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Meet Kadar Prince…
Conceived on acid…
There is not much here to chew on.
Only two films are estimated to do over $5350 per screen and those films are on just four screens each (and still not reaching $10k per).
There are 5 Best Picture nominees still charting, but every one of them is in the downslope of their runs, on fewer screens than at their peak. The two December releases have done their best since being nominated and The Revenant will pass Mad Max: Fury Road at the domestic box office as the voting starts on Friday and may end up with a higher gross worldwide, but nothing exciting is happening on that front. There would have to be a major upset for a Best Picture win to squeeze more than $15m – $20m out of any of these movies. Of course, that would make a big difference to Spotlight‘s bottom line… almost none to Revenant.
The movie year so far has been soft, but not horrible. A lot of explaining why these movies have done okay… but not great. We’ve had 8 releases from the majors and their Dependents so far in 2016 and the results are consistently mediocre. The big indies have done the same… if not a little worse. The two leading films are sequels, both well off the franchise pace.
Can we blame Star Wars? No. It’s brought in great money since January 10/Weekend 3, but not disruptive money. They were in no one’s way. Star Wars brought summer box office to December… including the shorter window. (And for the record, nothing has been in Star Wars‘ way either.) At this point in their runs, Star Wars has about $20m left in the domestic tank, while Avatar, which started much more slowly, had about $120m left to add. In fact, Avatar‘s weekends were wildly behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the first 3 weekends and Avatar has had better weekends since, more so each next weekend. (This weekend, #8, $6.8m SW/$22.9m Av)
This is not meant to diminish Star Wars‘ breathtaking success. It is meant to point out how the effort to front-load grosses has evolved at light speed.
Like I said… looking around for something to eat at this table. Thin pickings. Happy Super Bowl!
It’s Super Bowl Weekend and the 3-day numbers will be hurt… on Sunday. But that’s no excuse for a poor showing Friday or today.
That said, what a Poo Show… or it’s a Po show, if you prefer.
19% off the 2nd Friday of Panda 2 and 35% the total gross after 8 days. $105 – $115m domestic total. Mr. Peabody & Sherman numbers. You may remember how dramatic things got after that film didn’t fly.
You may wonder why DreamWorks tried the January launch that is certainly helping to sink this franchise. Fourteen more animated movies from the major studios (inc Universal’s Focus division) this year. FOURTEEN. 2 in March. 1 in April (which was probably the most vulnerable slot). Angry Birds in May, Pixar sequel in June, 2 in July (Universal and Fox’s next Ice Age), 2 in August, 2 in September, 2 in November (inc DWA’s) and 1 in December.
Hail, Caesar!, the 17th Coen Bros film, is just their 6th opening on over 1000 screens. And it should be noted that only two Coen film that grossed over $25m domestic was a platform release (O’ Brother & No Country). So, you can understand the angle that Universal is taking. That said, the opening, which will probably land between $10m and $11m, will be their worst opening on over 1500 screens, including The Ladykillers. The comp that seems to fit best is another Universal/Coens release with Clooney, Intolerably Cruelty, which did $35 million in October 2003.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies couldn’t overcome the general disinterest in seeing young women in petticoats kill zombies. If there is more to the movie, no one told potential audiences.
Ten days ago, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered a menu of measures with the avowed goal of accelerating diversity in the organization. We should applaud the effort. But one of the rules strikes me as more likely to be unfair to current membership than it to create a more diverse, unbiased organization.
The plan to strip some members of their right to vote is loaded with unclear goals and genuine questions of basic fairness, regardless of whether people of color and women have suffered institutional bias from the Academy across the decades. If there is no intent to hold basic ideas of what is fair within this organization to bear, what is the point of this effort?
Also, by attaching the removal of voting rights to the idea of equality, The Academy misguided the world. There is no mandatory cap to the size of Academy membership.
If The Academy needs to strip votes from current lifetime members in order to get the numbers to seem more like “the real world”—even with an unlimited freedom to bring in more people of color and women by leadership fiat—then, as has been pointed out, there is an obvious industry problem greater than the number of members who are being expected to sacrifice their established rights, without complaint, for a higher good.
Yes, you can say that any white male member who leaves pushes the percentage towards marginally greater diversity. But at what cost? From anecdotal historical evidence, few members are as out of touch as hype-sters would have you believe.
But I am going to stop arguing about why this is so wrong.
I have been looking for objective data since this began. Of course, The Academy likes secrecy. They could crunch numbers and make them public if they wanted to demonstrate a case in a constructive way. But they have chosen, even as they have made some good choices, to spin rather than respond to serious questions that these actions raise.
I got my hands on a copy of the 2015 membership list of the Academy Writers Branch. So I started to crunch numbers, member by member, credit by credit.
There will be some imperfections. I do not have a list of those members who have already made the choice to give up their vote in exchange for not paying dues. One membership count that I have seen was 392. My list is 429 deep (not including two branch members who passed away this last year). If you see something that looks wrong, I will be happy to research the issue and correct.
It is also worth noting that vague elements of this new rule could make my analysis incorrect. For instance, what is “Active In The Film Industry?” Does development count? Do films that end up being released on TV or on DVD/streaming-only count? What is the cut off for 2006 work? If you work over 30 years, but the decade in the middle has no credits, does it count towards the “three-decade” rule? Someone threatened might suddenly get a project going, etc.
I expect to run similar analysis of other branches in the weeks to come. Please feel free to contribute your branch’s membership list to the effort if you are interested. I would never ask this of anyone under any other circumstance. I don’t believe that media outlets should have these lists… because they will used almost exclusively to solicit members for no purpose other than generating revenues. Not my interest. I just want to be able to produce objective analysis.
Again… The Academy could crunch these numbers a lot faster and with greater complexity than me, doing in days what will take me weeks or months. But have you heard any supporting stats from The Academy on this? No. Why? You tell me.
I am not going to call out the “safe” members who I think are suspect. One, for instance, was invited into The Academy 6 years after their last produced film credit. I assume this was under 2020. I am not here to tear down 2020. But when 2020 is attached to the removal of other members, it becomes something less hopeful and celebratory. It becomes part of an exclusionary process.
Now to the branch analysis…
The Writers branch membership broke cleanly into four groupings, as laid out by The Academy in its explanation of the new rule.
105 members have been nominated for, or won Oscars, and are either working now or have had credits in the most recent decade. These are the unassailable members.
124 members have been nominated or won, but have not worked on produced films in the last 10 years.
116 members are working or have worked in the industry in the last 10 years, but have never been nominated.
The last group of 82 are the ones under threat from this new rule.
26 of these members fit under what The Academy has defined as an exception to the rule of working currently. These members have credits in three separate decades, but have not been credited for produced films in over a decade. These members are no longer under threat.
Two members’ histories are too unclear to make a call about what category to place them are in. I don’t have the needed details.
This leaves 54 members under threat of losing the vote.
Some of these members may, I should remind, be saved by projects that didn’t get made, but were legitimately in process in other decades. It is impossible to say what The Academy will hold as their standard. (Rumors are that there is already a plan a foot to investigate every never-nominated member for a more subjective set of qualifications… but this is a rumor. The idea of The Academy investigating members is well past scary and inappropriate.) They could also appeal to their branch leadership and keep their vote that way.
There are very few cases of members who have gotten in by what seems to be a reach. The Academy is a country club of industry success. It always has been. And it always will be. That, like it or not, is it’s power… and why so many want to feel included as part of this particular group.
There is only one member of this group of 54 who seems to be there exclusively because of “cronyism.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE, 2/8/16: The following is what was originally published –
That crony is Jane-Howard Hammerstein (aka Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein III, daughter-in-law of Oscar II, aka the one you know). She’s no slouch. But her accomplishments (including an Emmy nomination) were in television.
It has been pointed out by a reader than Mrs. Hammerstein wrote with Robert Carrington under the name Jane-Howard Carrington in the 1960s. Not only wrote, but she and her partner wrote the adapted screenplay of Wait Until Dark, a classic thriller that brought an Oscar nomination for Audrey Hepburn, and the Warren Beatty-starrer Kaleidoscope. This is likely when she entered The Academy. She would still be under threat, but she would not be a “crony” entry by any means.)
There does seem to be a history of couples joining The Academy together, even if one was not accomplished in film. But most of those who came in this way are long gone.
I might also point out at this point that 27 of the 123 members who were Oscar nominated or won would never in their careers get credit for any more than three screenplays in total. (14%) This is true of 15 of the 54 members being threatened with the loss of the vote. (27%) So are the nominees a better group overall than the Gang of 55? Yes. I guess. We can try another stat… Nine Oscar winners in the Writers Branch won for their ONLY film script ever. The only example of this in the Gang of 54? Ms. Hammerstein…
And now, a list of 54 films from the Gang of 54…
3 Men & A Baby
Addams Family Values
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Down & Out in Beverly Hills
Eyes of Laura Mars
Frankie and Johnny
How To Make An American Quilt
In & Out
Life of Brian
Monty Python and The Holy Grail
Moscow on The Hudson
My Cousin Vinny
Peggy Sue Got Married
Rich & Famous
Sleepless in Seattle
Smokey & The Bandit
Sons of Katie Elder
Start The Revolution Without Me
The Lion King
They Call Me Mr. Tibbs
Thomas Crown Affair
You’ve Got Mail
Not a shabby list, eh?
You want comedy greats? You got Jerry Zucker, Carl Gottleib, Jules Feiffer, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Michael Elias, amongst others.
Disney folks? Noni White, Bob Tzudiker, Andrw Marlowe and Malcolm Marmorstein.
You want playwrights? Lyle Kessler, Terrence McNally, Ron Clark, David Rabe.
Career-makers or Oscar launchers? Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop), Hal Barwood (Sugarland Express), David Freeman (Street Smart), Stanley Weiser (Wall Street), and Raphael Yglesias (Fearless).
A survivor of the blacklist? Jean Rouverol Butler and her husband, was also a screenwriter, who had to flee to Mexico and used fronts to work.
Three members in this group made their last movie in the 1960s. There are five who have no credits beyond the 1970s. Fifteen in the 1980s. That’s not half the group. Movies made in the 90s? It’s not recent, but they can feel current. Time is not always the best measure of cultural significance, whether we’re looking at The Lion King or Jaws, Dirty Dancing or many of the other titles listed above.
Will it really make anyone feel better to be rid of the woman who wrote Gidget or the guy who wrote a bunch of Elvis movies or the team that wrote a lot of TV and a couple of movies, but somehow got into The Academy, or the woman who just won her third Emmy for “Olive Kitteridge”? It’s a conversation.
But the majority of writers in the Gang of 54 have penned movies that I have happily watched multiple times. They may not be the Clever New Kids, but they aren’t deadbeats, hanging on to the one last thing of value in their lives. Most have done great work. A few are legends.
More to come…
Ah… the butt crack of January… when Super Bowl dreams remain a week away and the market for films leans on holdovers.
It was a bit of a daring choice for DreamWorks Animation and Fox to put Kung Fu Panda 3 on this date. It seems – have gone back 15 years – that this is the highest gross on this weekend (the specific dates of which move a bit annually) ever. The previous best ever and the previous best opening? Both from Fox. Avatar, which did 34.9 million in its 6th weekend and Big Momma’s House 2, with a $27.7 million opening in 2006. American Sniper also had a $30.7 million weekend just last year (its 6th) via Warner Bros. Also doing well, relatively, with what were considered surprisingly strong openings were Open Road’s The Grey, Paramount’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Fox’s Hide and Seek.
That said, this is still the weakest drop of Panda po yet. Domestically. And as much as this franchise has been a grower, not a shower, it’s unlikely to catch up here at home. But internationally, Panda grew from the 1st to the 2nd and may well grow again in the third round, more than making up for the domestic drop-off and assuring Panda 4.
The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both had reported rock star drops of 24%, with the former on track for $175m domestic (unless it wins Best Picture) and the latter cracking $900 million domestic this week and probably settling in around $940 million or so… which as was noted here to much abuse months ago, has gotten it past Titanic‘s initial release worldwide and may take it to that film’s worldwide total of $2.19 billion. But Avatar remains not only on top, but on top by over 18% ($500 million… could be more). This is a testament to the power of Star Wars in America… and it’s softness internationally, given that it will just squeak by Furious 7 on the international side. It’s usually the opposite.
We had our first ever non-Cameron billion dollar international films this year… three of them… all pretty close in range, $1b – $1.2b. There are still only 20 films ever that have done over $700 million internationally. The 3 outliers were the 2 Camerons and Rings 3 in 2003. All of the other 17 were in the last 5 years. In 2011, a 7, an 8, and Potter almost rang the billion-dollar bell. In 2012, two 7s and two 8s. In 2013, a 7 and two 8s. In 2014, just one 7 and one 8 in a summer that was moaned about by the press for months. And this last year, an 8, a 9, and three billions.
Until this year, none of these big international numbers represented less than 2/3 of the overall gross. This year, two of the five were under 66% international. In both cases (Jurassic World and Star Wars 7), the domestic gross was more than $150m higher than any of the other three mega-grossers. No one is crying for either film, but one has to wonder whether the worldwide movie future is as interested in our nostalgia as we are in North America. Avengers and Minions are all franchises of this last decade and F&F, though relatively old, have been rebooted severely in recent years to make it “current.”
People may get exhausted by Marvel for other reasons, but in principle, the effort to engage the world with what feels new may be a much better strategy than re-booting a lot of 70s and 80s hits in an effort to find a hot franchise.
But I digress…
The Finest Hours/13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are the weak siblings to significant hits like American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and even Black Hawk Down. Much like the religious-audience-chasing films after The Passion of The Christ, there is obviously a wiling audience there… but you really have to hit their mark or you get… okay… $30 million… maybe 40.
Ride Along 2 is flailing, compared to the first. Hard to argue with a $90m – $100m gross for what should be a fairly cheap movie to make. But I would expect a third element to be added to Ride Along 3 to try to give it a boost again. Teh Rock? Wahlberg? A baby?
The Boy made up for the snow days last weekend, staying within 10% of STX’s biggest release, The Gift. But one wonders whether it would have been out ahead were it not for the snow. $40m domestic on a $10m movie is still a decent business. But by this time next year, the STX dream team (truly a group of veterans, many of whom I have known and liked for more than a decade) is going to have to step it up outside of the starter kit of horror… or Tad Friend may be writing a follow-up.
Daddy’s Home is just $10m away from being Will Ferrell’s biggest worldwide movie as a lead ever. Domestically, it will not catch Elf. But The Wahlberg influence (this won’t crack his Top 6 internationally) makes a big difference and the duo have already passed their international on The Other Guys.
Jane Got A Gun, a movie whose making makes The Revenance look like a Beverly Hills bar mitzvah, landed with a thud. No spend. No audience. 1210 screens for no good reason other than contractual… and you felt that. Not good. Sad for all involved… those who left and those who stayed.
And then there are the contenders for Best Picture…
Box office means little in the race since the expansion to more than 5 slots. $38m, $50m, $130m, $32m, $114m, $15m, These are the domestic grosses of the Best Picture winners of these previous 6 seasons, before they won. So the contenders for this year have 3 more weeks and a Friday and Saturday to add their totals before this year’s winner’s domestic pre-win gross gets added to this list.
As you can see, we have 3 $100m+ movies and 5 below. None of the last 6 expanded group winners have come from anywhere between $50m and $100 million. The sample size makes this negligible as a stat, but it looks great if you are Spotlight, not so good if you are The Big Short… and not upsetting if you are The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road. (Sadly, The Martian gave up on itself early on and would be in a great spot to try for the win now had they not. You live, you learn… I hope.)
So… if The Academy needs to change, how can it be effectively changed?
There are all kinds of theories out there. I find that most of them are a bit random and hope that A + B = C, but have no empirical evidence to suggest that it actually will. It is the perverse nature of life and free will that causes reverse engineering to fail in most attempts to achieve specific intended goals.
Many at The Academy thought that expanding the Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 would create a place for quality films with bigger box office that might boost the award show ratings. And indeed, it left space for animated nominees Up and Toy Story 3 and an exceptional action film (District 9). But mostly, it turned one of the consistent dynamics of Academy voting – the need for a certain level of box office success – into a non-issue. Instantly.
In the 10 seasons prior to the expansion, the #1 or #2 box office grosser had won ever single year. When The Hurt Locker, which grossed only $17 million, won Best Picture, it seemed like a fluke. But it has turned out to be the new normal.
There has been no Best Picture winner since then that has ranked higher than #4 in gross amongst the nominees. (This bodes well for The Big Short or Spotlight.)
There will be an exception. It could happen any year. But the trend shifted. And it shifted in a way that no one saw coming.
The Academy made another change to the Best Picture system in 2011. Instead of just having 10 Best Picture nominees, the number of nominees would be determined by a rather complicated system that kept films without a certain amount of the most passionate support from being nominated. Pretty much everyone aside from The Academy sees this system as a disaster. But it has been kept, leading to 9 Picture nominees for three seasons and 8 nominees in the last two seasons.
It’s hard to say exactly what the result of this shift was, except to say that no animated film has made the cut in the five seasons since the change and while the top grosser of the year made the cut in those first 2 years of 10 nominees, only American Sniper has made it since (and in that case, it only became the top grosser after the Oscars had been presented.)
So if you believe that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would get the Oscar show better ratings and you want that, go back to a flat 10 immediately.
In terms of race, it is hard to make a clear line through these last 5 seasons. In the 10 seasons prior to the change, there had been 1 film nominated for Best Picture with a Black lead, Ray. Asians had led Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Letters from Iwo Jima and there were multicultural casts in Traffic, Crash and Babel.
Since 2009, we have seen films with Black leads nominated in 2009 (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), 2011 (The Help), 2012 (Beasts of the Southern Wild), 2013 (12 Years a Slave), and 2014 (Selma).
In the “off” year of 2010, there was only 1 acting nominee of color (if you consider Spanish to be “of color”), Javier Bardem and there were no other representatives of a film connected to any people of color in directing, writing, or acting.
Looking through the last 7 expanded seasons, another reality has been that the films that have made it to Best Picture are mostly from former nominees or very well established first-time nominees. There seems to be room for a film by a couple new directors most seasons. These have been Neill Blomkamp, Lone Scherfig, and Lee Daniels (2008), Tom Hooper and Debra Granik (2009), Michel Hazanavicius and Tate Taylor (2010), Benh Zeitlin (2011), and Jean-Marc Vallée (2013). Last season, we had Morten Tyldum, Ava DuVernay, and Damien Chazelle’s films all find Best Picture slots. Only 4 of these 12 directors got nominated, never more than 1 in a season. 2 of those 4 won the prize.
And this season, we had 3 “new” filmmakers in Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson, and John Crowley, all of whom are actually veteran filmmakers and all of whom didn’t have any kind of awards profile in Hollywood before their films this year. Amazingly, 2 of them got Best Director slots.
My point is, the door seemed to be a little more open this year than it has been in the past five… yet not for director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and Creed.
In any case, this is where we are… the 3rd season in the last 6 without a “Black” film or Black actor nominated.
That was background… here is the foreground. Three small but perhaps important suggestions about how to “fix” the problem at The Academy. And then one last suggestion that I think may actually be the most actionable and helpful of the lot.
1. Expanding Back To 10 Nominees – This is something I advocate for based on the basic argument of clarity. There is no upside to having 8 or 9 nominees instead of 10. No one is judging based on that. Some would prefer to go back to a flat 5. But that is a different conversation.
Would this expansion help get more people of color into the mix? Well, we had 1 year of 10 when there was more representation and 1 year where there was none, like this year.
If there were 10 Best Picture nominees this year, would 1 of the 2 additions have been Creed or Straight Outta Brooklyn or Beasts of No Nation? No one, except the accountants, know the answer to this. Sicario and Ex Machina were the other 2 PGA nominees, aside from Compton, that didn’t get Best Picture nominations. There is also Carol, which many expected to be nominated, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which some thought could be nominated (but as noted earlier, statistically unlikely), and even less likely, Inside Out and Ex Machina. And who knows what else could have popped up unexpectedly, from Steve Jobs to Son of Saul?
I think there is a good chance that 1 of the 2 studio movies would have gotten in with 10 slots. No way to be sure.
2. Changing Voting Rights Of Current Members Based On Age Or Ongoing Employment – I could not be more against this. To start, there is no proof of any kind that older members are responsible for the vote going any particular way. We can all think of our grandparents and make assumptions, but that would be yet another bias added to a conversation about bias.
Also, who gets to define “work?” If you have been trying to get a script made for a decade, have you been working or not?
What is the actual goal of taking the right to vote out of the hands of people who earned the right to be Academy members (whether you personally approve or not)? Is it because there is some moral determination to see a better Academy or is it just in the hope – with no evidence it will change anything – that the vote will come out in a way that would make many people more comfortable?
And who, really, are we trying to get rid of? Though some glibly claim that large percentages of members are unworthy hangers on, I have not seen evidence, documented or experiential, of this.
How deeply ironic would it be for those seeking to enfranchise a community that doesn’t feel it has a full place at the Academy table doing it by disenfranchising others?
I don’t have a problem with a rule taking the vote away from members who do not vote. But that should be the rule already. And obviously, if they are not voting, they are not causing the vote to go any which way.
3. Academy Regains Control Of Phase I – What we call “Phase I” is the period of campaigning before Oscar nominations close. It’s about 4 months long these days. And The Academy has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards it for years now.
There are debates about what The Academy can control or cannot control. History tells us that though people will always seek to push the limits, they will tend to stay within the rules if The Academy does its job and enforces its will… not its law (especially in an era when SCOTUS says businesses are people). But The Academy can make an angry face and send people scurrying. This is a game of perception. No media outlet wants to lose access. And no studio wants to be publicly accused of cheating just to feed another free meal to members. Suggestions by The Academy have the effect of law.
I would disallow sponsored – meaning, revenue producing – screenings… period. If Variety or LAT or The Wrap wants to do a screening series to pump up their ego, great. No making money on it. In fact, I wouldn’t even let the studios pay for the space. If the studio is paying for the space, they can hire whatever moderator they want. It should not be a commercial event.
And The Academy should screen more. A lot more. Big official Academy screenings aside, they own the Linwood Dunn on Vine. They should make a deal with Aero in Santa Monica and and maybe the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills or a screen in one or two of the Arclights and run full day schedules of contending movies for the entire months of October, November, and December. Play hookie, go during lunch, come from work, go at night or on the weekends… but have The Academy become the source – not just the peripheral beneficiary – of screening all these movies. Create community. Create consistency. Make it about the movies.
Deadline’s The Contenders… out. It is nothing but a marketing event and, again, another way of a media company using Academy members to generate profits. Moreover, it is a drain on every studio, which jump through the hoops because they don’t want to miss being a part of something, even if it gives them the smallest edge. Media must stop driving the process of the season.
That said, there should be a Contenders weekend… in January, controlled by The Academy. Whether it is the nominees or a shortlist, imagine a day with talent from all parts of a given film, coming together to talk about the work. Maybe do it around The Globes… one day before and one day after. Videotape it for membership and the world. The idea of all of this is to promote movies and the love of movies, right?
Fewer parties in Phase I. They put a cap on Phase II parties and events. Do the same in Phase I (and loosen the cap in Phase II, where the competition is more focused).
If you want the field to be more even, then even the field. Don’t allow it to be about who can spend the most, hire the most extravagant room, etc. You have to allow for creativity, but The Academy should also be working to widen the door on the event side too.
This may cost some money. The Academy makes money renting out their theaters, for instance. But if this is really important, drop a million dollars a year – of it costs anywhere near that – to take back control of the season. It is an investment in the future.
4. Create A Best Picture Short List – This is what I think is the best idea I have considered in the last week or so of lingering on this. I have discussed it with some Academy members, who have offered suggestions and poked holes in some of the details. No question, there are still going to be holes. But I think there is something here that creates inclusion, but does not demand exclusion as a price.
On the dates when The Academy now votes for all categories – last week of December, first days of January – every Academy voter is asked to vote only for Best Picture. Top 5. Straight weighted ballot count. (#1 = 5 pts, etc)
From that vote, select the top 17 movies of the year. In addition, like the Foreign Language Committee, set up a Gold Star Committee (President, CEO, 3 Governors) that can add 3 more films the night before the announcement that the committee feels were wrongly excluded. Never, ever tell anyone which ones were added by the Gold Star Committee.
Announce the shortlist with a ton of fanfare. Here is The Academy’s Top 20 for the year.
Screen all 20 movies in the course of 2 weeks, 1 each weeknight, 2 on Saturdays, 3 on Sundays. (slotting by lottery) Encourage studios to plan for this and have Academy-run Q&As for each.
Two weeks later, the second round of voting occurs. Best Picture again, perhaps weighted as it is now, perhaps not (I prefer not). And, of course, all the branch-voted categories.
Then, sometime on the last week of January, announce the nominees… same as they do now. Vote 2 or 3 weeks later.
Welcome to the 3 Phase Academy season.
In this way, you have an Academy-voted/sanctioned short list that has a safety valve for inclusion, not just regarding race, but perhaps gender, foreign language pictures, docs, animations… anything.
If in a year like this one, Straight Outta Compton and/or Creed and/or Beasts of No Nation gets in to the 17 short list, so be it. The committee might add an Inside Out or an Ex Machina or a Son of Saul. Or the vote and Gold Star Committee might leave something out that still upsets some people. This is likely.
Whatever movies are left out, there will be complaining. But this could offer a mechanism that pushes aside the distraction of what tends to be a 50 film race and also gives branch members a chance to refocus on all the work with an Academy-driven reminder of work they might want to consider if it isn’t top of mind.
Instead of allowing the December “precursors” to remain the mechanism that causes The Great Settling each year, create an Academy mechanism to do the same thing. Remember, very few people really thought Straight Outta Compton was getting a Best Picture nod until SAG voted it in for Best Ensemble (and no individual nominations). The PGA nomination then confirmed it for some more people. But The Academy’s only word on the film was, “nominee or not a nominee.” (And please note… this is not a comment on the quality or box office of the film, but a simple truth of the award season. The subtext can be further argued elsewhere.)
And I don’t see this as a step of tokenism because no one knows who got the extra boost from the Gold Star Committee, but everyone knows what films made it to the Shortlist. It’s a primary. And not just for Best Picture, but as an extension, for all the other nominations that may be part of those films.
One problem that was brought up to me was that films not on the Shortlist might feel hamstrung in terms of other categories, like acting or screenwriting. And yes, there is a reality to that. But every year, there are nominees in these categories who are not Best Picture nominees. This is another hurdle, though I don’t think it is so significant as to turn a likely nominee into an also-ran. And of course, movies like – this year – 45 Years or Trumbo, might well make the Top 20 while they didn’t make the Top 8 this year.
The point of all of this is to celebrate films. So celebrate 20 films before you celebrate 10 (or 8 or 9 or whatever, if they insist on keeping the current system for nominations). All 20 films will feel like they were legitimate parts of the conversation. Then… when the final 10 are announced… people will still be pissed… but there will be a sense of forward motion.
As for potentials complaints about the Gold Star Committee… personally, I don’t care what they select. If they want to pick all foreign films or all Black films or all women’s films or all White Guy films… all fine by me. I am looking for ways to create an opportunity for inclusion and I choose to trust the leadership of The Academy to act in the organization’s self-interest. Ultimately, the nominations will still be decided by a vote of Academy members, as it should be.
Does it change the shape of the season? Yes. Does it matter if the Oscars are never moving much earlier than the last week of February? It does not. In fact, it would give The Academy a bigger, clearer footprint on the season and slow the whole thing down a little.
No matter what changes are made, the responsibility for inclusion in Hollywood is not on The Academy… it is on the industry. Whether it is more films about people of color or more films about women or so many films of so many cultures, this conversation will no longer be needed.
Burning down this institution will not save this institution. A firmer hand at the wheel and some new structures to make the playing field less driven by commercial considerations over the artistic will help.
If you have ideas of your own, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there are enough interesting ideas, I will do a follow-up column before the Governors meet on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.
Thank you for your attention. I hope we can all find a way to refocus the Oscar conversation back to the celebration of film without pushing the legitimate concerns about inequity to the side, forgotten until the next explosive event.
The best story today for a movie is not the #1 film of the weekend, but the #2, The Revenant, which had a great 26% drop after a bear-load of Oscar nominations. This film is likely to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s #3 box office movie of his career, behind only Inception and Titanic, passing up The Wolf of Wall Street before the end of next weekend. Fox has done a great job of selling this as an action movie.
(Corrected: left out Titanic… dumb. 1:30p)
Ironically, the movie that is paying the price for The Revenant‘s success in the macho action demographic is 13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which locked onto the Lone Survivor/ American Sniper slot, and by that standard is underperforming badly (less so in real dollars alone). Even more shocking… Michael Bay is getting some of the best reviews of his career for this one.
Ride Along 2 easily wins the weekend, but is about 17% off of the original.
Daddy’s Home is a big success for both Farrell and Wahlberg. Mark Wahlberg is a reliable box office star, but only his Transformers, Ted, and Planet of the Apes will top the domestic gross of this comedy. And Daddy’s Home is in range to pass Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which would leave only Elf on Ferrell’s list of live-action leads with higher domestic grosses.
Speaking of Talladega, the director of that film, Adam McKay, is now an Oscar nominee for The Big Short, which is holding well as it passes the $50 million marker.
Here are the grosses on the Best Picture nominees as of today…
Star Wars had a surprising 78% increase from Friday to Saturday, which suggests… who the hell knows anymore? Is it now playing to the younger kids that parents were afraid to take right off the bat? I don’t know. Is it what all the kids are doing on date night now? Is it people who were afraid of being able to walk in without pre-sale tickets catching up now? Likely all of the above and more.
The Revenant number surprised me for different reasons, until I watched some of the Fox ads for the film, which do an excellent job of making it look like a straight action movie. Leo doesn’t hurt. (The 6% Saturday increase can’t be thrilling to Fox, but they are far ahead of their own expectations.) That said, if you told most people in the business that Revenant was heading to $100m domestic, they would have laughed at you a couple weeks ago… but now, it looks like it’s heading – with an added bump from Oscar noms on Thursday – to $100m-plus domestic. And foreign has topped domestic on all of Iñárritu’s major studio releases (yes, I include the Dependents), so that bodes well. (Interesting stat of which many probably are not aware… 12 Years A Slave did more than two-thirds of its business overseas, grossing $188 million in theatrical… a massive hit on a $20m budget that is about an American historical event and which was centered on Black people not doing anything funny. And if you were wondering, the connective tissue is New Regency and award movies.)
Daddy’s Home also had a nice uptick on Saturday and pushed over $115m.
Here is a weekend look at just the Oscar hopefuls currently in theaters…
This is a chart I meant to do weeks ago, but didn’t bother because there was enough Star Wars coverage to choke on. As I have predicted – got this part right – Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the box office record for every day it was in release through the holidays… a trend that stopped on the first day after the holiday.
This chart shows the date, the previous record holder for that date, the gross, and how where SW:TFA was in relation to that gross.
Dec 18 – Avatar – $26.8m – SW+$92.3
Dec 19 – Avatar – $25.5m – SW+$42.8
Dec 20 – Avatar – $24.7m – SW+$35.9
Dec 21 – LOTR: Two Towers – $22.7m – SW+$17.4
Dec 22 – LOTR: Two Towers – $20m – SW+$17.7
Dec 23 – Avatar – $16.4m – SW+$21.6
Dec 24 – Avatar – $11.2m – SW+$16.2
Dec 25 – Sherlock Holmes – $24.6m – SW+$28.4
Dec 26 – Avatar – $28.3m – SW+$28.4
Dec 27 – Avatar – $24.2m – SW+$18.9
Dec 28 – Avatar – $19.4m – SW+$12
Dec 29 – Avatar – $18.3m – SW+$11.2
Dec 30 – Avatar – $18.5m – SW+$9.6
Dec 31 – Avatar – $14.7m – SW+$8.2
Jan 1 – Avatar – $25.3 m – SW+$ 9.1
Jan 2 – Avatar – $25.8m – SW+$8.6
Jan 3 – Avatar – $17.4m – SW+$4.1
Jan 4 – Avatar – $8.1m – SW-$.1
Jan 5 – Avatar – $7.3m – SW+$.7
Jan 6 – Avatar – $6.9m – SW-$.7
Jan 7 – Avatar – $6.1m – SW-$.1
Jan 8 – Avatar – $13.3m – SW-$2.5
Jan 9 – Avatar – $21.3m – SW
Jan 10 – Avatar – $15.8 m – SW
As you can see, Force Awakens more than doubled the record every day of its opening week. Then it ran into a Christmas Day opening before Avatar started catching up and passing the film on a daily basis. Avatar wasn’t even halfway to its domestic total by Jan 8, 2010. Force should pass $800m domestic this weekend, but whether it has the legs to get to $900m is a big question mark, leaning to the “no.” There is, obviously, no shame in that. SW:TFA brought the summer box office pattern to December for the first time while also getting the benefit of December’s holiday advantage of 2 weeks of weekdays acting much more like weekend days than usual. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will try to do the same next December while Episode VIII heads to the summer on Memorial Day weekend 2017. One wonders whether, with the December seal cracked, whether Disney would not be better off the other way around (meaning spin-offs in the more forgiving summer and Star Wars fighting only itself in Decembers.)
Anyway… strong expansion for The Revenant. The question has come up about whether it is DiCaprio or the movie. The clear answer is The Movie and Fox’s sell of it. Like the campaign for The Big Short, the studio decided to market to the sweet spot and not the complexity of the film, and voila! The bear attack has been used in ads the way a studio uses the joke in a film that consistently got the biggest laugh in preview screenings. And 4-5 million people will have responded by Sunday night by buying movie tickets. (Here is the section where the New York Times or the trades explain why this is really a bad thing that should have the industry worried.)
Back to Leo vs The Movie… this will be DiCaprio’s #1 or #2 non-summer opening, competing with Shutter Island. There a 4 other examples this decade of his non-summer movies not opening this well. Obviously, he has drawing power. But the difference between this movie opening to $15 million and $40 million-plus is The Bear, not the movie star being attacked by him.
Also opening… The Forest… mediocre opening. Not much more to say.
The holdovers took a beating as compared to the supercharged holiday weekend last. Nothing new there, though The Hateful Eight seemed to get an extra shove. This was a story of a really well-intended idea that seems to have created more confusion that excitement amongst the people who only had non-70mm DCPs to watch on 2800 of the 2900 screens.
Sisters ends up as the #2 grosser of Tina Fey’s movie starring career, behind only Date Night.
Daddy’s Home ends up as Will Ferrell’s sixth $100m comedy of the last decade (not counting Megamind or Lego) with his couple softer titles in the $90m domestic range and just a couple semi-experimental films (the Spanish-language Casa de mi Padre, Everything Must Go, which was a drama in which Ferrell really just acted) missing.
The Big Short has somewhat of a glass ceiling problem, but Paramount intends to smash it with Oscar nominations and a hardcore push to win Best Picture (assuming it gets nominated, as everyone now seems to assume).
Joy should crawl to $50m domestic. Concussion will not (unless Will Smith gets what would not be a surprise Oscar nomination).