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Creed is a very good movie. A movie-movie.
There are lots of things one can point to in the film, from Stallone bringing back the mumble to the 3-round fight in one shot to the mature performance of Michael B. Jordan and on and on.
But what interests me is the alchemy created by co-writer/director Ryan Coogler and his co-writer Aaron Covington in blending the oh-so familiar and the new, the raw, the class movie that surprisingly supplants race as a central theme.
The original Rocky was steeped in ethnicity and race. There have been many words written about the White fantasy that is Rocky… overcoming the “uppity” Black success story. But I don’t think that this was what Stallone was after, at least consciously.
Rocky, “The Italian Stallion,” was not so much a reflection of the Italian immigrant story (told so masterfully just years before in The Godfather, Part II). Sylvester Stallone happened to be Italian. He wanted to be a movie star. And so Rocky, who could have been virtually any breed of Palooka from Palookaville, was Italian. He was trained by an Irishman. He fought, in the middle of the 35-year run of Black heavyweights dominating the championship belts, a Black man.
Yes, Stallone flipped things with the White guy trying to raise himself up against an ascendant Black man. He was seen by some as The Great White Hope. It was, in a way, an early commercial for Ronald Reagan’s successful presidential run.
But again, I would argue that the heart of the movie was about class and not about race.
Rocky did not care about his opponent’s color in the first film. Some around him did. But that was never a Rocky issue. And this this film, Adonis Creed, while fully aware of the significance of color, doesn’t seem to much care about color. In Rocky, Apollo Creed and his people were very aware of fighting a man of an “opposite” race and the value of that at the time, as is Adonis’ eventual (very White) opponent in Creed, though he couches his racism in the idea of “legitimacy,” as we have heard so often about President Obama.
Coogler and Covington find a way of creating an opponent who is an outsider, who we won’t root for, without screaming in our face. And while our leads, in both films, are steeped in their own cultures, they are utterly uninterested in the cultural subtext of their opponent. A tricky line that can’t just happen by coincidence, beautifully walked here.
Of course, Stallone went on, in Rocky III and Rocky IV, to make the series about cultural expectations, whether the “street Black guy” that Mr. T played with Apollo in Rocky’s corner or the Russian who would (30-year spoiler alert) kill Creed and have to be taken out by good old all-American Rocky Balboa. Of course, in both of these films, Balboa and Creed had become true friends, barely seeing color at all.
Rocky and Rocky II are, to me, about class (or lack thereof). And Creed is about class. Confusion about class has replaced stereotypes, as befits 2015 vs 1975. But in spirit, the same as the original. (And interestingly, I think that is what David O. Russell’s Joy is going to be able as well.)
Coogler and Covington manage to successfully play both sides of things. Adonis Creed is both from the underclass and the upper class… which ties him to living-legend-who-still-lives-in-his-old-house Rocky in a way that I don’t think Rocky is even meant to understand. Adonis is beautiful, but a bit awkward with women. Adonis is full of rage, but that tone has gotten out of his system by the end of the film’s second scene (replaced by pained resolve).
And beyond Adonis Creed himself and the dozens of specific callbacks to the Rocky films, the writers manage to make it feel of the same ilk, though through Maryse Alberti’s lens, it doesn’t look much like the original at all. It feels like an indie… or if you will, a film from the early 70s.
It’s almost as though the writers came up with an idea to flip most of what was in the original inside out… except for the emotion. And the power of that emotion reminds us that nothing else really matters.
Beyond the movie joys of the film, there is something powerful about a movie that is so unabashedly full of race and ethnicity on its face while, at the same time, it is not about those things much at all. It forces you to think, but it doesn’t lecture or berate. It is comfortable in its own skin, whether that skin is Black or White, old or young, whipsmart or a little slow. And then it just slides in next to your heart and takes you where it wants.
It feels like The Future. Or at least the future many of us pray to come to pass.
I’ve only seen the film once. I am pretty sure this feeling about Creed will deepen in the weeks to come. But for a film to feel so familiar and so surprising is a glorious thing indeed.
I saw a funny one last night in one of the trades that Lionsgate might have been better off not making Mockingjay into two movies. A head-scratching comment, since even without working the numbers, it is pretty obvious that two highly profitable movies are better than one. My assumption is that whoever floated this idea (not sure why anyone would publish it) is thinking that records and which film’s number looks best next to the others is the objective. That is how a lot of box office is analyzed these days. It’s just dumb.
The last Harry Potter movie, in 3D, was the biggest of the series by 38%. It was also the final book split in two, but let’s disregard that for the moment. If you applied this enormously unlikely leap onto the top Hunger Games movie, the fantasy solo finale could have grossed $1.2 billion. Mockingjay grossed $755m worldwide & #2 will gross, at at absolute worst, $645 million. $1.4 billion total. So with the added costs of making and distributing a second birdcall, given all the venue outside of just theatrical, the two films, at worst, are more profitable. But the reality is that Mock 2 will likely, thanks to a continuously growing international market for this series (growth every episode, unlike domestically), equal or pass Mock 1 worldwide, making the split massively profitable.
Another film that has taken a hit for not being as big as the biggest in the series ever is Spectre, which will become the #2 Bond all-time by the end of next weekend, both here and worldwide. The fantasy that Bond was now going to be a billion-every-time franchise is broken. But it’s still a cash machine.
The Peanuts Movie is just doing mediocre business. Not sure how else to say it. It’s no disaster. But…
The Night Before opened soft. Discussed yesterday in some depth. Sony’s move now.
The Secret in The Eyes ain’t no The Gift. If you want to know what happened to Julia Roberts… the answer is that she’s been in semi-retirement for a decade, since Closer, really. People don’t remember that long. She’s taken supporting roles (not equal) to Tom Hanks twice, she did the one two-hander with Clive Owen, she took a backseat to Meryl Streep even though her role was the lead in the story, she did the “evil version of my image” role, and Eat Pray Love (back in 2010, which seems forever ago). On paper, it’s 12 movies in 10 years. But it’s all been in-the-pocket or miscast. Someone like Reese Witherspoon, who also took some time off game for a while, makes a terrible movie like her mismatched road comedy last year… and still, flop or not, it feels like she is going for it. (Of course, this was on the heels of Wild, another box office miss, but man, was she going for it there!) Same with Bullock, who feels like she is in the game, even if her movies aren’t working at the box office. We just kinda lost Julia Roberts as JULIA ROBERTS.
It happened a couple weekends ago, but The Martian became the #6 film of 2015 (for the moment) and is at the top of the $200m club… since everything that else that has made over $202m domestic has made over $300 million domestic. Not really shocking. This year we will have seven films gross over $300 million domestic, which beats the all-time record by 2 or 40%. Looking at the broader picture, $100 million domestic grossers, the number of them has been between 30 and 35 most years for a while now… and should be in that pocket this year too with at least 5 and as many as 8 coming in the last 6 weeks of the year, added to the 24 we’re now at (including Peanuts).
Excluding Hunger Games, Spotlight easily had the best per-screen amongst films on more than 500 screens. Likewise, Brooklyn had the best per-screen amongst films on more than 100 screens (except THG). Trumbo is doing well with $5380 per on 47.
Legend entered the ring with a strong $20,700 per on 4. But it had its ass kicked by Carol, who did $61,530 per on the same 4 (best of the week at any weight class).
Mustang, a wonderful film that is competing for France in the Foreign Language race, also had a nice outing with $6170 on 3 screens.
Not so thrilling was By The Sea, which expanded 12.6x to 126 screens and did $180k or growth of 55%. Mrs. Jolie Pitt is, in this case, suffering the weight of her fame. She should not be discouraged from making movies. But she should make something that comes with lowered expectations as she develops. She clearly has things to say, but you don’t become a master overnight, even if you can afford A-list crews and cast.
The biggest box office story this week was Creed, which has become a favorite to be a big moneymaker now that WB has started showing it in earnest. They’ve had a very tough year over there and this feels like the updraft for which they have been praying.
I have been doing this long enough to have had arguments about films grossing $100 million domestic and being seen as disappointments. I was relatively new in writing about box office and the veteran box office people waved off this silly notion. This weekend, I suspect we will hear rumblings about a $100 million+ opening that is, somehow, disappointing. Silly. (Amazingly, if Star Wars: The Force Awakens doubles the best opening ever in December and opens to $170 million domestic in a few weeks, that will somehow be seen—in this case, only by fools—as a disappointment.)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, unlike the final Harry Potter, is a franchise film that will be seen almost exclusively by the series’ hardcore base. And Lionsgate seems fine with that, as the advertising makes little, if any, effort to push the “come see the climax of a series that is about xxxx” agenda. It’s much more geared to people who are already invested. And they will be fine with that. As someone who bailed after the first film—even though I am a Francis Lawrence believer—I don’t feel welcome, even though the relatively positive critical hum has me intrigued.
Still, even with the feeling that you shouldn’t be going to see this film without having seen all the previous films, this THG-MP2 is heading to just under or just over $300 million domestic and carries the hope that it, like the Twilight finale, can keep expanding overseas. $400 million international seems like a lock. $500 million would make this the #2 film of the franchise, even if it’s the softest domestically. In this case, the movie will land in China, which Twilight never did… legally.
The other openers this weekend are Sony’s The Night Before and newly-minted distributor STX’s The Secret in Their Eyes. Neither is a happy story.
There are many things about The Night Before that seem flawed, starting with the very cool, but very uninformative stained glass ad campaign. The movie is a variation on After Hours and you really don’t know that from the ads. You get the classic comedy ad pitch, obsessed with the three or four jokes that did best in test screenings. I don’t care how hard the laughs in testing… vomit jokes are not a great sales tool for a wide release movie. Ironically, it is the quality of this film that is revealed in the fact that the jokes—as seen on TV—are not as strong as the laughs that come out of story in this film. That is one of the things I really liked about this movie. It’s a journey into taking the next step in life for these three old friends. They all have ideas of what they want on this holiday and they all need adjustment… and the world is there to adjust them, with a little help from (a little too much of a spoiler).
Now, it is possible that the filmmakers were the ones who wanted to hide the salami here (the salami, for all intents & purposes being Michael Shannon and his character). You’ll likely see new ads with him and the actual premise of the film in the next couple of days. But it may be too late… depends on the specificity of the ads and the size of the buy.
As for The Secret in Their Eyes… this is a remake of the Foreign Language Oscar winner of 2009… meaning, great foundation about which no one knows or cares. Julia Roberts, who is about ready for a second act of her career to begin, hasn’t really opened a movie in at least five years. Still, you have to go back almost 20 years to a wide opening as week for a picture led by Roberts… the dreaded (career-wise) Mary Reilly.
(Corrected for mistake about this being first STX release. Apologies.)
Carol opens on four screens and will do a solid $55k per screen or so.
And now, my first look at Oscar season box office…
Inside Out – BV – n/a – 356
The Martian – Fox – 2086 – 210.3
Straight Outta Compton – U – n/a – 161
Mad Max: Fury Road – WB – n/a – 154
Bridge of Spies – BV – 1532 – 63.8
Black Mass – WB – 232 – 62.4
Sicario – LGF – 285 – 45.6m
Steve Jobs – U – 326 – 17.5
Grandma – SPC – n/a – $6.9
STILL NOT WIDE
Mr. Holmes – Roadside – n/a – 17.7
Love & Mercy – Roadside – n/a – 12.6
Spotlight – Open Road – 598 – 3.3
Suffragette – Focus – 396 – 3
Room – A24 – 133 – 2.5
Brooklyn – Searchlight – 111 – 1.3
Trumbo – Bleecker – 47 – est 360,000
Carol – TWC – 4 -78,491
Beasts of No Nation – Netflix – n/a – .1
NOT YET OPEN
The Big Short
The Danish Girl
The H8ful Eight
What can you say about this weekend.
Love The Coopers, miss. The 33, practically dumped. By The Sea, sunk.
Spotlight expands to 61 screens and will do a very solid $18k per or so for the weekend.
Brooklyn expands to 23 and will do about $16k per.
Did You Know: Paranormal Activity 6 will drop about 40% from Paranormal 5, which is about what 5 dropped from Paranormal 4? In other words, nothing really changed for the film at the box office because of the short VOD window… now the question will be how it does/is doing in that VOD window.
Decent holds for Spectre and The Peanuts Movie. The Martian passed $200 million domestic on Thursday and is over $450 million worldwide as well. Bridge of Spies continues to run about 15% behind The Terminal and War Horse as Spielberg movies go, but it’s doing better than Munich, which got nominated for Best Picture.
Interesting Spectre result this weekend. It is more like the traditional Bond-to-Bond growth we have come to expect over decades… but only if you take the surprisingly outsized numbers of Skyfall out of the equation. The Pierce Brosnan foursome of Bonds started by more than doubling the opening numbers of the previous films… then saw a significant leap in the opening number of his last film, Die Another Day. Daniel Craig’s first Bond, Casino Royale, actually was a step backwards in its opening gross… but made up for it with strong word-of-mouth and legs to match. Than a $27m opening leap… then $21 million. Of course, part of that is how movies are released these days. But Skyfall seemed a real game changer as it almost doubled (increase around 85%) any prior Bond film both in the U.S. and worldwide. Why? Who knows? The leap for Quantum of Solace made sense because of the love of Casino Royale. But Quantum was not so loved and BOOM! Skyfall was quite well liked… but now it looks like we will see the franchise go back to being major league, but not in that billion-dollar range. If I had to guess today, I’d say $700m – $800m worldwide this time… easily the biggest non-Skyfall Bond, but not close to that $1.1 billion anomaly. (Worth noting – China was only $60 million of the Skyfall international windfall.)
Fox had its second best non-DreamWorks Animation, non-Ice Age opening for an animated movie with The Peanuts Movie, topped only by the $74 million launch of The Simpsons Movie (and just 2 of the DWA releases, Home and Dragon 2). Not bad at all. But not close to Pixar or the current Disney run or Universal in the last 6 years. But everything is relative in this arena. Like Sony, Fox’s bar of success is a bit lower than the big boys of animation. Solid start. Legs will be interesting.
The Martian continues to be a killer app. The film passed the domestic total of Interstellar this weekend and seems to have a lot left in the tank. Expect the film to pass $200 million on Wednesday and likely to become the #6 grosser of the year on Thursday (if not, on Friday).
Interestingly, there is a big gap in the domestic box office this year between $202 million and $335 million. No films in between those amounts… until The Martian. All five films that opened to $90 million or better got to over $335 million. None that opened to less got higher than $202m (until TM). Also worth noting, Fifty Shades of Gray did do a big number, but it is the only film this year that opened to over $20 million domestically and failed to at least double its opening. It’s numbers overseas are what makes it a cash cow and likely to stay one for the next two outings.
Also having holds in the 20s were Goosebumps, Bridge of Spies (which has dropped gently in the 20s every week of its release), and The Intern.
In Weekend 5, Universal takes Steve Jobs down to just 421 theaters from 2493, essentially pulling it out of the market as quickly as possible, surely strategizing a compelling reintroduction of the material as we move into awards voting.
Suffragette does a decent $3500 per on 222, also biding its awards time.
A24’s Room is still on just 87 screens and manages $5610 per.
Then there are the three new exclusive players, each on 5 screens. Open Road’s Spotlight does a muscular $60k per. Searchlight’s Brooklyn does a solid $36k per. And Bleecker Street’s Trumbo enlisted $15k worth of viewers per screen.
Nice per screen numbers for docs In Jackson Heights and Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. But the doc story of the fall so far is Meet The Patels, which has quietly become the fifth biggest doc grosser of the year so far, behind only DisneyNature’s Monkey Kingdom, Amy, Searchlight’s He Named Me Malala, and the Everest-climbing Meru. And Patels has never been on more than 101 screens, many fewer than those above it on the box office charts. One wonders what Fox Searchlight, which has picked up rights to remake the film into a narrative feature, could have done with this doc had they taken its distribution chores on as well.
I had an epiphany while looking at the Vulture 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring story, which I instantly felt in my gut would be worthless. (It is, pretty much.)
The reason I keep having a bad response to the now relentless repetition of the stats about how few women are directing feature films for major motion picture studios and top indies is that those stats, once there are believed, are a meaningless slap in the face of those who hire in Hollywood, with no purpose greater than creating shame. There is a great deal of pleasure in shaming others when one has been abused. I get that.
But are we at the point where we are now, collectively, seeking to improve the situation? Or do we want to keep shaming The Industry? Because they require different strategies, whether those who are so passionate in rolling out the shame want to believe it or not.
This is the point where I get accused of “mansplaining” because I have a penis and I don’t fall in lockstep behind whomever on strategy. That too is a form of shaming. But I am not ashamed. I legitimately want to see serious growth in the number of women directors hires by studios starting immediately. My penis is not a barrier to being able to strategize in an effective way. So please take the “mansplaining” argument to someone who doesn’t respect you because of your gender.
The Vulture piece is well-intended as a response to the claim that there are not enough female directors out there to hire. And the overall claim – that this is bullshit – is true. But that is where the reality ends and mythology begins.
I could expand that list of 100 to 150 in the next 10 minutes if need be. It’s not challenging, based on the list’s criteria.
However, in the real world, you could make a list of men who fit the criteria of the Vulture list and get to 900 without breaking a sweat. And not because women are not as good as men or don’t deserve equal consideration. It is because men have had the opportunities ahead of women for so long, in so many areas of filmed entertainment, that it is not a balanced fight.
Make a list of potential directors for a project with 90 men and 10 women and what are the odds that a woman on that list ends up with the job? (Rhetiorical question, right?)
I know… many will tell you – and many will be correct – that there aren’t even 10 women on that list in most cases at most studios on most projects. Yes. But this bit of math, like the others, misses the point.
It’s not about fair.
It is not an equal playing field and it has not been for a very, very long time (the entire last 50 years of the movie business).
Just because you can come up with 100 or 150 or 200 female directors who have shown skill as leaders on films and television in recent years does not fix the problem. Worse, a list like this almost makes it easier for anyone taking the “I just hire on quality and I don’t have enough female options to balance the field” line to make their case.
I don’t want to (or intend to) go through the entire list of 100, but let’s just look at the first 10.
Six of them are working right now or have a film or TV series coming out or have their next film or TV series lined up. (Ana Lily Amirpour, Andrea Arnold, Amma Assante, Elizabeth Banks in film and Jamie Babbit, Susanne Bier on television.)
Gillian Armstrong is 65 and just released a doc. Allison Anders is 60 and hasn’t had a domestic film release in 14 years. Debbie Allen is 65 and hasn’t directed a feature release in 20 years.
I have enormous respect for all three of these women as filmmakers and storytellers. But the fight against ageism in Hollywood is, while hugely significant, a different fight.
Lexi Alexander is, amongst that first 10, the person most due a chip on the shoulder. She is a legitimate action director. Punisher: War Zone was a financial bomb, but given her skill set, that should mean nothing. Green Street Hooligans was not only excellent, but highly acclaimed by critics.
I don’t know what Lexi Alexander says to employers, employees, agents, etc. But I do know that she is very outspoken when talking in public, whether about gender equality or filmmaking. That is a red flag for many employers when it comes to director hires of any gender in any genre. Yes, there are “lovable loudmouths” who get away with it and keep going. As you would expect, in a 90%+ male group of directors, the loudmouths who get away with it (and those who do not) are almost all male.
Is there discrimination against Lexi Alexander as a woman who works in an area of an industry in which women are rare and in a genre in which female directors are even more rare? Yes. Certainly. Is that why she hasn’t made another action film since 2008? Maybe. But I don’t know that. And the “well, there are guys who get away with (whatever) all the time” argument may be valid, but I would need to know the specifics of Alexander’s history and whatever male to whom you are comparing her in order to make a legitimate analysis.
Getting back to the first group, of working female directors, consider this… Ana Lily Amirpour and Andrea Arnold have not yet shown much (if any) interest in working in Mainstream Hollywood. Elizabeth Banks IS Mainstream Hollywood right now.
Susanne Bier has made some great foreign language films and two of her films have been Foreign Language Oscar nominated, with In A Better World winning. She has had opportunities at US studios which have not resulted in box office success, including a barely releasable film called Serena starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
Jamie Babbitt has been directing professionally for 16+ years, has made 5 features (3 theatrically released… 1 cult classic), and is certainly skilled enough to direct any straight drama or comedy a studio has.
Amma Assante is the rising star in this group (which is not meant to diminish the value of the other 4 already risen stars or the wunderkind, Ana Lily Amirpour). She had her second film released by Fox Searchlight (Belle), which did quite well. She has been a head writer on a hit UK series and has strong support from UK funders. And she has the political savvy and drive to go mainstream.
All 10 of these women deserve to work. None of them should be dismissed. The three who are 60+ have certainly, even with all their fame, been subject to an industry of aggressive sexism for decades. One (Bier) is working her way back into features and will likely make a foreign language film before her next English-language one. And one Alexander) feels like she has not been given her due, but may be suffering primarily from talking too loudly disease, which affects directors of all ages, genders, and races.
In the reality of Hollywood, there are two in the hot zone (Banks and Assante), two in the distinctly indie zone (Arnold and Amirpour), and there is one who the industry could not in any way call a “controversial” hire, though she is seen as a TV director primarily (Babbitt).
When I call, as I have for a couple of years now, for those who care to demand no fewer then three films per major studio releases per year to be directed by women, that means 36 films minimum in the next two years, which means that Banks (who will shoot at least one film) and both Assante or Babbitt, would (by my analysis) pretty much have to be amongst that 2016/2017 group in order to make that quota… and maybe another from this “first 10.”
My bigger point is… that list of 100 is probably, realistically, a list of 30. And that still wouldn’t be enough to fill the list of 36 that I am suggesting be the rallying point. Which is good, because that list of 100 is way too small and not accounting for the rising generation of young women (and women over 25 too) who should have opportunities to get films to direct from studios.
I love Alison Anders’ work. Her films still resonate with me, even the ones I had issues with. But getting Alison Anders work is not really what progressing into the future of female directors is about. There are exceptions amongst the ranks of older female directors, like Jane Campion, who has never stopped working. But “older” and “hasn’t made one in a long time” is a hard road for all kinds of reasons.
And I don’t need Ana Lily Amirpour to go mainstream and make a sex comedy for Universal. I don’t. She doesn’t… until she might want to and invest in such a direction in her work. Same as I feel about Kyle Patrick Alvarez.
I loved Desert Hearts… but you’re really putting Donna Deitch on a list of directors who Hollywood should hire? At 70? Do you know how many directors over 60 there were behind the Top 100 box office releases of last year? Two. Both were Clint Eastwood.
And to not to put too fine a point on it, 6 of the Next 10 of the Vulture piece are either in production, prepping, or about to release something.
The point of this is not to say that anything is okay. It’s not okay. Let me repeat, IT’S NOT OKAY.
But it’s not a math problem either. There are not enough women directors who fit what studios are looking for when compared to the long list of male directors to demand equality right away. There are not 100.
The point is… that doesn’t matter. The math is not the issue. More women need to be able to get into the door and prove themselves. And within a few years, the number of realistic hires for studio who happen to be female will multiply, perhaps exponentially.
This is not the right to vote or equal pay or whatever civil right you want to attach it to. This is an inequitable stuation that people who are responsible for large amounts of money need to be convinced is dead wrong and requires a legitimate effort to repair… not just more talk. Not “we love women and we’d love to hire them if we could find one” chatter. Not “7%… kill the men” chatter.
But lists with big, bold numbers, like this Vulture list make mockery of reality.
Used People is a seminal film in my life. I have quoted it for years. I love so many things in it. But Beeban Kidron is not only making a film for Univeral and Working Title right now, but she’s been busiy making docs since her last hit, released 10 years ago, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The film was considered a miss in the U.S., since we only think of ourselves when we write about box office, but it almost matched the original smash worldwide. And who is she working for again? Working Title and Universal. She is a success story, best as I can tell. This doesn’t mean she has run into some asshole men. But if you are yelling at studios, demanding that they wise up, you should probably know that many of the women you are mentioning are, in fact, working.
And that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
Math does not win the day over morality or logic or a moment in which an idea of what is right is embraced properly.
Stop trying to beat everyone to death on math. Everyone who matters knows the math. Time to aim higher. Time to demand action, not to keep posturing.
Only one other “#1 Movie In America™” this year was as bad or worse than The Martian‘s fifth weekend $11.5 million for the win. That would be the Labor Day 3-day of War Room. This is, obviously, not an indictment of The Martian, which is kicking ass, but of the weakness of not only the newcoming films this weekend but of last weekend as well. And it’s not much of an endorsement for Bridge of Spies or Goosebumps, though logically, Goosebumps would suffer more from the trick-or-treat day landing on Saturday.
On Bridge of Spies, which I believe will deliver us our Best Supporting Actor winner, it’s looking to be right in line with War Horse, Tintin, and The Terminal… although it is behind all three of those three weekends in. It is ahead of Munich, which got the Oscar nomination in a five-film field, though that film never saw the high side of 1,500 screens in its entire run. Personally, I think Bridge should have waited at least until Thanksgiving, probably Christmas, to go into wide release. Its Oscar prospects, which are still pretty good for 5 – 8 nominations, would have been better and as an adult alternative of size in the December of Star Wars, it could have found a larger audience.
If Southpaw opened to more than 3x what Burnt did and is considered a flop… what is Burnt? Should have been a TV premiere somewhere… smelled of it from the earliest marketing.
What can one say about Our Brand Is Crisis? Warner Bros has been in crisis pretty much all year. I don’t know what happens in their marketing offices, but it feels a lot like Sue Kroll’s promotion sent the marketing department spinning off its axis. Ironically, the 2015 mess comes off one of the greatest WB box office triumphs of all time, American Sniper. I still feel as though there was some intention involved with this horrible year, whether shoving Jupiter Ascending onto the 2015 books or cramming Vacation into an already overloaded summer or getting distracted with sure-not-to-hit films like Water Diviner, Batkid Begins, and Lost River or ole’-ing We Are Your Friends. The biggest hit the studio has had in 4 – 5 months is The Intern… and as Nancy Meyers movies go, it will be a weak sibling. Too many WB films this year – shocking, given the previous discipline of the distributor – felt like they escaped rather than being released. Just going through the motions. And the Our Brand Is Crisis has been the most extreme example of this, for me, all year. Sandra Bullock. David Gordon Green is a hip filmmaker. Based on a well-loved doc. And the sell is pretty much Ms. Bullock making faces and showing a new hair color. Fail. Not a fail if you open that to $15 million. But fail if it opens to $3.4 million like some thing that got stuck on the bottom of your shoe and released on Labor Day.
I want to see a WB comeback… but the next five months is not promising… not because I assume the films aren’t good or even excellent, but because there is no “classic WB sell” coming until Todd Phillips and Batman arrive in March. The Creed trailer is tremendous. But it already feels like that train is losing steam, not gaining. I am excited about Ron Howard’s whale movie, shot on a lot of water. But will they sell it?
Paramount’s experiment with a short window for genre junk that would otherwise be direct-to-VOD is only half done. The theatrical side is, obviously, not a success.
Love has a solid two-screen start. Room is the strong player in per-screen on 49 screens. And Suffragette is a step behind with an equally good per-screen on about half the screens.
I can hear the moaning from Oscaristas (or Oscaristos?) all over town from the headline alone. But they don’t vote for the Academy Awards.
Nor do I.
I think there are two Oscar locks right about now… Brie Larson in Best Actress and Mark Rylance in Supporting Actor.
But as I look down the barrel at this season, aiming at Best Picture, it is looking more and more like 2000 or 2006, when the Best Picture statue ended up going to the big, well-made, not terribly shocking, but very entertaining movie over a series of films that critics and “serious film people” liked better. Those two winners were Gladiator and The Departed.
Opposing Gladiator were two Soderbergh films (Traffic and Erin Brockovich), an Ang Lee movie (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and a bonbon from Weinstein’s Miramax, Chocolat. The cute film from Miramax was the only one of the five that didn’t end up with over $100 million at the box office. So economics were a non-issue. Still, the biggest commercial hit, which was serious enough with a well-loved enough director as to not be embarrassing, won the day.
In 2006, Scorsese was well into the “he’s gotta win” era. So lots of people were all over The Departed as a Best Director winner to be. Early on, almost no one saw it as a potential Best Picture winner. (I would say “no one,” but no doubt there was someone.) In fact, it was poo-poohed by many in the chattering class as not a screenplay nominee, not an acting nominee, etc. So how did it win?
It was surrounded by small, passionately-loved modest commercial successes. Little Miss Sunshine seemed to many to be the more likely winner. The film had lost to Dreamgirls at the Golden Globes in Comedy/Musical, but Dreamgirls failed to be nominated. It won the cast award from SAG and another from BFCA. It won the Indie Spirit Best Picture award. And on Oscar night, it would take home two Oscars.
Also in that field were Babel, which won Best Drama from the Golden Globes and had two Supporting Actress nominations, The Queen, a surprise commercial hit which locked Helen Mirren in for an Oscar win from the day it was shown, and Letters From Iwo Jima, which was the surprise in the group, the Clint Eastwood foreign-language film that supplanted his much-touted Flags of Our Fathers. Like 2000, it seemed like one film (Iwo Jima) had no chance to win. But the other four were all, in perception, neck-n-neck.
What emerged? The big box office success that every Academy member saw because of the inevitable Scorsese Best Director win… and they liked it, language and violence and dildo and all.
Flash forward to 2015.
Put a gun to my head and I will say that Spotlight, The Martian, Room, and Steve Jobs will get in (though there seems to be a wave of negativity against Steve Jobs right now that could sink that awards ship).
Can the film about the scrappy reporters who do great work and make public a horrible injustice win Best Picture? Yes. But it will be Open Road’s first nominee and not hugely commercial and part of what is so beautiful about the film is that it is not very showy… it’s just plain excellent. Is that enough?
Can the movie about the kidnapped girl who has a son and for whom the outside world may be as terrifying as being stuck in Room win? Sure. But the more likely scenario is that Brie Larson takes home her first Oscar and it was lovely that the film managed a Best Picture nod.
For me, what was for a moment the frontrunner based on the movie, Steve Jobs, is no longer a serious contender to win because of the damage it took on this last week, regardless of whether the damage was remotely fair. This was not a late attack in the style of A Beautiful Mind, where the frontrunner was being smashed. This is just (inappropriate, in my opinion) negativity given wing by a disappointing box office result. But that is the real world. I would love to see the film recover, but right now, it doesn’t feel like there is a clear path to a full recovery, thus a nomination and no win.
But there are other things in the way of The Martian.
If the plan to get it nominated by The Golden Globes in comedy, that would put a stink on a humorous film that is not a comedy. They’d be better off not Globe nominated at all, really.
And of course, there are other films coming.
The big dogs are The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. Both directors have been twice before nominated for directing. Quentin’s last two movies were both nominated for Best Picture and Alejandro’s won last year, his second film to be so nominated. You can’ bet against either of these guys.
But, and a big BUT… Iñárritu had a picture win last year. And this year’s movie seems dark and brutal… which also happens to be Tarantino’s milieu. And both are set in seriously bad winter weather.
There are, of course, other movies to consider as Best Picture nominees, from Bridge of Spies to The Danish Girl to Joy To Brooklyn to Youth to even the great and explosive Mad Max: Fury Road… but are any of these winning Best Picture? Not likely.
I am not saying that the most popular commercial film always wins. That is not close to the truth at all. But I do believe that unless there is a reason to vote for something else, the film that people like the most tends to win.
That reason those films often look might be that the “popular” choice would seem too frivolous (Ghost, Beauty & The Beast, Four Weddings & A Funeral, Jerry Maguire, The Sixth Sense, Rings twice, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Up, Avatar, Toy Story 3, Gravity), but most often, there is a narrative. Rings 3 was a lock from Day 1 in 2003. The Aviator pushed too hard and didn’t completely capture Hollywood’s imagination about itself, making room for Eastwood. Bigelow vs Cameron. Silent, black + white old Hollywood. Affleck snubbed. Slavery over space drama.
There are other years where there seemed to be an even fight without a clear narrative for Academy votes to follow. 2007 with No Country For Old Men. Very intense movies that year, with relief coming from Juno and Atonement (a bit). But Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was probably too much for the average Academy voter. And that left Michael Clayton, which I adore, but could not fight off the Coens, who felt very, very due at the time. Is it a coincidence that your winner was also the #2 grosser in the group behind the comedy that wouldn’t win for being a comedy (Juno)?
2001 was pretty open also with musical drama (Moulin Rouge!) against a second Rings nomination vs and stiff-upper-lip Altman precursor to “Downton Abbey” (Gosford Park) fighting a powerful little drama about loss (In The Bedroom)… leaving the door open to an old-fashioned romantic drama about a misunderstood genius, which was by far the biggest hit aside from Rings 2, which was just placeholding its way to the winning Rings 3.
The Martian has a well-liked high prestige cast, a legendary director, it’s beautifully made, and it’s a massive hit that smart audiences like and respect.
There are no locks in October (in spite of the two mentioned at the top who are likely to stay locked in, in my opinion). Things change. Positions shift. Movies are shown.
But if you had to put the house on one title for Best Picture as of today? Easy.
Give me that quizzical RCA dog look if you like. But it only makes sense in a season of really good, really challenging, not very commercial contenders. If that changes, I will be happy to note the change right here… all Fox has to do is to stumble over their shoelaces and get this thing a Best Comedy nomination at The Globes… and you will be right and I will be wrong. But until I see something change… The Martian.
Woe to the box office analyst in certain periods annually… now… early September… first weekend of December… traditionally early January, though not so much anymore.
The Martian, an undeniable major hit, is at the top of the chart for the 3rd time in its 4 weekends. Impressive? Strong. But Pan and The Last Witch Hunter shocked no one by not making it interesting. 25% drop in weekend 4 is excellent. But it ain’t Gravity. It’s absurd to do anything but praise The Martian‘s numbers and Fox’s management of same. But it’s hard to get wild and crazy about a weekend with top gross of $15.9 million.
Good on Goosebumps. But it’s running at about half of the same studio’s other fall family film, Hotel Transylvania 2… which by the way, will pass the original’s gross tomorrow. Solid… but…
Bridge of Spies pretty much embodies the “nice, nice” tone of the box office right now. They are, roughly, at the same place Munich was after two weeks of wide release. (Munich had 2 weeks at 532 screens, grossing $16m, then the first 2 weeks wide added $17 million.) Munich, of course, got nominated for Best Picture and more. But then again, it was a Christmas release, causing Academy members to vote for the movie, not months of hype stretching through a season. Bridge of Spies probably will pass $50 million domestic before Thanksgiving… but not by much. And for a Cold War drama, that’s nice. Nice.
Then there are this weekend’s newcomers. Oy.
The Last Witch Hunter is right in the middle of the Lionsgate’s 8 releases this year… though the high for the year was $13.2 million for The Age of Adaline, so… grain of salt even for that. The Hunger Games is coming to make sure Christmas isn’t ruined for the studio, but LGF/Summit seems more like MGM in “sell the studio” with one year on and one year off, just investing enough to keep potential buyers interested, than anything else. They have done a nice job on Sicario, but for a company that made a lot of noise for a while, things are awfully quiet over there.
Paramount markets their stunts better than anyone in town. They have taken two potential direct-to-VOD titles, starting with Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (or PA6), and convinced the media that they were making a brave leap into the cutting edge of distribution by getting one (Chinese-owned) chain to buy into a 2-week VOD window, losing 2/3 of their best screens, but not much caring because they didn’t expect to make much in theatrical on this film anyway. The last Paranormal (#5) did less than double opening weekend. It is impossible to determine whether the discussion of the release pattern and the lost screens affected the opening gross of this film… especially given that the last sequel opening was down 38% from the one before. So would this opening have been $11.4 million had they just gone ahead like usual? How much more will the VOD be with a short window (albeit after Halloween)? I suspect the math will work for Paramount. But this movie fits into the mold of the indie VOD model… cheap with low expectations. This could be a foot in the door for NATO theaters to agree to allow a certain level of release at the studios go VOD early… that is really the play here, in my opinion. The danger in that, however, is that while the low-end of theatricals might work in a system like this for major exhibitors, it could decimate indie arthouse theaters, sell a significant percentage of their annual ticket sales for Sony Classics, Searchlight, and Focus movies, which could be pushed to bigger chains and shorter windows if there is an official agreement on this kind of thing.
Steve Jobs is not a happy story this weekend. The huge 4-screen success of 2 weekends ago was no mirage… but it was instructive about the hard core of the audience for this movie. This weekend is not a car wreck either. But no one could spin is as “good” or “happy.” It’s underwhelming. And it brings serious questions with it about the potential domestic total for this film. Can it get to $30 million? How will Academy voters feel about this? I don’t know. The whole thing needs some breathing room. I don’t know that Universal can realistically turn this ship commercially. But there is so much quality in this film that awards are still in reach. A Best Picture win, however, may now be a long shot.
Also stumbling out of the blocks was Rock The Kasbah, which reminds us that Bill Murray really needs some attention from Tarantino or PT Anderson or someone who can find a frame that will show his greatness, as Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson once did.
And… Jem & The Holograms.
Suffragette was the winner of the per-screen sweepstakes this weekend. But again, at $18,570l, no one is out buying Bentleys.
Truth tripled their screen count to 18, but cut the per-screen nearly in half. The numbers so fr look a bit like SPC’s Testament of Youth, which never got past 104 screens or $2 million domestic. My guess is that Truth will get a wider play than that, given the star power. But is there even $5 million in this one? Not too sure about that.
Meanwhile, Grandma continues to swing along with a $6.6 million total and still growing.
The Martian continues to hold well and will pass Gone Girl, last year’s big adult drama from Fox some time this week. It’s still not catching up with Gravity, the big adult drama of two years ago, but it seems sure to crack $200 million.
Goosebumps had a decent hold, given that Friday isn’t a big family day and that we are still a week from what should be a pre-Halloween bump.
The Last Witch Hunter is an oddball, as Vin Diesel has so little recent history in anything but Furious films. This one is just behind Riddick, although that was a sequel. And it is ahead of Babylon A.D., which totaled $22 million. The guy is a big star… when driving a car or mocking himself. That’s more than many actors ever get.
Bridge of Spies has a solid second Friday hold… nothing great, nothing upsetting. Modest success, box office-wise.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is part of a short-window experiment by Paramount. It’s been set up as a no-can-lose proposition. If it gets to $16m total domestic, it will be in line with the drops the series has taken as it hits the sixth film. It will get close enough to blame the screen count. And we’ll soon hear about how it did in VOD… or not, if it doesn’t do significantly increased numbers from a normal post-theatrical VOD release.
Steve Jobs is a disappointment. But the journey to that fact has been a trip down the rabbit hole this weekend. The bad but now standard choice to project grosses based on tracking offered by studio sources who have a vested interest started the guessing at $19 million for the weekend. That was drawn down to $11 million when Friday east coast estimates – another now standard and utterly unreliable journalistic tool to project box office – got reported on Friday afternoon and the “Disappointment” shrieking started… more to cover butts than to accurately relate what was happening on the film. And now, pretty-much-actual Friday numbers that show that $7.5 million for the weekend will be a happy number relative to Friday at this point… so yes, an actual disappointment. Can the film recover? We’ll see. But the very strong numbers in exclusive suggest, comparatively, that this is a film with strong support in a few major cities and that Universal marketing just didn’t find the audience that was not anxious to see a Steve Jobs movie or a Danny Boyle movie or an Aaron Sorkin movie or a Michael Fassbender movie.