“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
The Hot Blog Archive for August, 2016
I am a great believer in ebb and flow.
There is a time to create. And a time to consume.
I don’t know that I have ever gone into the September festival season more ready to consume. I am HUNGRY.
I’ve already watched 3 different movies to prepare for La La Land. I had never seen Medicine for Melancholy. Now I have, in preparation for Moonlight.
As a busy person, seeing at least 4 or 5 movies for work each week, and having a 6-year-old, and a wife, and shooting interviews, etc, I sadly don’t often consume movies the way I once did. But I am throwing Blu-rays into the player every day lately. Coppola, Mel Brooks, Friedkin, Scorsese…
I am watching the cable networks I pay for every month with a vengeance. I’ve even watched some stuff in standard definition, stretched or shrunk to look like HD. Every movie seems to lead me to another movie that I haven’t seen in forever, or need to see for some reason.
And I am feeling very zen about work in general. I shouldn’t. But the idea has been settling in with me that work has a personal voice and we need — I need — to stop trying to see it through a single set of eyes that are not those of the artist. A chat with Derek Cienfrance last week prompted that reflection. We talked about what connects his films although I didn’t ask that question. He offered it up because it was important to his process and his choices. And his thoughts — about his real family and the family that presented itself while others were around — fit like a glove. And his feelings about his films, once confronted by others who saw them from a different perspective, were quite beautiful in their precision.
Then there is my work. My interviews. If you build it, 1,700 half hours will come of it, I guess.
I treasure the conversations that I have with artists. And I am not nearly worried enough about how many other people get to enjoy them. But each one is a surprisingly vivid memory.
And yet, we are all now surrounded by a parade of roundtables, actors talking to actors, podcasts and stunt talk shows, making my format, which was already obscure in this era, even more so. People are still very generous with their time, but it’s gotten harder to get some subjects that I want… even if the actually eyes and ears I can deliver are greater or at least equal to almost all non-big-network outlets.
But all that is more measuring. It misses the point. It’s an endless seduction, but I never started doing this to win the prize… to be #1. I believe in the work.
So the other day, I listened to some of the newer shows. Three or four. And they were fine. But they were missing something. They were missing that thing that makes me — for better or worse — me. I could never do what those hosts were doing. But then again, they could never do what I do.
I wrestled with this a couple years ago regarding Marc Maron, who I was friendly with before his podcast, and who I genuinely like. There are many reasons why his podcast is much more famous than my show(s). But a big part of that is just… Marc. I mean, I cringe listening to him talking to some people, not because he was terrible, but because I wished he knew more going into the interview. But what he doesn’t know is a big part of who he is. And that naiveté, from a man who is not at all naive, is a big part of the magic of his interviews.
I recently listened to a bunch of Howard Stern interviews and again… I would never, for a second, think to ask most of the questions he asks. For a guy who has been a star for decades, he asks a lot of rube (and rude) questions. But it works really well because people who go on his show are ready and willing to go there.
One guest, who I had a hard time with years ago, was so forthcoming and friendly… and I think it was the rhythm. He paced the person in a way with which they were comfortable. I, clearly, had not. And in the long view, that was fine.
What I do is what I do. It is part of me. There is no other version. And it’s not for everyone. And it’s not always supported by the biggest organization. But I treasure those moments like I treasure the moments when those same people like up the movie screen like a pinball machine (a great old one… not the new digital bullshit).
Getting back to movies, I realize that I get a little shy, then a little overly aggressive, about telling people about Pete’s Dragon. That movie is so much a product of David Lowery. There is no denying it. It is an intimate piece. And yet, it is still about an animated, sometimes-invisible dragon.
I am starving for the unexpected… the artistic… the silly… the banal… the passionate… the real… the fake… the movies.
When I caught The Martian on cable the other night, I realized that the film didn’t exist for me, aside from one-sheets, a year ago. And then, in a multiplex at TIFF, not quite expecting the world, this lovely, complex-but-not-showy work by a truly great director with a great cast and a script of a great idea came into my life. What a wonderful thing.
So I am going to The Church in The Mountains, then going to The Palace North of Buffalo to gorge myself on everything that I can consume. I want to fall in love. I want to be weighed down with hate. I want to wipe away tears I am embarrassed to shed and to quietly make faces in the third act hoping no one will notice (but secretly hoping someone will). I want to get poked in the eye and stroked on the… back.
It’s the movies I love. The people who make them. The tightrope walk that every movie truly is, successful or not.
A horror film leads a horrible weekend at the box office (though it is better than this weekend was last year). Don’t Breathe is the third best horror opening of the summer and the #1 original horror film. Congrats. Suicide Squad continues to do steady business, in spite of the hate for it in media circles. And Kubo stays in line with Laika’s output with Focus.
The last time we had a $20 million opening in the weekend before Labor Day was 2010… and we had two… and both were horror movies, one from Lionsgate and one from Screen Gems. A year before, we actually had a better opening in this slot, The Final Destination, from New Line/WB.
Suicide Squad is going to top Man of Steel domestically and will be close to it worldwide when all grosses are counted. The big question is whether the sigh of relief at Warner Bros will lead to them convincing themselves that everything is okay in The Zach Snyder Visionary Universe. No one wants a white-knuckle experience every time they release a DC movie, but losing money would be a lot worse than being told your movie sucks… at least at the career level.
Kubo & The Two Strings is a little soft in the August Laika/Focus slot. I’m surprised that it is underperforming Boxtrolls, but I’m not sure that the campaign connected as well as the movie itself. ParaNorman was, it seemed, an easier sell than either. Really, my impulse is that Boxtrolls‘ success is the surprise, given it was very Brit and odd-looking and with an unclear story, despite some great, great stuff, especially Ben Kingsley’s voice performance. But I guess it came from a hit book… not really knowledgeable about the material. Anyway, given the Asian themes, it is easy to imagine Kubo breaking out overseas and making the final gross one of Laika’s largest.
Sausage Party will get close to $100m domestic. Not much international yet, though I can imagine the dubbed version as a worldwide breakout, where there is more familiarity with R-rated animation. A success for sure. Should not be undervalued in the media, which tends to discount Rogen & Goldberg because they do comedy and (cough, cough) stoner comedy. They can even afford to take $10 million off the top to settle the claims of animator abuse in Vancouver.
Mechanic: Resurrection is a crap opening for the sequel.
Jason Bourne has a shot at $400m worldwide, but not getting close to the last Damon/Greengrass entry. The film is suffering from not being enough of a breakaway from the original three films, even though it seems to set up some big changes next time out. Word of mouth is positive, but not excited. And this wasn’t a world-beating franchise at the box office to begin with.
Bad Moms will pass $100 million next weekend, which is significant, even if competitors feels STX bought the gross with a huge ad spend. But if some of those competitors could get a $100m movie on the books, they’d buy it too.
Paramount has gotten every ounce of juice out of Florence Foster Jenkins and looks like they will get it to $25 million domestic.
Hell Or High Water is a solid limited success for CBS’ film arm distributed by Lionsgate. It’s the #3 domestic summer grosser amongst films that have been on fewer than 1,000 screens. (Love & Friendship is #1 with $13m.)
Cafe Society (#2 on that list) is landing dead in the middle of the grosses of Woody Allen’s last 20 films, in the $10 million domestic club with Scoop, Magic In the Moonlight and Deconstructing Harry.
Weinstein can’t be thrilled that Hands of Stone did less per screen than Hell. D.O.A. Couldn’t have done worse if they had widely screened it for critics. (I did go to a screening… which I found out was cancelled when I arrived.)
Southside With You had a nice opening. Curious to see if it can scale.
There was one $10k-per-sceeen film this weekend of any stripe… Sony Classics’ The Hollars, on four.
The Howard’s End re-issue in 4K did an estimated $8650 per on three. (I’d love to watch this film again… and might this weekend. Great film to watch multiple times.)
The horror… the horror…
Anyone surprised by Don’t Breathe doing slightly better than Lights Out on opening day and heading to a $22m opening with a $68m domestic cume?
The niche works as a niche. Keep that budget under $10 million and wait for the profits. There is no gold ring in this niche these days. The top horror grosser of 2014 was Annabelle with $84 million, then the first Purge sequel with $72 million. Last year, it was Insidious 3 with $52 million. And this year, The Conjuring 2 managed to crack that $100 million barrier with $102 million, but the #2 is another sequel, Purge 3, with $79 million, then the aforementioned Lights Out with $65 million.
There is nothing wrong with these numbers. It’s a good business, so long as the films don’t start getting up to the $25 million – $35 million range again. But the days of a movie like Paranormal Activity opening out of the box with over $100 million seem to be over. Now we’re seeing the higher numbers only for sequels/franchises/IP.
Of course, the real genius of Paranormal at Paramount is that they sold it as a grass roots experience, invested less than usual but still at a studio level in ads and theaters, and got the film itself for almost nothing. Nowadays, the studio marketing spends for these films are not as high as some of the mainstream product, but as they become brands, the creeping spends require caution.
The Mechanic: Resurrection opening is about the standard Statham starring opening now. The first of this franchise was Statham’s last $10m as lead star opening (2011), so no real surprise here.
Nothing else new opening wide in this end-of-August wasteland.
The Hollars, John Krasinski’s new film, is going to be in the 30,000s per screen on just 4.
The Obama meet-cute, Southside With You, is smooth niching it with $1 million estimated for Friday on just 813 screens, heading to as much as $3500 per screen for the weekend.
Hell or High Water almost doubled its screen count (472) to 909 and should still do over $2500 per screen for the weekend.
Hands of Stone is soft with less than $2k per screen on 810 on the way.
Perhaps the surprise of the weekend is that Howard’s End – which is a really wonderful film – is getting a solid arthouse audience in a 3-screen 4K re-release.
So, like it or hate it, Suicide Squad is the #8 domestic movie of the year and will remain so until November, right behind Batman vs Superman. BvS will generate around $175 million more internationally and even so, it is seen as a disappointment.
So you make the call. What does the $875 million outcome mean and what does the $675 million outcome mean? Both figures (will) rank in the Top 90 worldwide grosses of all time. BvS improved on the gross of Man of Steel. Suicide Squad will be the third best performing first film among comic book adaptations after Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy.
I don’t think either movie is very good, but opinion is opinion and numbers are numbers. The real smack on the two WB comic titles this year is that neither was so strong that they will slingshot the other DC titles the way that Iron Man has, leading to the billion-dollar success of Avengers and the billionaire build-outs for Captain America and, they hope, the upcoming Thor/Hulk combo film.
This is the problem for Warner Bros. The Zack Snyder extended universal is doing mediocre (in context) business and shows the huge muscle of these characters, regardless of quality. Yet, it has not collapsed… not by a long shot.
This phenomenon really started with Sony and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Both films grossed over $700 million worldwide. And yet, Sony was anxious to dump this iteration and took on Marvel as an active partner in relaunching as a MCU-connected series.
Keep in mind… only 16 comic-based films have grossed $700m+ worldwide. If that is the standard now, the future looks rough. Batman, Iron Man, and/or Spider-Man have been in 12 of those 16 titles. No comic book film has ever grossed more than $800 million without at least one of those characters (Cap: Civil War features two of the three).
Newcomers Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were both seen as underdogs and hit home runs. Fox went all-in on X-Men: Days of Future Past, all hands on deck and the biggest budget in studio history, and got the $748m worldwide gross… then backed off a bit and grossed $543 million worldwide this summer.
Peak Comic Book may have been 2014. There were four $700m+ worldwide grossers. Last year, one. This year, three. There are six mainstream comic book titles scheduled for 2017. Among them, only one Batman and one Spider-Man (and Guardians 2). There are seven such titles scheduled for 2018, with probably just one Batman and one Iron Man (and I am betting on a Deadpool sequel).
So we will know a lot more about the future of comic book movies in these next two years, for better or worse, with two brand-new solo films and two sequels to modest hits that aspire to step up to the $700m+ level. We’ll also see if Guardians is a growth business (it should be) and we’ll have the two major team-up franchises (Justice League and Avengers) within 6 months of one another.
Meanwhile, can we stop whining about comic book movies as though they are all that exists?
This massive business of very expensive, very high grossing movies has taken position on top of the film industry that already existed. But this didn’t start three years ago or 8 or 10. It was not the natural evolution of Jaws that led to Star Wars that led to Burton’s Batman.
The beginning of the CG revolution was 1991’s Terminator 2. It was the first time that massive audiences in the post-studio-system era came out to see, primarily, a CG effect.
Until that film, there were only four films that had grossed $500 million worldwide in unadjusted dollars. Two were Star Wars films, then E.T. and Ghost.
Of the 14 films that grossed over $400 million worldwide in original release, before or concurrently with T2, the only ones that were not genre/action/fantasy/animation were Home Alone, and Pretty Woman, and Dances With Wolves… all three from 1990 (suggesting that those numbers were part of a rising worldwide gross profile).
The first film to crack E.T.‘s $619 million worldwide (original) gross was Jurassic Park… not coincidentally, the next massive CG-driven experience blockbuster. Soon we would see that massive numbers were possible for The Lion King and Forrest Gump (which was also driven by a lot of seems-real CG technology). Then Independence Day.
And then Titanic. Could not have been what it was without the CG, even though it was shot with a ton of on-set, in-camera production. It was also the most expensive film ever made at the time (except perhaps for Batman & Robin, earlier that year… whole different discussion).
But still, as of 1997, the first year ever with three $500m+ worldwide grossers, there had still only been 27 films ever to gross over $400 million worldwide. In the next six years (end of 2003), that list would more than double, with 61 titles having hit the mark. Also in that six year period, we went from 5 films to ever have grossed $700m in their initial worldwide runs to 14,
Event movies, with lots of CG content, were driving a new kind of theatrical business on top of a still-robust DVD business. Potter and Rings and Spider-Man and Pirates and Pixar and Shrek changed the game in that window.
2003 set a record with 9 films grossing over $400 million worldwide. 5 were sequels. 1 was animated. One was the first Pirates. One live-action comedy (Bruce Almighty) and one original drama (The Last Samurai). There has only been one year with fewer than 7 such films since (2007) and in 2015, we had 18.
In the 100 or so years of theatrical films before 2004, 61 films had grossed over $400 million worldwide. In the 12.5 years starting with 2004, there have been another 169. And of those 169, I count 20 of them that are not overtly driven by computer graphics or franchise status. Three years stand out with threevsuch films… 2009 (Sherlock Holmes/Angels & Demons/The Hangover), 2012 (Les Miserables, The Intouchables, and Django Unchained) and 2015 (The Martian/Fifty Shades of Grey/The Revenant).
The change, I would argue, did not come with a lowering of the standards or a pandering to international or anything so nefarious. The change has come because technology allowed what has always been most appealing to moviegoers, in the US and across the globe, to rise to another level. Obviously, the expansion of international theatrical has also been a huge factor in grosses.
I have made the comparison before, but I will make it again.
What you are looking at is the old Soldier Field, which is next to Lake Michigan and was mightily cold during winter games and the new Soldier Field, which hasn’t moved or changed a lot… except that they build a modern facility on top of the old Soldier Field that adds sky boxes and high tech stuff and a wind break from the lake so the “outdoor” seating is not nearly as frigid.
That is how I see the CG-driven industry of the moment. Yes, it does take up a significant amount of the studio slates. And it takes up a wildly oversized amount of the media’s attention. But it is, essentially, an expansion of the industry and not an overall replacement for what was.
The 2000 worldwide Top 10 is how things once were:
Mission: Impossible II -$546.4m
Gladiator – $457.6m
Cast Away – $429.6m
What Women Want -$374.1m
Dinosaur – $349.8m
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – $345.1m
Meet the Parents – $330.4m
The Perfect Storm – $328.7m
X-Men – $296.3m
What Lies Beneath – $291.4m
It’s probably not quite a pretty as the memory people have in their heads. Dinosaur was an early CG effort by Disney on which they lost money. X-Men was pretty low tech, emphasizing character over computers when CG movies were insanely expensive and Fox was fabulously cheap. And The Perfect Storm was the first CG-driven drama, really.
Last year, the only non-CG-driven or franchise or animated (though it had plenty of CG) movie in the Top 10 was The Martian. So I understand the feeling that there has been a massive change.
But… The Martian did $630 worldwide. Mission Impossible 2 did $546m. Pretty similar.
Gladiator did $357 million in 2000. The Revenant did $535m last year.
Cast Away… $430m. Can’t find a great analogous film, though The Revenant has some connectivity.
What Women Want, $374m. Fifty Shades of Grey, $571 million.
Meet The Parents, $330m. There was no uber comedy last year, but Pitch Perfect 2 did $288m, Daddy’s Home did $240m, and Spy did $236m. Even the disastrous Ted 2 did $231 million.
What Lies Beneath did $291 million. Can’t find a great analogous film.
So the two Zemeckis films, a long drama with a major movie star and his throwaway Hitchcock movie (which I love) don’t match up. The rest? The business is still making those movies and people are still going to them in large numbers.
Of course, there was a Zemeckis film last year (The Walk), But it flopped.
And there were a bunch more $100m+ grossing films last year that are “the kinds of films that studios aren’t making,” including Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Trainwreck, The Big Short and even Joy.
“But why are all the pretty girls with the 5′ 2″ non-English speaker who is betting $20,000 at a time at the Baccarat table when we $20 blackjack players are so much more fun?!?!”
Same as it ever was, gang.
Spielberg has made 5 movies in the last 5 years. Retired Soderbergh is making his fourth film of the last 5 years while also doing three seasons of very hands-on television. Scorsese hasn’t pumped out as much over a 5 year period since the early 90s. Even Zemeckis (who I revere), who crashed a whole business for Disney in 2009 and was movie-jailed, has made 3 films in the last four years.
I love what is happening on TV and have endless respect for many of the former movie makers who shifted to the medium in recent years… but can you name any of the great TV success stories who made hit films before they made the leap (except as exec producers)? There aren’t many examples. I love Jill Soloway’s work, but Afternoon Delight did $175k in theatrical and Vince Gilligan has never directed a feature. He did write two of my 1000 favorite features, Wilder Napalm and Hancock, both of which showed the glorious kink that would show up on Breaking Bad. But not really a movie guy. Frank Darabont is brilliant… and was a decade away from his last film hit before “The Walking Dead” happened. Etc.
We go from reading and often mocking trend stories to believing them to being convinced of their absolute veracity.
There is no “normal.” The film industry changes constantly. We have seen four major paradigm shifts in the last 30 years. That’s a ton of change. There are great successes and great failures. Important and unimportant trends.
But every time I see a movie these days with a bunch of Chinese company names on the front credits, I remember the German money and the Japanese money and the French money and the corporate money and on and on and on.
You can play the complaints about movies by almost anyone over 40 on a loop that could have been created any time since the 1960s… we all try to rationalize how it really is different now… but it’s not… not by much.
On a one-on-one or internal studio level, there is a lot of room for improvement. Absolutely. Start with more inclusion, continue with more creative ideas about engaging audiences, and then focus on improving the same old same old, because there is a ton of room for that. But big picture?
Everyone’s first rodeo is their first rodeo.
Go see Pete’s Dragon and Kubo or go to your local arthouse and see art, because art is lovely and enriching. But stop the whining. We’ve never had more options or more movies at our disposal to enjoy and appreciate.
The calendar of weekends looks different this August, so direct comparisons are iffy. That said, this third opening weekend of August looks a lot like most third weekends in August, give or take a blockbuster. Following behind only Guardians of the Galaxy and the super-leggy The Sixth Sense, Suicide Squad has the #3 all-time August domestic gross. And by a good margin, one that continues to grow, no matter how much the media has moved on.
In terms of newbies, this is a standard launch weekend for this time of year. None of the openers are major… not even strong minor ($20 million launch). But they will still be #4, #5, and #6 for the month. And an opening like The Butler ($24.6 million) was really the exception to the rule in these dog days of summer in recent years.
Last summer, for instance, $10.5m for Sinister 2 led the newcomers “this date” with Hitman: Agent 47 landing $8.3 million and American Ultra doing $5.5 million. This weekend’s three openers will beat that group of weekend newcomers by more than 25%. The strength of the month, in terms of quality, is getting lost in the sauce. That would be two family films, Pete’s Dragon and Kubo & The Two Strings.
Florence Foster Jenkins is dropping like a regular movie, though there is still some hope that its legs will get stronger as older audiences are inspired by word of mouth.
On the exclusive front, not much excitement. Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love & Death is having a decent start, cracking $10k per on two… but not exactly fireworks.
So… in spite of everything, Suicide Squad had a normal second weekend drop for a huge opening. There is nothing shocking or even disappointing about 67%.
Sausage Party is right there with the best Rogen/Goldberg openings (Superbad/Green Hornet), so anything less than joy around this opening seems silly.
Pete’s Dragon is a mediocre opening in the perspective of the success of The Jungle Book. But if you look at the history of Disney family films released in August, you see Planes opening at $22.2 million, The Princess Diaries opening at $22.8 million, and Freaky Friday (2003) opening at $22.2 million. In other words… Pete’s Dragon, which has no cult following of the size that would drive nostalgia box office, did the number you would expect.
And it’s not just Disney. You will find no family films opening in August to more than $23 million… ever. (That is, unless you choose to include the very violent GI Joe II or Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as family films… which I would not.) Even Princess Diaries 2 came in within a few hundred thousand of the launch of the original, stuck under $23 million.
Also worth noting… the worst performance by a Disney family August opener was $90m domestic. So expect the Pete’s multiple to be strong (added leg value for being a great film). They have a teen problem, in that many seem resistant because the film seems young to them. But if they can get some word of mouth going, there could be a Frozen slingshot, though the domestic ceiling is probably around $130 million.
And Florence Foster Jenkins sung her way into the hearts of more than half a million people this weekend, which should be the start of a surprisingly solid run for the Paramount title. The film is on the fewest screens in the Top 10 this weekend, as Paramount wades in a bit. The meat of the audience for this film – older people – will start attending next weekend and the weeks after based on word of mouth. Four times opening is doable here. That would be a big success, given the material, in the eyes of most observers. So… this opening has got to be seen as a success.
Meanwhile, Hell or High Water slid out on 32 screens to a pretty good result ($9930 per screen). I don’t know that this film is particularly scalable.
Likewise, the rest of the limited space was soft, not a single $10k per-screen title. Little Men, Disorder, and Equity were the strongest of a weak group.
It’s the biggest animated opening ever in August!!! It’s the biggest opening ever for a movie in which the lead is a dick joke!! In the PC 2010s, there has been no protest over turning Salma Hayek into a vaginal colloquialism (though it is a breakthrough for the Salma-obsessed to be focused on her taco and not her papayas)!
Sausage Party is funny. It’s cleverly animated. It’s aggressively non-PC, but perhaps a step less clever than it aspires to be. I’m curious to know how big the family audience is for this one. A $30 million opening (and maybe even a couple million better than that) is really as much as should be expected. This will be Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s biggest opening aside from, perhaps, Superbad.
Suicide Squad is where most would have expected in weekend two. But there is a legit question about whether it would be any different if the film was better.
Florence Foster Jenkins kinda danced into the marketplace with a wide, but not WIDE opening. The result is… similar to that. It’s almost exactly where Sony went with Ricki And The Flash last August. I mean, dead on. And, indeed, $26m domestic for FFJ would be a success for Paramount by any reasonable expectation.
Pretty much any way you cut it, Suicide Squad will be the #2 or #3 opener of the year/summer with a number almost identical to the $166m Batman v Superman launch. Go figure.
Many like to believe that people are done with superhero movies or that Millennials aren’t going to the movies, but the evidence continues to make both claims stink of the excrement they are built upon. Audiences don’t want half-ass versions of their favorites and audiences don’t want to see films just because there is a franchise connection. The only franchise disappointment that wasn’t obvious from a year away was Alice 2… but only because no one understands how the first film did a billion. (BTW, that film is nearing $300m worldwide, making it a disappointment, but not an outright disaster.)
Suicide Squad is not going to lose a fortune. So what is the lesson?
1. Have Batman (or in MarvelLand, Iron Man) in every movie you can.
2. Sellable elements will open anything, no matter the critics, geek buzz, or degree of failure.
3. Millennials are suckers, just the same as Gen X and Boomers.
Jason Bourne took a hit yesterday. We’ll see if it evens out over the weekend.
Bad Moms had already delivered STX the crown of highest-grossing indie non-sequel this year. $67 million will make it top indie release through mid-August, full stop.
The 1995 headline for Nine Lives would be that Kevin Spacey’s pussy was not widely accepted… but aside from Clint Eastwood resurrecting that sexist chestnut this week, not okay for 2016. Instead, Nine Lives opens to a $277k per-life average.
I don’t need to offer up spoilers to write about this movie. However, if you want to stay truly pristine, don’t read this. Broad strokes that you probably already know about… but broad strokes.
Too much. Way way too much.
And too little.
This is what is so brutally wrong with Suicide Squad.
This movie started pushing me away from almost the very beginning. Each character is going to be introduced with a 3 – 5 minute set-up along with a pop hit appropriate to each story. Wait. No. Only 3 are… and one of those only in a half-ass way.
The first great challenge when you turn on the word processor to write a movie about 5 or more characters coming together in a group is how you establish character for all these people, on top of developing a shared goal for the group, the second act “it’s all over” head-fake, then the rousing third act comeback where they finally are a team and as a group can overpower the thing that is too big for any one of them to overcome themselves.
I’m not mocking the cliché. I am fine with this cliché. Seriously. It’s a foundation and you can find true genius depending on how it is executed.
Suicide Squad starts to fall apart from the minute the filmmakers try to push together in-depth set up for the two biggest stars in the film and then half-ass it for everyone else. The movie is on wobbly tires because the structure of the movie isn’t established to accommodate two big stars and then a supporting group. Of course, there will be a lean toward Will Smith and Margot Robbie. That’s how movies work. But in a good movie, you don’t feel it in such a pronounced way.
So… by the time the group is assembled and about to be dispatched on their mission, there is no balance. And then they add another squad member. And another… like the 40 minutes you just spent on the set-up is followed by, “OH YEAH… we forgot!”
You can take your time setting up this stuff. Quentin Tarantino has made a career of it. But you either need some true genius breaking structure in a way that makes an uneven landing wonderful and surprising or, as in this case, it just looks like you don’t know what you’re doing or the finished product was edited to avoid terrible mistakes. Make a choice.
The second HUGE problem with the movie is the choice of villain. And no, it’s not The Joker, so if you don’t want to know more, check out now…
Superheroes fighting the supernatural simply doesn’t work. The supernatural has too much power. The tool that Suicide Squad uses to “control” the supernatural is weak. WEAK. But that isn’t the worst part. The execution of the supernatural is hideous… straight out of Ghostbusters II… that was a looooong time ago, folks. And the whiole idea of what the group needs to fight against and how they might do it is just a giant, horrible mess.
I’m not going to get into details, but how does it work when guns are ineffective, but an explosion is effective. Why? Where is the logic?
And there is this… and she is probably a lovely person… but Cara Delevingne cannot act… never has been able to act… and unless something very dramatic changes (like people stop hiring her to screw up their films), she will never learn to act.
Others in this film, like Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney, can probably act quite well… but not here. In a big blur of a cast, you need to hire people who light up the screen when they are doing nothing. Neither of these guys has that. And neither has an interesting enough character to make you care. So: dead weight.
Will Smith and Margot Robbie and Viola Davis and Jared Leto deliver. Eventually, Jay Hernandez gets to turn it up and he gives us great moments. But a complete waste of a very compelling actor in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Cool croc skin, but it kept him from giving a performance, which he is very capable of doing. Karen Fukuhara is fine… but a minor character, even if her physicality actually dominates at times.
I have no problem with the added Justice League footage. It’s fine.
BUT THERE IS TOO MUCH MOVIE!!!
I don’t buy that it is too dark. The action, while not exceptional, is fine. The whole “lightweight Marvel” is a crock of crap. This movie is nothing like Guardians or, really, any of the Marvel films. Chris Nolan’s Batman films is the natural progenitor (which gave WB hope, I guess). I think that “the industry is making too many comic book movies” is a bullshit claim and/or excuse. The rest of those movies didn’t make this film not work. And I don’t think that management ruined the movie… except for greenlighting it with this idiotic villain story and without demanding something great in terms of allowing the audience to care about everyone of the squad.
I wish there was more to say. There really isn’t. The details are not the problem.
I will leave you with this… there is a character with a name who dies fairly early in the film. And the audience could not care less. And that tells you everything wrong with this movie.
I love David Ayer’s work and hope that he will find his way to another great tough-guy story with fewer effects and fewer moving parts. The guy who did Fury knows how to have a bunch of characters and give everyone their moment. But he didn’t eat the giant movie… the giant movie ate him. Happens.
As we move into the silly season for media, with many “sky is falling” stories about theatrical box office sure to clog our bullshit filters beyond capacity, I will lay out a simple list of things that should be considered when writing or reading box office stories.
1. Every Movie Is A Business Of Its Own – There are slates at distributors, yes. But the reality of box office is that every film has its own story to tell.
The most obvious unique point is budget, both in production and marketing… neither one of which box-office writers have a clear view of in most cases. With due respect, imdb and Mojo post publicly acknowledged production estimates… which could be off enough to falsely make a film appear profitable or a loser.
But in the big picture, as journalists love to bring up such misleading stats as market share, estimated (aka guessed) numbers of tickets sold, grosses of multiple movies weighted as though alone they can define success in anything more than the simplest way.
Here is an easy one… What percentage of tickets for Finding Dory have been for 3D and how many in 3D for The Secret Life of Pets? Do you know? If you don’t, you have know idea how many tickets were sold for either. Even if you do know, you have other details that change the stat. IMAX? Adult tickets vs chuldren’s? Matinee pricing?
Here’s another… Universal has less than half the domestic gross that it had at this time last year. But only one eof their films has any chance of losing money. So what kind of year is the studio having?
And of course, domestic analysis only is 100% idiotic. International box office is a part of the construction of every budget for every film made with the involvement of a major studio. Now You See Me 2 did almost 4x overseas what it did here… so the idea that the film is a disappointment is factually inaccurate. Now… how problematic was it for Lionsgate, which distributed hands-on here vs profitability in the rest of the world, where they share success, but have partners country by country. And $100 million gross in China returns 50% less (at best) than if that same $100m was earned in another international market.
And how do you balance all of that with Café Society, which Lionsgate is releasing for Amazon Studios, and for which Amazon does not hold worldwide theatrical rights?
Wild headlines are fun and easy… but are terrible journalism. The margins, pro and con, in the details of each film can make all the difference between success and failure.
2. Think Beyond The Broadest Statistical Claims – How many times have you heard that Millennials aren’t going to the movies anymore? Lots, I bet.
So who bought all those tickets to Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse, etc, etc, etc.?
THINK, people! The biggest grossers are driven by Millennials and kids whose families take them to animated films. Still.
And for that matter, who do you think is going to Lights Out and The Shallows? Your parents?
And hey… there were some movies with high expectations that didn’t perform to expectation. Does anyone really think that is a generational issue? That the iPad kept them from showing up? Just silly.
3. If You Sell It, They Will Come – If there anything that has changed dramatically in the last 5 years, it is that it is now 100% clear… if you are selling a movie that people really want to see, it doesn’t matter what date you are on, what the history of that week or moth is, or what your film is up against. People show up.
Records are being broken in domestic and worldwide theatrical again… yet, many insist that it’s all over for theatrical. Recently, a bright light at a trade espoused the dim-bulb theory that major studio/distributors are on their way out because they no longer have absolute control of all distribution.
Everything is not perfect. Far from it. But Peter Guber told the story decades ago and it remains relevant today. A Sony exec asked him why they make the flops and not just the hits. Executives tend to know more than nothing, especially when they have a finished film. But by the time the film is done, it’s generally too late.
That said, great marketing can sell almost anything… at least, for a weekend. Of course, there are boundaries put on most marketing efforts, starting with budgets and continuing with approvals, general risk aversion, marketer disinterest on mediocre or crap movies, and many other possibilities.
Most recently, I have written in detail about the new Ghostbusters, which I think took a big hit because of how it was sold. But I can’t blame the Sony marketers, because the ambitions of the film, because of the pedigree, means that it didn’t start with the marketing department sitting down, clean, to consider how best to sell that particular movie. There were also outside forces (Twittiots), which I think we overstated, but are certainly a distraction.
4. Everything Is Cyclical – Universal would have told you, had you listened, that this year was going to be way down off of last year… guaranteed… they knew what they had in the shoot and it was simply less hugely commercial. The hero thing will peter out at some point. Has it yet? Probably not. That doesn’t keep Marvel or any other studio from having misses. But the media is so anxious to be able to “FIRST” that they saw it coming, there is premature speculation all over the place.
The stock market insanely demands annual growth every year. The film business is not the stock market.
5. Things Will Change – I am not saying that things will not change. The industry turmoil of the last 50 years has been remarkable. It hasn’t been 20 years since 1997, which was when the first studio DVD was released (Twister), changing the business to sell-thru instead of rental and allowing the launch of Netflix a few years later, which eventually would lead to streaming.
I see one more big paradigm shift coming, which is access to virtually everything post-theatrically for a flat rate.
What is most shocking, at this moment, is that things haven’t changed more. If you look closely at the box office, what is shocking is the ongoing commercial success of dramas and comedies and small indies – on a certain scale – and certainly the blockbusters.
We went almost 100 years into the movie business before we has the first billion-dollar grosser. It took 6 years to get to the second one. And since three years later, in 2006, we not only haven’t gone a year without a billion $ movie, but since 2010, multiple billion $ films have become the norm. A new record of 5 such films was set last year… and will very likely be broken this year.
Don’t give me your adjusted grosses. No one pays bills with adjusted grosses. Respect the past for what it was and respect now for what it is.
The decrease in the number of people going to the movies has been a consistent leak for over 30 years now. 60 years ago, there was television… which didn’t kill movies, but did change the industry. And now, streaming and access to massive amounts of content are making for change again.
For the record, I wrote about the death of DVD before anyone… and years before major media caught on. I am not an ostrich. But I look at history and I don’t see the high drama that so many love to make into headlines.
The only people likely to kill movies are the studios, getting too greedy and losing perspective. It could happen. It’s not happening today, for all the flaws in the process. (Some of my favorite people believe in day-n-date for studios and I think they are dead wrong… suicidally wrong.)
I think that’s it… the broad strokes. I probably forgot something and will follow up.
The biggest thing is… think… dig deeper… challenge the media position of The End forever being around the corner. Every writer who pisses me off in this regard is much, much smarter than their writing on the subject. They just don’t seem to push themselves to take it seriously. It is not brain surgery. And it is not defined by panicky or excuse-making execs.
And so it goes…