The Hot Blog Archive for June, 2017

Review: The Mummy (spoilers)

A million ideas… and no Idea.

Universal has gone a long time without a carwreck (and no, I don’t count The Great Wall against their account). So this misfire, which may do some business based on advertising, will not drag the ship down.

But The Mummy is, in so many ways, everything that is wrong with the IP era of film. So much so, that it is a shocking experience.

The film is clear in its intentions to launch a complex reboot of Universal IP, in the shape of no less than The Universal Movie Monster Universe… which gets an entire new logo, Dark Universe (a trivia question by 2025). There is a structure (Prodigium) introduced to act as the fulcrum of the Dark Universe, very much in the way that S.H.I.E.L.D. offers structure for Marvel.

Unfortunately, the monster house is ineptly introduced and then the ineptitude is multiplied by the method offered by the film as Prodigium’s leader, Dr. Jekyll, way of keeping Mr. Hyde at bay. Prodigium is supposed to be the ultimate expert at dealing with violent, powerful, and supernatural beings on earth and yet, the leader, who seems to be subject to personality switching every few hours, can’t come up with a drug delivery system as stable as (for instance) the one that young children us to manage their diabetes in 2017.

I have serious discomfort with how Hyde evolves visually as well. But I will leave that for another day.

Apparently, the overall plan is to roll out Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster in Bride of Frankenstein, then Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man sometime after. I trust Bill Condon to make a solid movie of Bride. But unless the response to The Mummy is much better than I expect, shoving the Prodigium thing into that film will bring nothing but derision. Worse, the fear will be that Johnny Depp will deliver a minor variation on Mortdecai, with invisibility.

But let’s get back to The Mummy. I needed a click counter used at events to count the crowd to keep up with the non-Prodigium mistakes from beginning to end, micro and macro.

To start with, Tom Cruise.

Explaining why he is miscast here requires understanding why the character doesn’t work. On the surface, the story is “rakish thief goes through extreme experience, falls in love, learns to give of himself, becomes the undead and launches a franchise.”

Even that brief version of the story seems a bit much. But worse, the only element that works at all in the film is the “extreme experience.”

Tom Cruise isn’t good at “rakish thief.” He’s not young Harrison Ford. His thing is overly cocky jerk – too sexy to resist even though women know he is trouble – who gets the smirk knocked off his face. Bradley Cooper, who can play cocky with restraint, would have been a lot better as a starting point. There are many other problems with this material, but Cooper would have had a shot. Chris Pine. Ryan Reynolds. Cruise is still good looking and he has spent a lot of time in the gym, but as the guy at the start, now as ever, he lacks a certain warmth.

But then there is the movie. He forces his sidekick into a direct confrontation with dozens of men with machine guns. The duo outruns gunfire in ways beyond the most profound suspension of disbelief. And because this director has no experience with big action sequences, we never – never ever – have a sense of space. Everything is close-ups and singles. So while our “heroes” never stop running, we never know where they are going, where the men with machine guns are, or if any moment is more threatening than another.

After they find the Mummy and he is ordered by his military superior to participate, he – the allegedly clever thief who stays one step ahead of everyone – shoots a rope on what he knows to be a Rube Goldberg-type set-up, with no possible way of knowing what is going to happen. As a movie audience, we know Tom Cruise is not going to have a safe dropped on him. But it is the move of an absolute idiot. Even worse, it is not compelling. Shoulder shrug. And the movie assumes we are idiots by letting him get away with it.

I LOVE crazy action movie sequences. I am thrilled to suspend my disbelief to see something clever and human and delightful. This was not that.

Jump to the best action sequence of the movie… the airplane crash. Mostly well done.

But again… doesn’t make sense. The Mummy’s powers are never defined. She has enough power to summon birds… to suck the life out of men… and to somehow confer life upon Cruise’s character after the plane crash, but on some weird tape delay, where he wakes up in a body bag. How did he get in the body bag?

That is so this movie. He is not a zombie. So why didn’t he just survive the crash? We don’t see his body being recovered…. because if we did, it wouldn’t make any sense.

There are no consistent rules. And audiences will go with virtually any crazy rule you come up with for them. But we need rules (and spacing) so we can anticipate what is coming and then be amazed by how cool what we expected is or to be delighted by being fooled. Hitchcock 101.

There are a hundred twists and turns in this film, but virtually every one feels disconnected from the others.

While they are doing a bad job killing The Mummy (what will actually kill her? how does the process affect her power?), Crowe’s Jekyll passingly mentions that they have to kill Cruise too. It’s played as a joke. It leads up to a fight between Cruise and Hyde that makes absolutely no sense. But worse, between the time Crowe makes the suggestion and the fight, the dialogue might as well be hummina-hummina-hummina because they have to stop making any sense to one another and acting irrationally in order to get to the fight.

Roger Ebert’s old schtick about people being required to do dumb things to make bad horror films work is topped by this movie, which doesn’t even require stupid choices by characters. Major events just keep happening for no apparent reason in the context of the film other than to get to the next “exciting” idea.

And I haven’t even gotten to the horror show that I saw coming the minute I saw an ad for the film with Cruise’s eyes doubling up… it’s the freakin’ Last Samurai all over again.

Throw out all those “empowered women of summer” pieces that include this film. As the story turns, it seems that the forgettable female lead sleeps with Cruise (before the movie begins) to get him to steal her map so he will go find The Mummy. And The Mummy herself is only an elaborate conduit to, inevitably, get Tom Cruise to be The Mummy. Go feminism!

By the way… the issue of the two having sex is another WTF moment that comes up out of seemingly nowhere when it lands. Maybe they cut the sequence of him leaving the room for time or because it didn’t work or something, but you have to tell the story. Truth is, I think the movie thinks she is so unimportant that she didn’t get a full character. A good movie would start with the two seducing each other. Then when they meet again, we, the audience, are vested. Not here.

Back to “Who da Mummy?? He da Mummy!” Once he is The Mummy, what is he as a character? The movie offers no clue, except he can ride a horse and has the power to bring people back to life. Is he a good guy? Will he be the Storm of this team?

I completely understand not committing other characters this early in the UMMU… as Marvel has kept Thanos close to the vest. But who is Cruise’s Mummy? Not giving us a sense of that is inexcusable.

Personally, I hate all the blanket attacks on IP-based films and the assumption of bad will. But then you see The Mummy or Baywatch or the third act of Pirates and you wonder how all those smart, talented people can be so dumb. It’s like they think they audience is a bunch of 4-year-olds who are happy with birthday cake that is all frosting and no cake. (And the frosting flavor is broccoli.)

The Mummy (and Baywatch and Pirates 5) would all be a lot better if they did less with giant effects and more with storytelling. Just look at Wonder Woman, which is overrated but beloved because it just plain works in the most basic ways. I’m all for the lesson of women directing being engaged, but the real story is the simplicity and clarity of the screenplay and filmmaking.

Alex Kurtzman co-wrote the disastrous action films Mission: Impossible III, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (aka The Racist One), and Cowboys and Aliens… all of which could have prepared you for everything that is wrong with The Mummy. What were they meant to be? What is the through-line that gets you through the film? So many cool ideas. Nothing that connects.

Universal made a terrible choice here. Inexperienced director who hasn’t been a writer on a well-liked hit since the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Great TV writer. I really like People Like Us, which is a scale of production that works for him. Tom Cruise was all wrong and can not be anything other than TOM CRUISE. I actually liked Annabelle Wallis in The Brothers Grimsby… thought she was game and funny. Blonde sock puppet here.

And did I mention that Russell Crowe has to do a physical comedy routine more reminiscent of Monty Python than a thriller in order to stay Jekyll?

I want movies like this to be a pleasant surprise. I would settle for “as expected.” It is crushing to keep running into “what were they thinking?” And I don’t recall a run of that quite like this ever before in my 20 years of covering this professionally.


Weekend Estimates by 100 For A Girl Klady

Wknd Est corr 2017-06-04 at 9.13.21 AM copy

Wonder Woman is estimating just over the $100 million mark, which could end up being a little high or a little low. Either way, a strong debut better than any of the non-Iron Man standalone character Marvel launches. Not as Wonderful, Captain Underpants closed out the DreamWorks Animation run at Fox with their second lowest opener after delivering their second best opener just a few months ago. The two arthouse winners for the weekend were A24’s The Exception and IFC’s Band Aid.

Wonder Woman is estimating at just over $100 million. Might be more. Word of mouth is strong. Media push is strong.

The key stat, to me, is that this is the best launch of a superhero standalone ever. Iron Man was $98.6 million. And Superman and Batman both launched a generation ago. Did women push Wonder Woman over the top here? The Norse god, chemically enhanced human icicle, and guys who hang out with raccoons, people of non-human skin tones, and tree demos clearly didn’t change their games, although audiences proved they wanted to see all of those films.

This is certainly more proof that the female moviegoing demo is more than commercially viable… as Hollywood is already fully aware, given the summer of all buddy comedies being about female buddies. Next serious mission is to have more women work on these films.

On the arthouse side, Band Aid opened this weekend and if you take a gander at the imdb page, you will see a remarkably high percentage of women working behind the camera… choices worth supporting. (A DP/30 with the filmmaker and co-star lands next week.)

Captain Underpants crapped the diaper. Tra-la-la!!!! The end of the Fox distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The 6-12 set LOVE this movie. I have personally spoken to many of them about it and my son was at a Captain U birthday party yesterday where he saw the film a second time. Butt (hee-hee… read the books) the demo didn’t deliver enough to make this a strong play for DWA. I think a TV version for Netflix would be a home run, however… much more so than Turbo (a movie I liked), which had no serious underlying IP. Dav Pikey’s books are not going away. Generations would watch that show.

Pirates drop was okay… based on a weak start domestically. It’s this summer’s, uh, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Baywatch also held okay… based on a weak start domestically.

Alien: Covenant is looking like the last sequel before Alien. International no longer seems likely to save this prequel series.

Everything, Everything is the surprise success of the summer, even with $28 million in the bank. WB spent nothing, nothing (relative to their norm) to push it out and it will be a moneymaker and, it seems, a strong library title.

Besides Band Aid, the other $10, 000 arthouse movie this weekend is The Exception from A24.


Friday Estimates by Wonder Klady

friday estimates 060317 651

Wonder Woman isn’t hampered by sexism. Nor does it seem to be buoyed by gender empowerment. It’s opening as one would expect – perhaps a tick or two better – the first standalone non-Batman/Superman DC character film.  Up around the $100 million mark after an effects-heavy campaign that audiences liked.

There will be a lot of debate about the details, and that’s fine. But this opening is what one really wants to see for “female-led films” with “female directors”… parity.

There are moments in Wonder Woman that will thrill female viewers in particular, though I felt that same tingle down the spine that those women probably felt when “Paradise Island’s” warriors went into action en masse against the Germans. For me, it was, in no small part, because it was cool to see women fight like that. And I suppose, when one gets down to it, the rush was fresher, but not dissimilar to the rush one gets when seeing “the good guys” go into a major battle with “the bad guys” in any good movie.

Wonder Woman is a big step for women in film mostly because it is not that big a step cinematically. We were not experiencing the arrival of David Fincher or Christopher Nolan or Brad Bird. In a weird way, it reminds me of the feeling of seeing Ant-Man after all the mess with Edgar Wright leaving and Peyton Reed taking over. Loyalty to Wright made the whole thing seem precarious (and we still love Edgar), but Reed delivered a movie that was not only as good as was expected, but above expectations. I don’t know what Michelle MacLaren would have delivered or how much better it might have been (or about what she and WB conflicted), but Patty Jenkins, who stepped in late in the game, delivered a movie that works well. (For my few objections, see the review.)

Warner Bros will be crowing about how this film will out-open all of the standalone Thor and Captain America films (Civil War being a mini-Avengers film). And they should. They deserve to enjoy the win.

This would be a good time to point out that even though the Zack Snyder DC Universe has been shat upon critically up until now – deservedly so – this opening makes them 4 for 4 with $100 million domestic openings under Snyder’s supervision… a better streak than Marvel. $117m. $166m, $134m, and now, just over the line, but still likely $100m and change. I loved Ant-Man and Doctor Strange and neither opened to $100 million or very close. The real question will be whether Wonder Woman can top Strange’s $677m worldwide.

This weekend’s #2 is in Underpants. (Ewww!) The final Fox release of a DreamWorks Animation film is Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which with an opening around $30m will likely be the last epic movie. (We’re in Mr. Peabody & Sherman territory, financially.) It’s a shame. Having read all the “Captain Underpants” books (thanks, kid), I think they made a mistake by sticking close to the origin story and not going as wild as the series goes. On the other hand, I guess that the successful book series has a natural age boundary that will never lead to giant grosses. I hope that Universal and DreamWorks make more films from the series for Netflix at a lower budget. There is a lot of room for creativity.

Meanwhile, Pirates 5 thumbs its nose at you, as it likely passes $600 million worldwide this weekend, with only $100m and change of that gross domestically.


Review: Wonder Woman

diana wrists
Wonder Woman is a very likable movie.

But it was also a very likable movie when Marvel made its kissing cousin, Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.

Before I get into that, where spoilers live, and the ending, which I found a little tragic, a spoiler-free overview.

Gal Gadot is very pretty. She has a limited range as an actress. This leaves most of the emoting to Chris Pine, who does a nice job. Gadot is at her very best when being funny or posing dramatically. (I also liked her in Keeping Up with the Joneses, although she leaned on a very specific note.)

The movie starts with a semi-animated story set-up.  (Meh.) Then we are into Princess Diana’s childhood, from a scruffy little 7-year-old to a preteen to a woman. It is all well done (CG waterfalls seemed a little cheap at times) and a pleasure to see women fighting and behaving in the ways the movies have shown us men behaving for 100 years.

Of course, how a dark-skinned, deep brown-eyed, raven-haired girl came from the blondest cast in the history of cinema is never explained. (Guesses one might make in the film are never fulfilled.) Perhaps the funniest thing is listening to a range of actors, great and stuntwomen, try to approximate Gal Gadot’s middle-European Israeli accent to mostly comedic effect. People are all over the place. Gadot’s accent never gets much more definitive (seems to be her actual accent), but the cast around her stops trying to match it after the first act, which was blessed relief.

Still… funny accents and all, the time on the island is pleasant. I never bought Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as sisters. It felt like watching a stunts designed to show that women could do stunts just as well as men. But when the group goes into battle mode, they are as compelling as any period action movie you have seen.

Gadot’s Wonder Woman really comes to life once Steve Trevor arrives. Clever pseudo-innocent sexual banter that was nicely played and written (though I think they went for one penis joke on the island that the audience wasn’t getting – “That tiny thing tells you what to do? ” – shortly after one joke that they did). In many ways, this is the real beginning of the story, the origins on Themyscira Island (later dubbed Paradise Island with no fanfare) playing like a prologue (within establishing bookends).

After arriving in London, Diana Prince does a lot of fish-out-of-water schtick. And it’s pretty terrific. Diana is a walking emancipation proclamation for women and this plays charmingly, not archly. After all, she is 100% right and she is in situations where if a modern woman showed up, these things absolutely should have been said.

Second act, Trevor and his sidekicks (The Howling Commandos gone Euro-variable) go on the big mission.

Third act, the complicated plot merges with Diana’s lingering stuff and the film becomes much more traditional, much less clever, and ultimately, confused. There is strong emotional work by Chris Pine here, as he walks the tightrope between macho and metro skillfully. Never slips.

I will discuss the ending in the Spoiler section… though I will tell you that it didn’t spoil the movie for me.

There is a lot that can be picked apart in this movie. The three or four ideas that would take this from a good movie to a great movie are all attempted and none of them land. It’s not easy. Very few entries in this genre manage to hit even one big idea solidly. So don’t over-read this complaint. But it should be said. It’s also not particularly special as filmmaking. Patty Jenkins delivers by-the-book work, which I would say is every bit as solid as the work now being done by the Russo Bros., who have a big imprint on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the spin-off films of Marvel, the material here is inherently better and less constricted by The Money. Ms. Jenkins’ deification may be a bit overstated (or a lot), but she should see plenty of offers at major studios moving forward.

Best of all, this is a breath of fresh air in the Zack Snyder DC rage oeuvre.

Wonder Woman is a solid character, although it isn’t clear that the charms of this version of the character will appear in Justice League or other modern takes. Maybe she will be as good as this. Maybe not. The character will be, after all, 70 years older… and not frozen in ice for most of it like Captain America.

But basically, it works well. Huzzah.


There are two major oddities – aside from the accents on the island – in Wonder Woman. The reflection of Captain America: The First Avenger and the very end of the movie in which this iconic natural feminist finds her power not in herself, bit in the emotional connection to a man.

The Cap Connection first…

Obviously, the origins of Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are different. One is naturally gifted with superpowers from royal/godly blood and the other takes a serum that gives him his powers.

One opens in current day with the military finding a frozen Steve Rogers, thawing him out, and telling his origin story. The other opens with Bruce Wayne finding a chilly Diana Prince and giving her a gift that makes her warmly recall her origin story.

One has a villainous Nazi with a normal face that is transformed into a red skull as a result of his madness for more power. The other has a villainous German sith a normal face that is transformed into a glowing, oddity as a result of his madness for more power.

There is also a diminutive evil genius behind the villain. In Cap, it’s Toby Jones. In Wonder Woman, it’s Elana Anaya, one of the great beauties of Almodóvar, for whom she was also partially masked (The Skin I Live In). It’s one of the flaws of this film, albeit not a deadly one, that the clearly intended correlation of a woman who is working for evil vs the first female superhero never comes to fruition or is even discussed.

Both films have a band of sidekicks. Here is it a Mediterranean, a Scotsman, and a Native American far from home. In Cap, it was The Howling Commandos, led by a Irish American and featuring a black man, an Asian, a Frenchman, etc.

Diana Prince and Steve Rogers are both goody two-shoes whose do-right fervor is a bit overstated. Both have a doomed military romance. (Her with Steve and him with Peggy.)

I’m sure there would be more examples if I sat and obsessed on it another few hours. Don’t want to. Feel free to e-mail or tweet me your additional examples.

The second big issue is what I have long called “The Glory Issue.” The brave black men of the military in the film Glory explain that they are fighting for their country, not for the white man. But when do they make the big, heroic, deadly charge up the hill? Right after the white leader dies.

In this film, what allows Diana to access the deep internal power she has been told she has but has not reached throughout the film? The death of Steve Trevor.

She spends most of this movie teaching the men how to be better people, leading the way, high on a horse of moral stringency… and then, it’s the boy who gets her over the hump.

(And let’s not even get into whether they did, as it were, hump. It’s hard to imagine that they first blush of sexual rapture by a women in her late 20s (or so), alone with a man she is in love with, is going to stop with a kill or some dry humping. It’s almost as though the movie was afraid to let her have her sexuality because it would, somehow, diminish her power even further.)

And if you had any doubt about how he fit into her worldview, she quotes him verbatim and sends a note to Bruce Wayne specifically referencing Trevor.

And on top of this, the whole Ares thing is just a flat tire. I assumed, watching much of the movie, that he would turn out to be her parent. But… no. At least, not in this cut. And he isn’t the key to human evil either. So… who cares?

As far as the physical confrontation between the two… zzzzzzzz.

Love David Thewlis. Didn’t care to watch him a second longer… and I could watch an entire series about his “Fargo” character this season. Just another “so what?.” And another man who is somehow defining the emotional life of the ultimate powerful woman.

If you are reading this, I hope you already saw the film. Would love to know if it bothered you too… and if, like me, you still had a good time… just wished it was a better time.

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learnt this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”


The Netflix Thing, June 2017 (The Movies, Part 1)

netflix screen 651

With all the screeching and squealing about Netflix at Cannes, I decided to take a look at what the Netflix “movie” business really looks like this year… not by posturing, but by the detail of what actually exists.

Netflix intends to “release” (meaning on their service, some potentially in a handful of theaters) 50 non-doc feature films in 2017. That total is on the streaming service; ten features are scheduled to be shown at iPic premium theaters around Los Angeles and New York City.

Fifty features. That’s more than double the number of scheduled releases planned by any American theatrical-first wide-release distributor.

Using IMDB, I counted 53 non-doc 2017 “film” titles due from Netflix.

Three are at Cannes (Okja, The Meyerowitz Stories, Rodney King)

Three have a major star (War Machine, Bright, Sandy Wexler)

Two are currently out with notable marketing (Handsome, Berlin Syndrome)

Four may be lingering in your mind (Mudbound/Sundance, Win It All/SXSW, Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later, The Most Hated Woman in America)

Of the other 41, four debuted at Sundance in January and have already been released by Netflix (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Burning Sands, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, The Discovery). Another three purchased at Sundance are due sometime this year (Fun Mom Dinner, iBoy, To The Bone).

34 movies to go… some of these will be higher profile, some will not… some have well-known actors or directors, some do not… some will turn out to be great, some not… but here is the list:

1922, #REALITYHIGH, 6 Balloons, A Futile & Stupid Gesture, Alias Grace, Amateur, The Babysitter, Bill Nye Saves the World, Blame!, Clinical, Coin Heist, Come Sunday, Death Note, Gerald’s Game, Girlfriend’s Day, Happy Anniversary, Je ne suis pas un homme facile, Juanita, The Land of Steady Habits, Little Evil, Milada, Mute, My Happy Family, Naked, Our Souls at Night, Private Life, Pup Star 2, Sand Castle, Shimmer Lake, Small Crimes, Spivak, Take The 10, What Happened to Monday?, You Get Me.

There is nothing wrong with this list of films. It has high-profile, high art and high ambitions. It also has low-profile, low art and low ambitions. But it is also instantly apparent what this group of films is not… revolutionary.

Amazon is no more revolutionary. Nor HBO. Or Hulu. Or whomever.

Being a big spender is not a revolutionary idea. And the truth is, in terms of making/securing exclusive product for their network that is between 85 minutes and 180 minutes long, Netflix is still not a very big spender.

I would estimate that the ” Netflix films” of 2017 are costing the company around $500 million overall to get to digital air. Contrast that with the billions they are spending on series and acquisitions annually and it seems almost minor. They are investing about half what most majors do annually on “films” and about 20% of the Disney spend.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s maintain perspective on the whole picture.

In that long list of 34 films, it is likely there are none of which you have yet heard (unless personally connected). But most of these are both content for now and the seeds of the future. Netflix is building a legacy of filmmaker who are happy to have done business with the company and are that much more likely to come back again to do business. Smart. Netflix is not the originator of this idea either.

Amongst these titles you probably haven’t heard of, there are some that have a hook that you will probably connect to along the way. There is a Redford/Fonda movie, a Duncan Jones, a Tamara Jenkins, a McG, a Joshua Marston, a David Wain film about NatLamp’s Doug Kenney and an Alfre Woodard starrer directed by Clark Johnson. I am happy all of those films – even the McG – got a chance to happen. Some of them may well have landed elsewhere, but many might not have.

But the illusion that no one makes this kind of movie or that kind of movie anymore is false. The economics of particular genres have changed. And they continue to shift. As I wrote in a piece about the summer releases, the genre that is missing from this summer is the male buddy comedy… while there are three female buddy comedies. This does not mean the male buddy comedy is over. Things change. Every change is not a revolution.

But with the relentless stream of think-pieces about how major studios are killing cinema, keep in mind that with the exception of a title or two per year, Netflix is not pushing a model that is going after the studio business. Netflix “film” is competing, almost exclusively, with the indies.

And the indie business already has a thriving day-n-date VOD business. Like Netflix “movies,” most of the films released by indies do not get a substantial theatrical airing, if at all.

So why is there so much chit-chat about Netflix disrupting the theatrical model?

Netflix wants distribution freedom for, basically, three movies this year. (Remember… a foreign-language Oscar play for Okja starts with getting South Korea to nominate the film.) Mudbound (a Sundance hero), Bright (a reported $90 million Will Smith/David Ayer movie), and The Meyerowitz Stories (primarily an Oscar candidate for screenplay).

Mudbound could be desirous of Lawless-type numbers, which that film did by opening wide (2888 screens) and generating 94% of its $37m domestic take in the first 4 weekends.

No Noah Baumbach-directed movie has ever been on as many as 800 screens or grossed as much as $8 million domestic, so the release of The Meyerowitz Stories was always likely to be limited, but still, will potentially compete with indies that still release theatrically.

And Bright is a full-out sci-fi-tinged Will Smith action movie. A major would release it into 4,000 theaters on 10,000+ screens on opening weekend. Assuming AMC-Wanda and perhaps Regal are still willing, Netflix can open Bright to about a third the number of screens it needs for what would be considered a proper opening on a very wide release.

Putting aside Suicide Squad and its Bat/Joker-connection, the top opening for Will Smith in the last 5 years was $54 million for Men In Black III. A third of that is $18 million. How much would it cost Netflix to release Bright to $18 million, which is probably a high number. And if more than half of America has Netflix and probably over 90% of those who would see all but the rarest movie on opening weekend, who is going to pay to see Bright in a movie theater the same day it arrives at home?

In many ways, the industry would be well-served by Netflix trying this distribution experiment. If the opening weekend number was, say, $5 million in 1200 venues/3500 screens at a cost of, say, $20 million to advertise, that would slow the day-n-date argument for a while.

Exhibitors would, no doubt, fear that Bright would open to $50 million and make the argument about theatrical being cannibalized by day-n-date appear false, opening the floodgates of theatrical’s decimation.

But here’s the thing. This is R&D for Netflix. It’s worth taking the $20 million hit to see how the film would perform if available on all platforms on the same day. At a traditional studio, that might get someone fired.

What is R&D for Netflix is the entire kettle of fish for most studios. It’s just not as complicated for Netflix, which doesn’t have layers and layers of responsibilities and revenue streams that studios work in for their releases.

Every movie a studio makes is an individual risk-reward scenario. Losses seems to vanish in a strong year for the overall slate, but in may ways, each movie is its own business in the studio world, benefiting from some shared costs. Netflix needs each subscriber to hit about .250 with one strong memory every 3 or 4 months, which represents the three or four times a year when people think about whether they subscription is worth the money. People may complain about being overwhelmed by the amount of content on Netflix, but if you are choking on content, you are feeling that your value consideration is being well fulfilled.

If a studio bats .250 in a year, even with a big hit, the bosses are looking for a new studio chief after they have fired/blamed the head of marketing.

Of course, again, Netflix’s film program, as it stands now, is not producing many movies that are seen as legitimate contenders for significant theatrical launch. In all but a few cases (perhaps only one this year), the ambition level for theatrical would be, at maximum, in the realm of the indies… where day-n-date VOD already exists, with the acceptance of exhibitors, and a history that doesn’t demand R&D.

So the idea that exhibitors should change their position on day-n-date to service what really comes down to a single Netflix film seems like a giant, dubious ask.

The Movies, Part 2: Profitability and Disrupting The Indies


The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Don’t work with assholes. Ever. No matter what they’re offering, no matter what they bring to the table. If they’re the sort of person where the phone rings at 10 o’clock at night and you wince because you see that it’s them, then don’t do business with them. One asshole will ruin your life. I’ve managed my entire TV and filmmaking career to work with people I like and respect. If the point comes where I don’t like or respect someone, I don’t work with them anymore.”

– Anthony Bourdain

The Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
~ Steven Soderbergh