutions.
The War Show Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon, Denmark/Finland/Syria North American Premiere Obaidah Zytoon and her friends journey through Syria to take part in the country’s revolution. It is an experience that will change their lives forever as they witness Syria’s spiral descent into civil war. In a highly personal road movie, we see a patchwork of epic, but real, human stories.
Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, the Colours of Life Fariborz Kamkari, Italy International Premiere A veritable journey through Italian cinema spanning Neorealism and “commedia all’italiana”, to the Manhattan of Woody Allen. This film celebrates the great Italian cinematographer Carlo di Palma who marked the history of world cinema forever.
Previously announced documentaries include Brigitte Berman’s The River of My Dreams, Hubert Davis’ Giants of Africa, Nicholas de Pencier’s Black Code, Hugh Gibson’s The Stairs, Jaime Kastner’s The Skyjacker’s Tale, Dilip Mehta’s Mostly Sunny and Fred Peabody’s All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and The Spirit of I.F. Stone, and screening in TIFF Docs; plus Jonathan Demme’s JT + The Tennessee Kids and Paul Dugdale’s The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! : A Trip Across Latin America for the Gala programme.
Purchase Festival ticket packages online 24 hours a day at tiff.net/tickets; by phone from 10am to 7pm ET daily at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433; or visit the Steve & Rashmi Gupta Box Office at TIFF Bell Lightbox in person from 10am to 10pm ET daily at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West, until August 14 for My Choice packages and August 24 for TIFF Choice packages, while quantities last.
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TIFF is a charitable cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world, through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more information, visit tiff.net.
The Toronto International Film Festival is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC, L’Oréal Paris and Visa, and Major Supporters the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada and the City of Toronto.
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Suicide Squad *|64.9|4255|New|64.9
The Secret Life of Pets|3.3|3417|-41%|311.3
Star Trek Beyond|2.6|3263|-61%|120.3
Ice Age Collision Course|1.2|2738|-64%|50.4
* includes Thursday previews||||
How to Be Yours|61,600|61||
Five Nights in Maine|4,000|12||
Elevator to the Gallows (reissue)|3,800|1||
The Brooklyn Banker|3,700|11||
The Tenth Man|2,700|4||
L’Homme a la hauter|2,650|7||
Mon Ami Dino|2,100|10||
Pretty much any way you cut it, Suicide Squad will be the #2 or #3 opener of the year/summer with a number almost identical to the $166m Batman v Superman launch. Go figure.
Many like to believe that people are done with superhero movies or that Millennials aren’t going to the movies, but the evidence continues to make both claims stink of the excrement they are built upon. Audiences don’t want half-ass versions of their favorites and audiences don’t want to see films just because there is a franchise connection. The only franchise disappointment that wasn’t obvious from a year away was Alice 2… but only because no one understands how the first film did a billion. (BTW, that film is nearing $300m worldwide, making it a disappointment, but not an outright disaster.)
Suicide Squad is not going to lose a fortune. So what is the lesson?
1. Have Batman (or in MarvelLand, Iron Man) in every movie you can.
2. Sellable elements will open anything, no matter the critics, geek buzz, or degree of failure.
3. Millennials are suckers, just the same as Gen X and Boomers.
Jason Bourne took a hit yesterday. We’ll see if it evens out over the weekend.
Bad Moms had already delivered STX the crown of highest-grossing indie non-sequel this year. $67 million will make it top indie release through mid-August, full stop.
The 1995 headline for Nine Lives would be that Kevin Spacey’s pussy was not widely accepted… but aside from Clint Eastwood resurrecting that sexist chestnut this week, not okay for 2016. Instead, Nine Lives opens to a $277k per-life average.
As usual, at this point in the year, the pickings for Oscar already seem light. Lots of presumably good movies. But how much Oscar bait is there in the ocean, really?
Let’s just dive in.
My first Top 10… in which I feel strongly about the nominations bets on only 3 of these titles. The deck could shuffle a lot in the next 2 months.
(in alphabetical order)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The Birth of a Nation
Bleed For This
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Robert Zemeckis, Ang Lee, John Lee Hancock, and Damien Chazelle are the four directors with films on this list who have had films nominated, or winning, for Best Picture.
Gavin O’Connor, Nate Parker, Denzel Washington, Kenneth Lonergan, Ben Younger, and Barry Jenkins have not.
And now… here are the films that didn’t make the 10 (for now). Let’s start with September releases.
The three titles that seem lock-ish are Billy Lynn, Birth, and Fences. Everything else is just… could be.
The Accountant, Allied, and The Founder have to prove that they are more than high profile. La La Land could be One From The Heart or all the things One From The Heart was hoped to be. I can’t imagine not loving it, either wa). Kenneth Lonergan has earned a lot of love, but is 0 for 2 on Best Picture. And Moonlight seems like pure indie with Barry Jenkins finding a more sizable audience, but probably a reach for Best Picture. I’m giving A24 the benefit of the doubt because they have earned the respect.
In the last decade, only one September release has been Oscar nominated. Moneyball. One-for-78.
So whether you are looking at what seem like obvious Oscar contenders – Sully or The Light Between Oceans or what promises to be the most Oscar-worthy film of the month, Snowden – or more commercial product whose Oscar prospects some will wonder aloud about – Deepwater Horizon, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Magnificent Seven, The Dressmaker – never bet on September… even for a nomination. (Performances, perhaps. Best Picture, no.)
As long as we are on dating issues, here are a bunch of titles with potential that either don’t have a US distributor as of yet or are dated realistically for 2017: Miss Sloane, A United Kingdom, Tulip Fever, The Circle, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Secret Scripture, and Annihilation.
Looking backwards at the year, titles with potential include The BFG, The Lobster, Money Monster, The Nice Guys… none of which were commercial enough, in their individual contexts, to make the leap to Best Picture nominee. (And this comes from someone who is upbeat about all four films.)
If there is a film that could circle the year and land a nomination, it would be Hail, Caesar!. The Coens have had this happen before. The passion for their work just keeps growing. So if enough bodies fall by the wayside, their moralistic comedy about studio-era Hollywood could be taken very seriously by mid-November. If the season turns stronger than expected, it will go away.
So… let’s move down the list.
COMMERCIAL OR RELATIVELY COMMERCIAL MOVIES
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Arrival (previously Story of Your Life)
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
The Girl on the Train
When I started this year’s list, I has Rogue One in my Top Ten. I think Hollywood, as embodied by The Academy, would like to have a Star Wars movie good enough and pleasurable enough to nominate. Titles from the Trilogy of Trilogies are at a disadvantage… there has to be some kind of unique element that makes that particular movie stand out on its own. But the spin-off titles, it seems to me, have a better change, because they will feel like one-offs. But then, the buzz about trouble in post-production began, and while many films overcome problems along the way (actually, most great films), the unusual issue of Star Wars‘ breed pushed me away from the guess.
Also sure to be massive is the new Harry Potter-associated brand, Fantastic Beasts. But because that franchise skews younger, I don’t think Academy members are eagerly awaiting a chance to vote for that one.
Then, we have five commercial pieces aimed at adults. Arrival and Passengers have sci-fi elements… which are a bit scary, Oscarwise.
The Girl On The Train feels like Gone Girl, in tone, and with that, more a likely nomination for Emily Blunt than for the film.
The partnership of Allen Loeb – who write some good dramas before becoming a Sandler comedy acolyte when Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps went bad – and David “The Devil Wears Prada” Frankel is not encouraging when you look at the weighty drama of Collateral Beauty. On the other hand, a lot of great talent was attracted to this material. So… you never know… but not getting on my Top 10 this week.
And Patriots Day is Peter Berg on the Boston Marathon bombing, which takes it out of the “just commercial” arena, but doesn’t necessarily pull it into Oscar season.
The Queen of Katwe
These are the wildest cards in this year’s deck.
And they will all be in Toronto.
There are arguments to be made against all of these titles “on paper.” But the season doesn’t happen on paper. One or even two of these films could find their wings and take off at Toronto (and/or Telluride) and make it all the way to the big finish line.
Rules Don’t Apply
Oscar players. Masters. Never assume they are not going to be in play. And that’s all I know until I see the movies.
And that is what I think on August 4, 2016. Big names still have an advantage. Big budgets too. And nothing, in my opinion, will change at all as a result of the efforts to change the composition of The Academy. So that is that… for now.
I don’t need to offer up spoilers to write about this movie. However, if you want to stay truly pristine, don’t read this. Broad strokes that you probably already know about… but broad strokes.
Too much. Way way too much.
And too little.
This is what is so brutally wrong with Suicide Squad.
This movie started pushing me away from almost the very beginning. Each character is going to be introduced with a 3 – 5 minute set-up along with a pop hit appropriate to each story. Wait. No. Only 3 are… and one of those only in a half-ass way.
The first great challenge when you turn on the word processor to write a movie about 5 or more characters coming together in a group is how you establish character for all these people, on top of developing a shared goal for the group, the second act “it’s all over” head-fake, then the rousing third act comeback where they finally are a team and as a group can overpower the thing that is too big for any one of them to overcome themselves.
I’m not mocking the cliché. I am fine with this cliché. Seriously. It’s a foundation and you can find true genius depending on how it is executed.
Suicide Squad starts to fall apart from the minute the filmmakers try to push together in-depth set up for the two biggest stars in the film and then half-ass it for everyone else. The movie is on wobbly tires because the structure of the movie isn’t established to accommodate two big stars and then a supporting group. Of course, there will be a lean toward Will Smith and Margot Robbie. That’s how movies work. But in a good movie, you don’t feel it in such a pronounced way.
So… by the time the group is assembled and about to be dispatched on their mission, there is no balance. And then they add another squad member. And another… like the 40 minutes you just spent on the set-up is followed by, “OH YEAH… we forgot!”
You can take your time setting up this stuff. Quentin Tarantino has made a career of it. But you either need some true genius breaking structure in a way that makes an uneven landing wonderful and surprising or, as in this case, it just looks like you don’t know what you’re doing or the finished product was edited to avoid terrible mistakes. Make a choice.
The second HUGE problem with the movie is the choice of villain. And no, it’s not The Joker, so if you don’t want to know more, check out now…
Superheroes fighting the supernatural simply doesn’t work. The supernatural has too much power. The tool that Suicide Squad uses to “control” the supernatural is weak. WEAK. But that isn’t the worst part. The execution of the supernatural is hideous… straight out of Ghostbusters II… that was a looooong time ago, folks. And the whiole idea of what the group needs to fight against and how they might do it is just a giant, horrible mess.
I’m not going to get into details, but how does it work when guns are ineffective, but an explosion is effective. Why? Where is the logic?
And there is this… and she is probably a lovely person… but Cara Delevingne cannot act… never has been able to act… and unless something very dramatic changes (like people stop hiring her to screw up their films), she will never learn to act.
Others in this film, like Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney, can probably act quite well… but not here. In a big blur of a cast, you need to hire people who light up the screen when they are doing nothing. Neither of these guys has that. And neither has an interesting enough character to make you care. So: dead weight.
Will Smith and Margot Robbie and Viola Davis and Jared Leto deliver. Eventually, Jay Hernandez gets to turn it up and he gives us great moments. But a complete waste of a very compelling actor in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Cool croc skin, but it kept him from giving a performance, which he is very capable of doing. Karen Fukuhara is fine… but a minor character, even if her physicality actually dominates at times.
I have no problem with the added Justice League footage. It’s fine.
BUT THERE IS TOO MUCH MOVIE!!!
I don’t buy that it is too dark. The action, while not exceptional, is fine. The whole “lightweight Marvel” is a crock of crap. This movie is nothing like Guardians or, really, any of the Marvel films. Chris Nolan’s Batman films is the natural progenitor (which gave WB hope, I guess). I think that “the industry is making too many comic book movies” is a bullshit claim and/or excuse. The rest of those movies didn’t make this film not work. And I don’t think that management ruined the movie… except for greenlighting it with this idiotic villain story and without demanding something great in terms of allowing the audience to care about everyone of the squad.
I wish there was more to say. There really isn’t. The details are not the problem.
I will leave you with this… there is a character with a name who dies fairly early in the film. And the audience could not care less. And that tells you everything wrong with this movie.
I love David Ayer’s work and hope that he will find his way to another great tough-guy story with fewer effects and fewer moving parts. The guy who did Fury knows how to have a bunch of characters and give everyone their moment. But he didn’t eat the giant movie… the giant movie ate him. Happens.
As we move into the silly season for media, with many “sky is falling” stories about theatrical box office sure to clog our bullshit filters beyond capacity, I will lay out a simple list of things that should be considered when writing or reading box office stories.
1. Every Movie Is A Business Of Its Own – There are slates at distributors, yes. But the reality of box office is that every film has its own story to tell.
The most obvious unique point is budget, both in production and marketing… neither one of which box-office writers have a clear view of in most cases. With due respect, imdb and Mojo post publicly acknowledged production estimates… which could be off enough to falsely make a film appear profitable or a loser.
But in the big picture, as journalists love to bring up such misleading stats as market share, estimated (aka guessed) numbers of tickets sold, grosses of multiple movies weighted as though alone they can define success in anything more than the simplest way.
Here is an easy one… What percentage of tickets for Finding Dory have been for 3D and how many in 3D for The Secret Life of Pets? Do you know? If you don’t, you have know idea how many tickets were sold for either. Even if you do know, you have other details that change the stat. IMAX? Adult tickets vs chuldren’s? Matinee pricing?
Here’s another… Universal has less than half the domestic gross that it had at this time last year. But only one eof their films has any chance of losing money. So what kind of year is the studio having?
And of course, domestic analysis only is 100% idiotic. International box office is a part of the construction of every budget for every film made with the involvement of a major studio. Now You See Me 2 did almost 4x overseas what it did here… so the idea that the film is a disappointment is factually inaccurate. Now… how problematic was it for Lionsgate, which distributed hands-on here vs profitability in the rest of the world, where they share success, but have partners country by country. And $100 million gross in China returns 50% less (at best) than if that same $100m was earned in another international market.
And how do you balance all of that with Café Society, which Lionsgate is releasing for Amazon Studios, and for which Amazon does not hold worldwide theatrical rights?
Wild headlines are fun and easy… but are terrible journalism. The margins, pro and con, in the details of each film can make all the difference between success and failure.
2. Think Beyond The Broadest Statistical Claims – How many times have you heard that Millennials aren’t going to the movies anymore? Lots, I bet.
So who bought all those tickets to Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse, etc, etc, etc.?
THINK, people! The biggest grossers are driven by Millennials and kids whose families take them to animated films. Still.
And for that matter, who do you think is going to Lights Out and The Shallows? Your parents?
And hey… there were some movies with high expectations that didn’t perform to expectation. Does anyone really think that is a generational issue? That the iPad kept them from showing up? Just silly.
3. If You Sell It, They Will Come – If there anything that has changed dramatically in the last 5 years, it is that it is now 100% clear… if you are selling a movie that people really want to see, it doesn’t matter what date you are on, what the history of that week or moth is, or what your film is up against. People show up.
Records are being broken in domestic and worldwide theatrical again… yet, many insist that it’s all over for theatrical. Recently, a bright light at a trade espoused the dim-bulb theory that major studio/distributors are on their way out because they no longer have absolute control of all distribution.
Everything is not perfect. Far from it. But Peter Guber told the story decades ago and it remains relevant today. A Sony exec asked him why they make the flops and not just the hits. Executives tend to know more than nothing, especially when they have a finished film. But by the time the film is done, it’s generally too late.
That said, great marketing can sell almost anything… at least, for a weekend. Of course, there are boundaries put on most marketing efforts, starting with budgets and continuing with approvals, general risk aversion, marketer disinterest on mediocre or crap movies, and many other possibilities.
Most recently, I have written in detail about the new Ghostbusters, which I think took a big hit because of how it was sold. But I can’t blame the Sony marketers, because the ambitions of the film, because of the pedigree, means that it didn’t start with the marketing department sitting down, clean, to consider how best to sell that particular movie. There were also outside forces (Twittiots), which I think we overstated, but are certainly a distraction.
4. Everything Is Cyclical – Universal would have told you, had you listened, that this year was going to be way down off of last year… guaranteed… they knew what they had in the shoot and it was simply less hugely commercial. The hero thing will peter out at some point. Has it yet? Probably not. That doesn’t keep Marvel or any other studio from having misses. But the media is so anxious to be able to “FIRST” that they saw it coming, there is premature speculation all over the place.
The stock market insanely demands annual growth every year. The film business is not the stock market.
5. Things Will Change – I am not saying that things will not change. The industry turmoil of the last 50 years has been remarkable. It hasn’t been 20 years since 1997, which was when the first studio DVD was released (Twister), changing the business to sell-thru instead of rental and allowing the launch of Netflix a few years later, which eventually would lead to streaming.
I see one more big paradigm shift coming, which is access to virtually everything post-theatrically for a flat rate.
What is most shocking, at this moment, is that things haven’t changed more. If you look closely at the box office, what is shocking is the ongoing commercial success of dramas and comedies and small indies – on a certain scale – and certainly the blockbusters.
We went almost 100 years into the movie business before we has the first billion-dollar grosser. It took 6 years to get to the second one. And since three years later, in 2006, we not only haven’t gone a year without a billion $ movie, but since 2010, multiple billion $ films have become the norm. A new record of 5 such films was set last year… and will very likely be broken this year.
Don’t give me your adjusted grosses. No one pays bills with adjusted grosses. Respect the past for what it was and respect now for what it is.
The decrease in the number of people going to the movies has been a consistent leak for over 30 years now. 60 years ago, there was television… which didn’t kill movies, but did change the industry. And now, streaming and access to massive amounts of content are making for change again.
For the record, I wrote about the death of DVD before anyone… and years before major media caught on. I am not an ostrich. But I look at history and I don’t see the high drama that so many love to make into headlines.
The only people likely to kill movies are the studios, getting too greedy and losing perspective. It could happen. It’s not happening today, for all the flaws in the process. (Some of my favorite people believe in day-n-date for studios and I think they are dead wrong… suicidally wrong.)
I think that’s it… the broad strokes. I probably forgot something and will follow up.
The biggest thing is… think… dig deeper… challenge the media position of The End forever being around the corner. Every writer who pisses me off in this regard is much, much smarter than their writing on the subject. They just don’t seem to push themselves to take it seriously. It is not brain surgery. And it is not defined by panicky or excuse-making execs.
And so it goes…
As indicated by opening day, Jason Bourne arrives right in between the domestic openings of the last two Bourne films… not the dream, but hardly a surprise after a 9-year layoff for DaGrass. Bad Moms opens over $20 million, putting nascent STX right where they want to be. Nerve brings in just enough to be frustrating to struggling Lionsgate. And in arthouse, another really strong per-screen weekend for Don’t Look Twice, as well as Indignation and Equity… plus nice numbers for Miss Sharon Jones!, the Bosch doc, and Gleason.
Jason Bourne also got off to franchise-best $50 million international in 46 markets… which suggests that this franchise is reliable as a $300m – $350m worldwide grosser with Damon in the lead. It’s not going to go crazy and break out like Fast & Furious all of a sudden. But if U is happy with that number, they can probably go in and get it a few more times.
Bad Moms is a big deal for STX. The opening is the second best by a non-major this year-to-date (below only LGF’s The Divergent Series: Allegiant). The problem going forward for STX is that the rest of their 2016 looks a lot more like what came before this hit, and it’s not likely we will see as commercial a film from them again this year. The films may be profitable, but niche product and tough release dates are not in their favor. They need to pick a niche to work hard while they do other genre stuff. Can you build a studio in 2016 on being The Home Of Female Comedy? Maybe so. (I’d probably resist the urge, however, to rename The Edge of Seventeen – although a bad title and too evocative for arthousers of the Sundance coming of age beloved – “Bad Teens.”)
Nerve is a head-scratcher. A $15 million 5-day isn’t a horror show… but it’s not great. Lionsgate threw expensive standees, Virtual Reality games, Emma Roberts in her underwear, and everything else they could thing of… but in the end, they got Ms. Roberts’ best opener as a sold-on-her lead. That would be the target, right? And Dave Franco is still “fetch” as a box office star. So they did okay, given that pedigree. But… not much of an opening. Yet… definitely could have been worse. The film was made by the Catfish and Paranormal 3/4 guys, so I would guess that it was very cheap. So there is that. (shrug)
Who knew that this would be the Wild West in arthouse land? We have six films with a per-screen over $9k, from the still-huge $33k per-screen of Don’t Think Twice to the $9,170 on the powerful ALS love story, Gleason. In between, high per-screen to low, Indignation, Equity, Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil, and Miss Sharon Jones!. And you have the full range of players in this group as well, from the most established, Sony Classics, to Summit releasing via Roadside Attractions to tiny specialized Kino to ambitious distributor on the rise The Film Arcade. Then the streamer/cable net group has Amazon through Open Road behind Gleason and Starz taking out its made-for-cable Miss Jones. Interesting times.
Woody Allen has had four hits outside of his normal gross range since Match Point kind of rebooted him in 2005 via DreamWorks. Two of the hits – including his biggest, Midnight in Paris – were released by Sony Classics. The fourth of this group was Weinstein-driven Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But most of his career has been under $20 million domestic and really, $15m and under. Anyway… hard to get a read on where Café Society is headed. If you go by recent expansions, it is headed to the low-to-mid teens, likely between Magic in the Moonlight and To Rome With Love. The tricky part is that one hit $10 million in 5 weeks and the other in 10. Patience…
Really good horror drop for Lights Out via WB… and really bad animation drop for Ice Age: Collision Course, which passed $250 million worldwide this weekend in spite of crap business in the U.S.
Sp… born-again Bourne opens solidly. No leap. No letdown.
Right between the second and third Bourne entries, the gross is closer to the higher than the lower. Solid.
What will be more interesting is how international grosses rollout in a market that has changed dramatically in the nine years since the previous Damon Bourne. It was the #13 international grosser in 2007 with $215 million. The #13 international grossing title right now – 7 months into the year – is $238 million. The #13 international grosser by the end of 2015 was at $349 million. Obviously, these numbers may not follow… but it will be interesting to see if they do… and interesting to see if Bourne can make a significant step-up overseas.
Big moment for new distributor (staffed with a lot of well-established studio execs) STX, which has its first $20 million opening (first over $12m, actually) with Bad Moms. Moreover, this will be the best opening of the year for a movie that isn’t CG action/animation/horror or starring Kevin Hart, passing Melissa McCarthy’s The Boss. Also… the biggest opening aside from Divergent 3 coming from a non-major studio this year to date.
This film asserts the intention of STX to be in the category with Weinstein, Lionsgate, Open Road, and the studio Dependents, but not the glorious and beloved A24, Roadside Attractions and their kind. And even the Dependents (Searchlight, Focus, Sony Classics) have not opened any movies to $23 million-plus. Wide openings are not their bread and butter. STX clearly wants to play that field, as Screen Gems has as a division at Sony. This makes STX one of the most interesting stories in the business right now.
Speaking of Lionsgate… it’s not really fair to judge Nerve‘s Friday as “the same” after a Wednesday opening. Still, we’re looking at a $15m 5-day, so not a real success. Yet, not a disaster either… especially if word-of-mouth is good. It will top their Dirty Grandpa opening (over the first 5 days), but not by much.
At the end of the second weekend of the most recent Star Trek film, $146 million. This one? $100 million. One has to wonder if this will be the final frontier before a reboot.
The Secret Life of Pets will have to wait until Wednesday to cross $300 million domestic. A sluggish 27 days… which will be #3 for 2016 when it happens, ahead of The Jungle Book and Zootopia. Most of the international market is still to come and will define whether this is a huge hit or a mega-hit.
Lots of $10k per-screen starts this week. Gleason will lead the way with over $25k per on nine. Equity draws almost $20k per on four. Indignation will also be near $20k per on four. And Miss Sharon Jones could be just over or under the $10k-per line.