The Hot Blog
I think we covered most of this yesterday.
Star Trek, as a film franchise, faces what the old TV-based film series faced… a glass ceiling. No one should be complaining about a $59m opening. But the films are too expensive for that number not to be, uh, problematic. So do you raise the bridge or lower the water? I believe that Paramount needs to find a scrappy young filmmaker to reboot the whole thing again – perhaps with the central 3 to 6 cast members – as a $100 million an “episode” series. More digital mayhem will simply continue to see a release-by-release decline in gross. Get back to character over CG and they have a chance to do a consistent $250m – $300m worldwide gross, make some money, and if they got very, very lucky, it could actually break out with a new voice.
Ghostbusters – again – did this to some degree. Feig humor is not UCB humor or even, really, Apatow family humor (even though Paul and Judd came up together in part). This Ghostbusters had a very different energy than the original, but it was recognizably the energy of Feig’s films. But the power of the previous legendary franchise, both pro and con, really kept Columbia from selling the change. They were either trying to capitalize on the original or to fight off obnoxious pigs pushing the anti-woman agenda. As a result, this film won’t even do good Feig business. This could have – in theory – been a Fey/Poehler film or a Rogen/Goldberg film or a Nancy Meyers film (ghostbusters who are inconvenienced by ghosts while getting their Bentleys detailed). Really, you could have gone all Furious and put together a beautiful, multi-ethnic cast of rising stars pretending to be underdogs, up-ed the action and lowered the brain density. Someone could still do that under another name. Ghosts are not copyrightable.
What Ghostbusters (2016) never was going to be was the original… even more so with Harold Ramis gone… but even with Ramis, it was never coming back together. Feig was a direction. And though I would have liked a bit more aggressive/specific a character from one of the two leads, he gave them what he does. And it works on that level. So I don’t question why it didn’t do monster business. But I do wonder why it didn’t do Feig business, at least.
The Ice Age: Collision Course number – somewhat irrelevant as noted yesterday – is a horror show. An animated film very specifically directed to kids can’t do 3x Friday? Wow. That sucks. I mean, a big Thursday/Friday number and okay… but coming off of $7.5 million? FUGLY. And the movie will still probably play overseas and make good money. But oh my my… embarrassing. A tipping point of some kind? When we look back?
The chart is loaded with sad numbers… Mike & Dave didn’t blow up… The BFG is a low moment for Spielberg… ID4-2 passed $100m domestic (even though international may keep red ink from spilling, now at $365m ww)… Now You See Me Again (#3 headed to Netflix?). But there is balance from surprises up and down the chart as well. Central Intelligence, Conjuring 2, Pets, The Shallows, the size of Dory, etc.
Of the 24 films worldwide that have passed $150m worldwide to date this year, only 3 are under 50% of revenue from overseas… 2 of which (Dory/Pets) are pretty much guaranteed to flip and the third of which (Central Intelligence) could catch up even though it is at multiple commercial disadvantages overseas. So I suspect there will be no more than 1 such title released in the first 7 months of 2016.
There were 2 such films last year by this time (Pitch Perfect 2 and Spongebob with Compton about to arrive)… and 6 released by end of July 2014 (Ride Along, 22 Jump St, Neighbors, Lego Movie, Divergent, Monuments)… and I suspect that number just keeps increasing as you go back.
Per-screen winners for the weekend are AbFab: The Movie, Cafe Society, and murdering it on 1 screen, with an epic $86,500 (especially for a non-awards player just releasing like a normal film), Don’t Think Twice.
If you go by the numbers on the first film of the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, this third film, Beyond, will open to about $61 million, which is in a galaxy far far away from what the TV-based films opened to back in 2002 and onwards. (Yes, it’s been that long.) But it will be written about only as another disappointment in the summer of falling skies. The real issue for Paramount on this film is whether it can continue to improve as a series overseas, which at these production costs could drown it in red ink.
The first two JJ Abrams Treks made big strides for the franchise in international as it also transported the baseline for domestic gross for the series. But this domestic gross will be less than the last, as was true from the first reboot to the second. I have always understood – though Paramount vigorously disagreed – that the first of these films was only borderline profitable, if not a slight loser. The sequel, if it really cost $200m or less, would have been modestly profitable. And now this film is in danger of being the first the studio would name publicly as a money loser. The key will be international, which was up to $238 million the last time. If that number can be maintained or improved upon, the film will make a little money. If it starts sliding like domestic has (this is likely to be the first JJ Trek under $200m domestic), the studio and their partners will take a loss.
Ice Age: Collision Course is a whole different animal. Domestic is a disaster. The franchise has been losing ground bit by bit, the last film (4 of 5) grossing less domestically than the original. But this one, #5, is looking like it will less than half of #4, putting the film under $160m domestic for the first time in the franchise history… but even worse, under $100m domestic.
However… the international is going the opposite direction. Film #4 hit an international record $716 million. That international number alone would make Continental Drift the #17 animated worldwide grosser of all-time, just behind Up and Monsters University. It was the #3 best animated gross internationally (higher than any Pixar) and the film, including domestic, was #10 all-time.
So America is the write-off on this one… the afterthought. And that probably is why the film is opening so poorly here. Somehow, people know. But it is still likely that the bottom for this film is $600m worldwide, whihc would make it a legitimate hit… so don’t cry for Fox or Blue Sky… not unless international drops by more than 40%.
The Secret Life of Pets, by the way, is way out ahead of Zootopia three weekends in on the domestic front and has barely begun international. Holds are not as strong, but if international is anything like Zootopia, we could be seeing yet another billion-dollar animated film on the charts this year. Domestic will pass Despicable Me today.
Lights Out is cash money for WB. It will likely fall to the #4 slot from #2 by the end of the weekend, but still, a $23 million-plus start for a cheapie horror film is excellent. Does WB know how to do this trick better than other tricks? Maybe. But this has not been a big part of their portfolio. That may change.
Ghostbusters is drowning. I don’t feel like doing an autopsy today. But as I continue to glimpse marketing materials as I drive around Los Angeles, I am struck by how confused Sony was by this film. They sold it like a sequel with a bunch of big, familiar stars. It isn’t that. The film really needed to be worked like an underdog. It wasn’t. It flipped between being scared of being rejected and boldly hoping the audience would feel differently than the internet mean-memes. The result was a pretty standard release.
I have mentioned this standard before and been slapped for it, but please understand that it is not about me or how important I think I am… but… a real underdog movie would have hungrily wanted me to do DP/30 interviews with Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. It’s not the biggest track to lay down, my show, but it would be a chance for people – especially media – to meet these little-known actors outside of the boundaries of marketing or slick magazine pieces. But it was a regular junket and I completely get that their schedules didn’t allow a long interview with the likes of me.
My point is not that DP/30s would have changed the fate of Ghostbusters. It wouldn’t. But if they had made that effort – along with others in this range – it would have represented a different kind of thinking in how to push out this movie. And that different thinking could well have changed the fate of Ghostbusters. It still wouldn’t have been a Marvel movie. But it wouldn’t have been, I don’t think, Paul Feig’s lowest-grossing domestic movie of the last decade. It could have certainly been his #1 worldwide grosser, which it may well not be at this point. He delivered a Paul Feig movie writ large. It works as that. It should have at least done that much business.
To be fair to Sony, as much as they sweated this film and worked their asses off for it, my sense is that the only options that were on the table were “huge hit” or “massive flop.” The middle did not seem to be a target. But the movie – and its casting and character choices – called on a focus on the middle. That was where this movie, once made, was always headed. It’s damned hard to give up the intensity of hope and/or fear of failure for “let’s do okay.” But sometimes, that is the only sane answer.
And that isn’t even cracking the chest on this autopsy.
The Legend of Tarzan passed $200 million worldwide yesterday. Still a red inker, but not as much blood spilt as Pan.
Finding Dory just keeps swimming. It will likely pass Avengers 2 and Star Wars (inc all the re-releases) this weekend. And international has barely launched. It is almost certain to be the second billion-dollar animated film of this year and could well be the #1 Pixar film worldwide (already owns domestic.. but $50m/>10% by the end of this weekend).
Absolutely Fabulous went out on 313 screens domestically and is doing quite well. My guess is that this Searchlight release has no uptick coming. They will add some screens, but this is likely its best audience hit, targeted precisely by Steve Gilula.
Also opening strong on just 1 screen is the Mike Birbiglia film, Don’t Think Twice, a tale of improv, faux-SNL, and the funny people who inhabit that universe.
The schizophrenia of praising huge hits and screaming about the end of theatrical as we know it is once again exposed. The Secret Life of Pets screams to $200m domestic in 10 days… and is the third fastest to the mark this summer and fifth of the year.
More perspective… only five films hit $200m domestic in 10 days or less in the entirety of 2015, The Year Journalists creamed Their Jeans Over Blockbusters.
Also… Expanding the race to $200m domestic to 26 days (aka for weekends, add two days for Wednesday openings), 2016 matches 2015 and 2014 (both of which had multiple later entries into this category) with 7 such titles. (For the record, the first year with 7 titles hitting $200m in 26 days or less was 2010, followed by 2012 and every year moving forward.)
2016 is behind only 2013 in box office history, which had a singular ten $200m domestic grossers in the first 26 days of their runs… but is running at the same pace with 7 such titles released by mid-July. That unique 2013 number was driven by fall runs of Hobbit, Hunger Games, and Gravity. This year, we have Star Wars guaranteed to crack that, Fantastic Beasts threatening, plus Suicide Squad and Sing as candidates, aside from unexpected smashes, a category in which three or four of this year’s fast movers qualify.
But wait!!! There’s only one $400m domestic grosser so far!!! OMG!!!
And there is one more $300m domestic grosser as of this date than last year… not including the inevitable cracking of that number by Pets.
My point, for the nineteenth year or so in a row… calm the f*** down with the trend obsession.
Is there franchise and/or comic book fatigue? YES! Of course there is. But has it killed either category? NO! Not even close.
We are in the middle age of this era of mega-movies. You can’t just throw out a title with a franchise association and expect people to flock to the theaters or post-theatrical. Studios still have to sell the movies. They still need hooks that get people excited. Etcetera. Ad nauseam.
A meteor will eventually hit and we will go into the death spiral of this specific generation of blockbusters. Inevitable. But this is not the moment.
And we have to give enormous credit to Disney for buying companies with established leadership that Disney trusts and allows to do the work. The Star Wars spin-off looks like a better movie than the reboot kick-off and the Rian Johnson film due next year will likely be great as well… so, great shape. Pixar is a little lost in Sequel-land (Dory doing great, but not a very good movie), but I suspect they will find their way out. Lasseter has Disney animation cranking big time. Marvel is showing real smarts about keeping the franchise going by staying with what works for audiences, which is very talent related (discussed here before). My guess is that Feige will exit into another, more powerful position before Downey really retires from Iron Man. But for now, things are solid.
And the rest… a bit of a mess over there. The studio has had 31 releases in 2014-2016 and the only film outside of those groups that is in the top half of the domestic grossers is Into The Woods, which played on Disney-affiliated characters and themes as well, and the only two on the bottom half that are from the core groups are Alice 2 and Planes 2. Interestingly (although I am not 100% sure why) is that the fulcrum of the group – #16 of 31 titles) is Tomorrowland, which is kinda house franchise, but kinda not.
My belief in how studios must work to survive continues to hold Disney as the sole exception in this era. Disney really has no reason whatsoever to invest in anything outside of their 4 main food groups. In this unique case, Group #5 really is the greenest of vegetables… really healthy, but not often consumed.
Every other studio, whether they have had franchise success or not, needs to keep making movies under $75 million with some range to not only build strong libraries with great value, but also to balance out the financials. There are inexpensive hits that generate large profits. And the risk of two or three franchise films a year can be fire-walled to some degree.
But Disney is so far in on the big, expensive titles and so sadly mediocre (at best) at selling anything that isn’t one of those that, they really should just give up on the smaller films. There is no real benefit. Nor, for that matter, is there any significant risk. Was the real budget on The Finest Hours $80 million? So, a $40m-$60m writedown? No one cares. Even that gets absorbed into the big hits. If they went that high on budget on these films five times a year, a $250 million loss would hurt. But they are spending less on most of the other underperformers. So they really don’t matter. Either way.
There were about 30 non-animated, non-franchise films that did over $100m worldwide last year. The only two from Disney were Tomorrowland and Bridge of Spies. Only one was in the top half of those grossers. (The top half starts with Jupiter Ascending at $184m ww and is made up of 4 Universal, 4 Fox, 3 WB, and 1 each from Par, Sony, Disney, and TWC.)
Those “smaller” films were a big part of the strong year at Universal and kept Fox from being as damaged by some of the big misses last year. It also kept a rough year at WB from looking even worse. That’s why you make them.
As for the non-Disney single-film studios, Paramount is on a small schedule and the hit of Daddy’s Home was helpful. For Sony, $245m on Pixels was neither a win nor a disaster. Basically, a nonevent. But recall, neither studio was touted as great successes in 2015. Disney was the only one that was seen as huge winner and a non-starter on the “smaller” film front.
And if Disney ever does have a disaster year with the mega-movies, say three of them crash and burn and take $75m+ writedowns… the “smaller” movies can’t really protect Disney there either. You would need a The Martian (the top non-franchise grosser last year) for every such flop. And The Martian wasn’t a cheap film either. Star Wars and The Avengers kept Tomorrowland from being a big discussion last year, not Bridge of Spies.
Oh yeah… guess I didn’t mention before… Disney’s biggest non-in-house-franchise grosser of last year and their biggest such title since Lincoln in 2012… lost money. Bridge of Spies? Borderline profitable, assuming it will get there sometime next year.
If Disney has a seismic event, it will be truly seismic. But will all the built-in stuff, my bet would be more of a slow leak that will come to a head sometime in the early to mid 2020s.
Ghostbusters opened. Not a thrilling number. But not a disaster. Let’s see how word-of-mouth rolls. Could be out at $120m domestic… could be $250m. My guess is something in between. Ask me next Sunday.
The Legend of Tarzan continues to hold relatively well. I wonder how much the haters affected the launch.
Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates is doing pretty well. It’s not Wedding Crashers, but it’s rolling along. Won’t be the profit center that Let’s Be Cops ended up being because they spent a lot more on this one.
Expect to see more Hart & Big Johnson.
The Infiltrator is Broad Green’s second best opening. They picked it up late in the game, trying to turn it around to release in under two months. Did it work? Hard to say without knowing the deal costs. The director, Brad Furman, is going the wrong direction on the grosses, from a $13m Lionsgate opening to a $7.7m Fox opening to this. (Also, from McConaughey to Affleck to Cranston.) I don’t think this is an untalented filmmaker… but he needs to get moving in the other direction or to make a movie where the response is strong enough that people up the food chain want to work with him.
Independence Day: Resurgence can’t be mistaken for a success, but it is closing in on $350m worldwide, which could keep it from red ink (in real money, not bookkeeping). They could use at least another $50m in theatrical… but might make the leap.
Great exclusive opening for the new Woody by way of Amazon Studios and Lionsgate. The bad news is that it is dead on par with To Rome With Love, which topped out at $16m domestic. Better news, that film did $57 million internationally, Woody’s fifth best ever.
Dinesh D’Souza’s latest idiotic dirge, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party is making D’Souza another small fortune in this fixed system or con artists and suckers, doing $26k per screen on five, topping his previous two attacks on Barrack Obama slightly. Congratulations! I’d expect about $20m total gross for this one.
Also doing well in exclusive was Closet Monster, a gay-coming-of-age story from Elevation.
This is an unusual movie to review, at least for me. So apologies for the amount of self-reference.
I saw Ghostbusters (2016) one night in 3D and the next night in 2D.
The 3D experience, which was surprisingly engaging as a piece of artistic technology, showed every limitation of the narrative quite clearly. My central objection? Two central protagonists of the Mary Richards variety. That is to say, lovely and charming and sometimes funny, but not offering up big laughs themselves. And those two leads happen to be played by two of the best broad-comedy comedians of the current era. Both get a moment or two of schtick. Both are likable. But there is no sink crapping or brutal insult runs or high goofball coming from McCarthy and Wiig here.
If you think about the 1984 Ghostbusters, part of what worked so well is that all three of the central ‘busters had very specific character roles to play. Bill Murray was the clear lead as the who-gives-a-f*** Venkmann. There was a love story that drove the emotional layer and a strong, somewhat traditional actress to go with it. Aykroyd’d Ray Stantz was the unshakable true believer. Ramis’ Egon Spangler was the scientific cynic. (Ernie Hudson was the normal-person audience in the room, though not much of the film.)
None of those slots are filled in this Ghostbusters. McCarthy leans Stantz. Wiig leans Spangler. McKinnon is a new creation altogether, the mad techno-tist. And Jones is a bigger part of things than Hudson was, with more of an agenda.
So as I watched the 3D version – which is kind of brilliant in its use of a letterbox on the top and bottom of the screen that the movie leaks into at times – the visual experience was so rich and the talking scenes so pleasant, but not razor sharp, that the movie felt out of balance for me. I liked it, but I was also filling my mental list of flaws… as I do when I see a movie that doesn’t completely have me in its clutches.
What was also apparent from the first screening was that Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold and the cast of improv-trained actors were not trying to remake the 1984 movie. There were plenty of references and cameos. But they were on their own journey. This film is, I think, much scarier in terms of effects than the original. The pre-credits ghost reveal is much more intense than the little old lady in the library. There is a very ambitious bit about the ghosts recreating old Times Square. Much of the swagger element of the film is just not there, as any effort to slow the Ghostbusters has a very modern, self-aware twist. And the only real love story here is between the two lead characters, who are estranged friends at the beginning. But even that is subtle.
I immediately felt that if audiences gave it a chance, it would be a success, though not of the $700m worldwide variety.
The next night, I was scheduled to go back and see the 2D version with my 6-year-old. And honestly, had he decided not to go, I might have skipped it. And that would have been a really bad choice.
Seeing the film in 2D, the experience became a Paul Feig comedy and not so much of a visual spectacle. And that was good.
There was a web brouhaha about whether Ghostbusters is a sci-fi/horror genre film first and a comedy second or the other way around. Seeing the 2D version, I had no question about that issue. It is a comedy. And it is a very specific kind of comedy. I don’t know if I can really say that it has a female sensibility, but I am inclined to think that. Then again, it seems more Jacques Tati than Lucille Ball. Feig has a love of the small, complex physical bits and a willingness to use words to punctuate more than pronounce.
For me, the work of McCarthy and Wiig took on an element of the sublime watching them again. I still must admit that I wish they were a bit more specific in their roles. But the rhythm of the piece worked for me a lot more the second time around.
Unlike the male version, this Ghostbusters foursome is truly a foursome. I could have used a little more Groucho from McCarthy… a little more Stan Laurel from Wiig (or even a higher ceiling on her female gaze bit)…
But the showstopper is Kate McKinnon, who is clearly the Harpo of this film. She does speak. But her mind is ablaze in every single frame, to the point where you almost feel you can here the engine whizzing at top speed. She steals the movie, in no small part because her role – wild and unpredictable as it is – is so well defined. She is always 100% go as a character.
Likewise, Leslie Jones shows more range here than she has on SNL and her few other movie appearances. She seems – all 6′ 2″ of her – like a normal person with bouts of extremely strong personality. It’s hard to fully explain what I mean about this performance, but Ms. Jones presents larger than life… big woman, big voice, big personality. And yet, here, it is the first time I have seen her where I felt like I was seeing something more akin to who she must be when she turns it all off. She still brings that big personality. But I am always interested in range in rising actors and I was pleasantly surprised to see more than I expected.
And back to that center. I think part of my issue is that the two former friends don’t really seem angry at each other so much as steeped in their own issues and needs. So we as an audience are not terribly invested in their reunion or new bonding. The stakes are low.
And the stakes are low for the city. You don’t really feel like the end of the world is coming in this film. They do an elaborate montage of ghost troubles all over town, but somehow, the threat seems surface more than truly world-shaking. Plus, the villain is not good. I think Neil Casey is a funny performer. But he, like the teo leads, really demands a bigger character. Lots of ways you could have gone. Louis CK or Larry David would have been a sardonic choice. Patton Oswalt could have killed it. Michael Cera. Aubrey Plaza.
Also, there is not a lot of character transformation in this film. There is one scene where it feels like a character is making a big step up… and it’s not one of the two big stars.
But, all that said… I think most people will have a good time at this movie, assuming they allow themselves to watch the movie and not go in expecting a sequel. This is a very solid Paul Feig comedy.
And if you want to have a cool effects show, do go see the 3D, which although it was added on later, pushes the form in interesting directions. In fact, Feig says that there is an even bigger visual stunt that is only on the IMAX version. So maybe that is great fun too.
As Summer 2016 comedies go, I’d put it only behind The Nice Guys… which is a completely different experience on every level. Perhaps Ghostbusters won’t define your childhood. But I don’t think anyone on the team was after that. A good summer laugh at the movies? Absolutely.
HEY! Universal! Didn’t anyone tell you the movie sky was falling?
It’s all over for the movies. No one is going! Some sequels bombed (relatively). A Disney animated movie opened to only $75 million domestic (shhh… it went on to crack $1b worldwide… but let’s not ruin the narrative) The top opener for the year to date is only $179 million domestic, as opposed to Jurassic World‘s $209m last summer!!! There have only been 6 $300m+ domestic grossers so far this year and the were an AMAZING 5 last year that were open as of this date (though only 3 had passed $300m domestic by this date… and again, we already have 5 over $300m this year and a sure sixth with Pets).
Everyone… run for the exits… it’s over… the bulldozers are coming… it will all be VR glasses starting next week!!!!!!!
Yesterday, a very smart guy who watches numbers closely commented about this weekend that it’s typical 2016… big opening and the #2 film barely got to $20m. True of 2016. But here are the #1 – #2 results from the first 10 summer weekends of last year and the same from this year…
191 – 6
78 – 14
69 – 45
33 – 31
29 – 26
209 – 15
107 – 90
55 – 52
30 – 29
116 – 18
179 – 25
73 – 17
38 – 33
66 – 27
35 – 23
40 – 24
135 – 36
73 – 41
42 – 39
103 – 21
Do they look wildly different to you?
The one thing that really catches my eye is the 209 number (which is the same film with the 107 number the week after) in the middle. Jurassic World. An major event, as it turned out.
One outlying event that is the primary argument for last year being much better than this year… which belies the idea that last year was so much better than this year at the domestic box office.
There is certainly an argument to be made that last summer was better than this summer. But for the year, the box office is up, even without a $200 million opening.
Would you get that impression reading the trades or the mainstream media that picks up on the Chicken Little-ing that is so popular these days?
How significant is the $103m opening for The Secret Life of Pets? It is the only non-sequel animated opening over $100 million in movie history. 2016 now includes 3 of the 6 all-time $100 million animated openings.
I would argue that the premise of the advertising – which doesn’t turn out to be the premise of the movie, really – is a home run and that in some ways, the opening is a little like a sequel to Zootopia, which has been an anthropomorphic animal phenom (as has The Jungle Book) and is timed perfectly ahead of Pets to allow for appetite to build again for more of the presumed same.
But still, the $100m+ opening for an original title should be getting loud praise on multiple fronts. Also, it is worth considering that Deadpool and The Jungle Book, though based on popular source material, were more original launches than building on the previous franchises.
In other words… 2016 is a bit of an antidote to all the sequel whining… but you would never know it for all the sequel whining.
On other tracks…
The Legend of Tarzan held. Take all the shots you like, but the thing didn’t open sensationally, but is holding well, will be over $100m domestic, will do even better internationally. They still may have to write down some of the expense, perhaps as much as $40 million. But it’s not the dead door knob that many expected it to be.
Fox couldn’t quite get Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates to the start they would have loved, but they did get enough of a sample that it could become a slow building big hit this summer. Next on that track, in my eyes, is Bad Moms, which feels like it can build an audience if it can get off to a similarly solid start.
Conversely, The BFG is dying on the vine. The failures of the release marketing narrowed the audience to younger kids and they all went to see talking animals again this weekend. They probably aren’t coming back… until home entertainment.
Bleeker Street had their best per-screen opening so far, topping their quiet surprise hit Eye In The Sky with Captain Fantastic. (Just from these titles, they sound like a superhero distributor.)
There is a lot of conversation about “isms” these days. Racism, sexism, genderism, RealAmericanism, etc.
And when the discussion happens in media, more often than not, I find myself wanting to yell, “Shut up with this!” But it’s not about the issue. I am willing – even happy – to engage in a serious discussion of any of these issues, and see them as a direct threat to culture and humanity itself in many, many ways.
So people ask, what is my affirmative argument? I believe that I offer affirmative arguments. Often. But it seemed prudent to encapsulate them in one place.
1. OPEN AND RIGOROUS DISCOURSE
2. PUT STUDIO ACTIONS AND RESPONSE ON THE RECORD
3. ACTIONABLE DEMANDS
4. SEED THE INDUSTRY
5. FOCUS ON NON-PUBLIC FIGURES, NOT JUST THE MOST FAMOUS
6. FIGHT FOR DEMANDS… DON’T JUST BEAT THE OTHER SIDE WITH OLD UNACTIONABLE STATS
7. SET REALISTIC GOALS
8. DO NOT LOWER STANDARDS AS A BASIS FOR INCLUSION
9. FULL TRANSPARENCY ON ACTIONS THAT ARE TAKEN AS A RESULT OF DEMANDS
10. TRUST IN HUMANITY TO MOVE PROGRESSIVELY WHEN THE NATURAL OPPORTUNITY EXISTS
And now, to the first argument…
1. OPEN AND RIGOROUS DISCOURSE – This is challenging, always. I am not in favor of the endless balancing of the “two sides” in every conversation as is so much the rage in the media right now. To start with, I don’t believe there are two sides to most arguments. There are either absolutes – thou shall not kill – or a lot of gray.
On the other hand, we, as individuals, have to be able to be honest about where we really stand. And if we want to have real discourse, we have to be able to accept that other people simply feel differently than we might, and that our job is to bring them around, not beat them until they go silent and become an angry, silenced underground.
Obfuscating the “right” side of an argument to balance out what we see as the “wrong” side of the argument is just as much a failure of real communication.
For instance, if you hold the position that you have a right to own certain assault weapons because you are a citizen of the US protected by the 2nd Amendment, if you are engaging in honest, open discourse, you have to admit that there is a price to others – most likely people you have never met and future victims you will also not know personally – and that you prioritize your presumed rights as more important than the price that is paid.
The problem we face with the NRA (which wields insane power even though fewer than 5% of Americans are members) is that they reject that factual math. They make complicated rhetorical arguments to avoid what is simple. Because if they ever admit the reality, they would be negotiating. And they know – I think correctly – that if they even allow negotiation, they will lose an ever-increasing series of arguments on gun control and end up with significant gun control legislation.
Same with the issue of funding research. Can’t have that. It’s negotiation. Dangerous.
On the other side, there is an argument (however silly it seems to me personally) about individuals perhaps needing to arm themselves as militias in future. If one accepts that there is validity to this idea… okay… it is reasonable that the most serious firearms should be available. What do we do about that? Many would argue that individuals should have not have access to firearms of mass destruction. That may be too dismissive of the sincere argument of many gun owners.
I would be open, for instance, to local secure armories with these weapons, as well as legitimate training on them for those who want to have access in case of the most extreme circumstances. I would reject the argument that individuals need to be able to keep these extreme weapons in their homes because if they are centralized, the bad guys could round them up to easily. This is antiquated – literally – thinking.
The truth is, I think a significant majority of gun owners would be fine with secured local armories and actually happy to be able to train openly and legally with the most extreme of weapons.
One of the great ironies of American gun culture is that in rural areas where guns are part of daily life, there are almost no mass killings. Most mass shootings using military-style weapons are in urban or suburban areas with plenty of policing, and little need for a gun for any use other than human-to-human interactions.
My point is, we need to be honest about defining the boundaries of the argument in a real way on all sides if we seek to support change through discourse.
On the issue of sexism in Hollywood, there are many layers. But there are few industries in which the complexities and over-simplifications of gender are more overt.
This piece began after a conversation about Jen Yamato’s Daily Beast piece about three profiles of women that she felt exposed Hollywood’s sexist male gaze.
Two of the pieces – one written by a gay man of color – were opinion pieces, essentially, and never should have been published in the forms in which they were released. But the third, a Vanity Fair cover story, is a great example of how the conversation becomes layered with so many postures, assumptions, and shortcuts that there is no real conversation.
After mocking VF’s Rich Cohen (fairly I think) for typing with one hand on the keyboard and the other rubbing himself, Yamato extrapolates and loses steam as she offers assumption as fact in building an argument.
He imagines her as a “second-semester freshman” and a “famous woman who does not want to be famous,” variations on the demure siren fantasy.
This is also a straight play against the fact that this interview, cover, photos, etc., were negotiated and organized by personal publicists in coordination with a media outlet that often pretends to be (and occasionally is) independently-minded.
Yes, there is a grotesque, sexist element to the writing. But that is a choice that many signed off on. The troubles on Tarzan were rumored before this interview was conducted. But “The Summer of Margot Robbie” was the headline her people wanted… even though it looks a little silly about now. (I suspect it will look better after Suicide Squad opens.)
(On a personal note, as the one person who does more than 100 on-camera uncut interviews with movie talent every year (including most of the Wolf of Wall Street team, from Scorsese on down), in which the agenda and true personality of the talent tends to come out, I can tell you that Team Robbie has never chosen to put her in front of me for an interview. Not for Oscar season. Not for indies. I hope she is aces… but if she doesn’t want to be “exploited” or narrowcast, send her in with jeans and a t-shirt and as much make-up as she wants or doesn’t want, and we would talk about work for the majority of the conversation, as that is what I am interested in. Her team knows me. This is a choice as well.)
More Yamato: He fails to ask Robbie about her views on her art and craft, the shrewd career strategy that got her here at the age of 26, how selective she had to be to leapfrog her way to stardom…
Putting aside the art & craft issue… the shrewd career strategy thing. She got a role in a Scorsese movie opposite Leo and stole scene after scene, defining herself as the newest, best sex bomb in Hollywood. Was that strategic? She then got a movie opposite Will Smith, one of the other Top 5 movie stars in the world, and held up her end, even in a bomb… but also leaning on her looks. Then she did a supporting role for the same filmmakers, also playing on her looks. Then Tarzan… as Jane. She also cameoed in a bathtub for Adam McKay.
I assume she did Z For Zachariah – a role with dark hair and a brain – after Wolf, but before it blew up. That was a smart strategic choice, to show she was more than a blonde bombshell. And she is exceptional in it. I also think she is great in Focus and in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She seems to be a very special actress.
But the discussion of strategy would be brief and mostly fruitless. This is not Cameron Diaz or Jessica Lange, who opened huge as bombshells, then went to work learning their craft in smaller, intense roles. The end of this summer will mark less than two years of working in Hollywood since Wolf opened in the fall of 2013 (production wrapped on all of her scheduled films before fall 2015). This doesn’t make her less wonderful… but let’s try to be honest.
Yamato continues: … parlay her career-making Scorsese debut into a string of studio films and a Harley Quinn role already so popular with fans she’s getting her own Suicide Squad spin-off.
She got offers. She took offers. She didn’t make a Jeff Nichols film or a second Craig Zobel movie that actually got a major studio theatrical release… she made a Will Smith movie and Tarzan. (Three of her five most recent credits were at one studio, Warner Bros.) Could she have made worse choices? Probably. But if Suicide Squad lives up to commercial expectations/hopes, it will be her first movie to do so since Wolf.
Her Harley Quinn is a scene stealer… apparently even a movie stealer. The fans are getting a lot of her in trailers, because WB saw it before the fans had the opportunity to opine. (Another mythology cracked.) But what is that discussion about? Robbie plays a very bad girl who repeatedly uses her sexuality to entice and distract men from the villainy she commits. So does that make Vanity Fair good or bad? Should they have avoided discussing the featured shot in the trailers of her ass sticking out at the audience?
It’s not that Vanity Fair’s piece is anything but gross. But this is chicken and egg, not chicken or egg. Don’t misread me. Margot Robbie could well become a huge movie star on a business level as well as a talent level. Don’t be shocked to see her nipping at Jennifer Lawrence’s increasingly high heels. She, too, could win an Oscar and have a $850 million movie in the same year. I’m rooting for her. But let’s not pretend that she is profoundly transparent and a victim of Vanity Fair’s “put on your bikini” hype machine.
Getting back to the other pieces Yamato references — Owen Gleiberman’s attack on Renée Zellweger’s face in Variety and NYT’s Wesley Morris going on about Blake Lively and Kate Hudson because, apparently, he had nothing better to write about than personal boredom—heavy hangs the Pulitzer—it’s interesting how different readers find these pieces either profoundly upsetting and/or complete non-issues.
It is worth noting that neither piece was a review. (Glenn Kenny did the review of The Shallows for NYT. The new Bridget Jones has not yet been reviewed.) Both were superfluous riffing. And I certainly don’t think it would help anyone to match these rambles with attacks on Russell Crowe’s look in The Nice Guys or hoping to make a distinction between Hemsworths.
Aggrieved groups are given room. But this is accompanied by a recurring dogma: POC can’t be racist, women can’t be sexist, and if the disempowered actively try to take power from the empowered, arguments against that behavior are frowned upon. But if we want equity, we have to build towards a truly even playing field. That does not, mean that we cannot give significant advantages to those who have been disadvantaged across the years. We should. But we should also be honest, and proud, about those advantages.
We need to believe that if opportunity is offered, accelerated for a while, that the nature of the industry will assimilate new groups into the culture as it has over and over and over again. Assimilation doesn’t happen from behind a closed door. So open the door. Seed the industry. Let nature take its course.
It’s been difficult having conversations about The Academy’s “open the gates” expansion with 683 new members, including many who would not even have been considered under the rules of admission that applied until this year. It isn’t automatically “all good” because it fits one specific agenda. But it’s not inherently bad, either.
My greatest concern here is that it is not transparent. The Academy had the opportunity to truly lead, but chose to perform PR instead, making a big noise with this big number, but only discussing the upside, not the difficulties that will come in implementing these changes. And they are significant. The Academy invited people on the basis of their Sundance entries from only this last January… off of movies that haven’t even opened.
Perhaps the member dump comes as Cheryl Boone Isaacs fears losing the her job as president this summer, wanting to get it all in while she still has the gig. That is my best guess. I’m scared of how they will get the invitation list up to 500 next year.
But, again, aside from the lost opportunity for The Academy teaching the world by saying, “we couldn’t come up with anything near enough new members of color to make a statistical dent inside the Hollywood system,” there are plenty of people celebrating this expansion, some of whom insist that anyone who questions its validity or wisdom is a racist or a sexist. Yes, there are racists and sexists. But I think it is safe to say that, in that majority, that position is a lie that assumes that anyone’s less than strongly positive view of this is simplistic and, at best, mean-spirited.
We need to have honest conversations without accusing the “other side” of absolutes. There is no real conversation when that is the conversation.
More to come.
One of the least interesting box office summers continues to be uninteresting.
July 4 weekend is fool’s gold for Hollywood. There’s never been a $100 million opening over this holiday, but it’s not for lack of trying. Transformers 2 got closest, but it may never happen. As big openings got really, really big, distributors figured out that opening on the holiday was not the best money choice. In July, the biggest openings are a week after July 4 or the weekend after. Christmas monsters tend to open at least a week before Christmas. Opening Memorial Weekend has become a show of weakness, requiring serious players to roll out the week before. And even Thanksgiving, the last holdout, is now a date that begs for an opening weekend before the 5-6 day weekend for films looking to do mega-numbers.
That’s no excuse, by the way, for this weekend’s lame launches. Finding Dory is doing great. It’s the #8 third weekend grosser after being the #8 second weekend grosser. If this continues, expect Dory to be around $250m next weekend.
Tarzan (by any other name would no one remember) didn’t die as fiery a death as people assumed it would. People are silly. Greystoke opened, back in 1984 (when the best opening was of the year was $25m and #2 was $16m), as the #2 movie of the weekend, ahead of Romancing The Stone. There is an audience for Captain Loincloth (wait… that would have been a good title!!!) in every generation. $37 million is not setting off fireworks over the WB lot, but we live in an era where media hungers for failure and premature analysis based on numbers not intended for playing Guess The Box Office.
The Purge: Election Day (aka Election Day For All POC In Trump’s America), opened to 10% less than The Purge and 3% better than the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy. Predictable… even if the guessers didn’t predict it. In the horror-thriller market, no one really knows if sequels are going to go up or down. There is a built-in audience… but there is clearly a bloody glass ceiling. Domestic gross will fall in Purge range… $65m – $75m. Everyone goes home happy.
As previously noted, The BFG‘s opening is not going to cause PG-13 orgasms at Disney. But it’s not a terrible Spielberg opening. Spielberg has one movie with an opening over $73 million. And the movie closest to BFG that opened better was AI… which only opened to $29 million. This actually his best opening in eight years… since the Indiana Jones big hit.
Don’t get me wrong. The hope for this movie is that Disney could turn it into one of its “comes to life” smash hits. Didn’t happen. But clearly, there were title recognition problems. Legendary stage actor Mark Rylance, Oscar winner or not, is an unfamiliar face. Disney made things worse, in my opinion, by changing the angle on the story too many times, muddying the water instead of finding a reason why people had to see this film. (Expect fart jokes to show up in tv spots this week.) And where was the IMAX Experience?
I would argue that this is the best use of 3D since the shock of the new that was Avatar and that Spielberg should be a Best Director contender. It’s a big step forward in the form. But it is far from universally beloved. Still, I expect it to be a family classic. Think The Polar Express… ended up doing 7x opening. And this film’s friendly giant is a 100x more accessible than the many Hankses of the uncanny valley era of motion capture. Rylance is great… and he also deserves serious Oscar consideration. But this film will not have Christmas re-releases for years or do 7x opening domestically. It could, however, do much better than Polar internationally.
Independence Day: Reheated Hash got all the way down to a 60% drop for the weekend. Still sucks. Red ink.
Back-to-back openers The Conjuring 2 and Central Intelligence will be WB’s 3rd and 4th $100m domestic grossers of the last very difficult year. (The others were Creed and BvS.) The studio has to be thinking/praying that Suicide Squad, War Dogs, and Sully — only one of which seems on traditional WB brand — can continue the upswing.
In indie world, no one got to $10k per screen for the weekend. Weiner continues to be a strong doc player, Genius has found a legit indie audience, and The Neon Demon is doing better than the naysayers want to believe, but could not make the Spring Breakers conversion of Broad Green and Amazon Studios’ neon dreams.
Tom Rothman was fired at Fox on September 12, 2012. He was co-chief of Fox’s film division with Jim Gianopulos, who was pushed upstairs twelve days ago. Tom was the driving creative force of the duo. Jim G. brought happier relationships, overall, an expertise in international markets, and no small amount of skill as an executive. But it was the norm to hear conversations, albeit rarely, about “Jim’s movie,” when the duo were working together. Mostly, Fox films were seen as Tom’s movies.
When Stacey Snider was hired in November 2014, it was clearly a choice to bring in another creative powerhouse to, again, balance Jim G (as he is known), but without some of the difficulties of Rothman, who did great things for Fox, but burned a lot of bridges. The 20 months of waiting for her ascension have been unpleasant, as the studio, known as a place with major internal political conflicts saw many fiefdoms defended and fortified against a stronger creative hand than Jim G’s. Snider, who is a great politician, now has the job ahead of bringing peace back to Fox. Unlike Rothman after landing at Fox, there is not expected to be series of bodies left on the side of the road. But time will tell. Snider is one to make room for others to have a lot of rope when they have earned it, so I suspect she will heal more than heel.
Fox has released 60 films since Tom Rothman’s exit. 24 of those were $100m (or better) domestic hits. 8 of those were from the Rothman era. Two of the eight were from the DWA relationship, so they are really outside of the control of the studio.
I would set The Other Woman as the first major release of the Gianopulos era and X-Men: Days of Future Past as the first big movie, released May and June 2014.
There are Rothman fingerprints on many of the Gianopulos hits… which is just circumstance, not an accusation. And really, it’s a double-edged sword. Days of Future Past was the most expensive non-Cameron movie ever at Fox (and remember, Fox hedged financially on both Titanic and Avatar). The film was developed and announced under Rothman with Matthew Vaughn as director. Vaughn left around the same time as Rothman. Jim G brought Bryan Singer, who had a massive falling out with Rothman when he left X-Men for Superman years earlier, back to the X-Men franchise and delivered both the biggest-grossing and highest-priced X-Men film.
Rothman’s scent is also on the deal for Kingsman, which Vaughn sold to Fox. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a sequel to a Rothman re-launch of the franchise. Three of Jim G’s 16 $100m+ domestic grossers were DreamWorks Animation… which came to Fox under Rothman/Gianopulos. Blue Sky, which added Peanuts, a Rothman project. Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb was a sequel to a Rothman film.
Don’t get me wrong. Gianopulos had to be the front man for some Rothman bombs, too. A Good Day To Die Hard did okay, but underperformed. The Internship, The Counselor, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
What turned my attention to Gianopulos and a notion that the reason for his exit/reassignment was no mystery at all was Independence Day: Resurgence.
The problem with ID:4-2, aside from the quality of the film (which never is an excuse for a bad opening, aside from not giving Marketing anything to work with) was startlingly familiar. It had no special draw. And by that I mean, a movie star who gets ticket buyers excited in a specific role or a great visual event or an idea that is intriguing and special… something… anything.
What other big Fox films under Gianopulos have suffered this problem?
X-Men: Apocalypse. Somehow, the brain trust decided that the big step of Days of Future Past secured a new place for this franchise. So the whole film was built around Mystique, a definitively supporting character, who happened to be played by the current Biggest Movie Star In The World, Jennifer Lawrence. Pay her. Don’t pay any of the more expensive talent that had been in so many other X-films. Put all the money on the screen.
But they forgot something. DoFP was the kitchen sink of X-Men events… pretty much every beloved actor in every beloved role was there. And the biggest effects sequences ever.
Even with all that, the film grossed just under $750m worldwide. That’s a $300m jump for the franchise… but still not as big as Deadpool, which is not one of Marvel’s crown jewels.
The uninspired Apocalypse choice brought the franchise right back to where it was before Future Past.
On another front, Eddie The Eagle… Joy... Victor Frankenstein… all relatively cheap, but misses nonetheless. Flipside is Kung Fu Panda 3 and The Revenant, but both are from companies with output deals at Fox and are not, primarily, Fox-owned.
No one can take The Martian away from Gianopulos. Big, terrific hit. Awards strategy was a bit of a disaster and Ridley’s relationship with Fox was long with Rothman… but a big hit… yay.
But then we’re back in last summer.
What happened to Fantastic Four? Lots of things. But a huge one was that Gianopulos greenlit a key movie for Fox with no established movie stars (not even a minor role, like Jessica Alba) and a filmmaker that didn’t want to make a giant action adventure film.
Paper Towns? This was a big movie because of the smash hit event that was The Fault In Our Stars. Shailene Woodley had an image and a following. Neither Nat Wolff or Cara Delevingne had the same. Obviously, the success of the first John Green/Neustadter + Weber project meant that Elizabeth Gabler had the freedom to reach for new/young/hip/rising… but the buck stops with the boss.
How do you get people excited about a Poltergeist without Spielberg being involved? I love Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt. But they’ve never opened anything.
I also love Christian Bale, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Joel Edgerton… but outside of very specific roles… not legit big studio openers… certainly not in beigeface.
The one Fox release that really pushes against this trend – even with Sam Jackson in support – is Kingsmen: The Secret Service, which blew up worldwide (relatively… $414m ww) with Taron Egerton as the lead. And bless this movie. Again… Matthew Vaughn became a Fox guy via Rothman (and didn’t direct a movie there the first time they danced because of Rothman)… but give Gianopulos his due.
That said… I see a consistent issue with Gianopulos’ choices.
With Rothman, the complaint was always that he would ride you like a thorned cowboy from hell on budget and on marketable elements. Many filmmakers felt abused by his fingers felt tightly around every film. There were lots of mediocre numbers, but numbers big enough to find black ink. And of course, he was in charge for the DVD rise and fall… but oh, what a rise it was. Rothman delivered 16 years of black ink to Rupert Murdoch and some big wins (as well as losses) along the way.
Every studio chief has a mountainous career of highs and lows. And Gianopulos was no different in that regard.
But has he ever really had a voice as a studio chief… in terms of the films his company made and released?
I would argue that these big films made without big stars and a lack of a big hook isn’t Gianopulos’ voice, but that he worked – perhaps because it reflects Murdoch’s expectations – the Rothman idea of a studio, but a “kinder, gentler” version. Unfortunately, that became the worst of both worlds, as would seem inevitable.
Why has Stacey Snider, who has a clear voice as a studio chief and is a much more natural fit in that job, been left sitting on the bench (relatively) for 18 months, getting smacked endlessly by the buzzards? Kingsmen in March 2015… Spy in June 2015… The Martian in Oct 2015… The Revenant in December 2015… Deadpool in February 2016… four months later… nothing but nyet.
So why was Jim Gianopulos pushed out before Independence Day: Resurgence opened? Because a blind monkey with its nose stuffed and a ball gag in its mouth could tell this was one rotten banana from a quarter mile away. You don’t want to humiliate a guy who has served the company well and honorably for a long time.
There is no where else to potentially regain strength until Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children at the end of September… and who knows whether that is a big hit waiting to happen? (And no, an Ice Age hit doesn’t count.)
They have a thoroughbred in the stable. They know that Jim G. on his own was not going to be the future. Pull the Band-Aid.
One last note… there was a Hollywood Reporter piece about studios committing suicide every decade that was a silly as it was reckless. This is not the damned swans returning to Capistrano.
Every studio has a very different story of struggle. Universal, which has been the least stable studio in terms of ownership and top film-side leadership since Stacey Snider left is solid right now. So is Disney, obviously. Fox, which pivoted away from Bill Mechanic for unclear reasons when they gave the gold ring to Rothman, sent Rothman packing and someone other than Gianopulos was an inevitability from the day they did it. Amy Pascal had some great years for Columbia, but had been stale, supported by some great talent relationships, for a while. Who is running the studio at Paramount, under Brad Grey? Come on… don’t look it up! (Marc Evans) And Warner Bros? Sigh… Harry Potter and Batman stabilized the place for a long while in the post Semel/Daly era.
But… Snider, Rothman, Alan Horn/Sean Bailey, the great survivor Donna Langley… not exactly unfamiliar leadership at 4 of the 6 majors. May Greg Silverman and Marc Evans be as much a part of the firmament some day.
There are micro trend stories all the time. But the effort to make everything into a macro trend story is a horrible failure of journalism. Just wanted to get that off my chest.
And on we go…
Dory becomes the 6th best 2nd weekend ever, still just a smidgen behind Captain: Civil for the top 10-day gross of 2016. Independence Day will look for aliens… well, international… to save its day. And The Shallows waits to see if word-of-mouth kicks in and makes it a hit or a meh-ss. Swiss Army Man farts $37k per screen out of the indie market on three screens.
Hey… just wrote an elaborate piece and had most of it murdered by the quirks of the publishing platform…
Will rebuilt it and run it tonight. Sorry.