Box Office Special: Angels in Hell

Angels Flying to close to the ground

You are reading The Ankler, a newsletter about the business of Hollywood by Richard Rushfield.

Writing about box office on the week of the streaming wars kick-off must be a little like writing about school bus air brakes on the week of the moon landing.   You’re left feeling: why am I talking about this ridiculous old-timey contraption when we’re all going to be living in orbit around Neptune in two years and our kids will float to school on their jet tethers?

And yet, here we are, 50 years later, still riding buses to schools, and using brakes to stop them, while the moon base remains..a work in progress.

Our future, of course, lies in the great streaming tomorrow. But the future that can actually pay for that, might still be a couple of hundred years away.  And in the meantime, there’s still good old movies which a diminished but still greater-than-zero number of people who keep turning out for and handing over cash to subsidize the Hollywood lifestyle.

So given that movies and the movie industry haven’t been replaced yet by holograms in the space station, some thoughts on the weekend that was this one:

• If you’re looking for paradigm setters or think piece kick-offs, you don’t get much sharper compare and contrasts than you had this weekend. 

• Re: Angels.  We may not have space stations but we’re now in a land where the gravitational laws that kept studios bolted to the ground have been repealed and we have to open our eyes to the possibility of a whole new category of disasters.  To wit: how can you be a studio, and make a giant tentpole and have a result like this?

• Related: Were the Sony bosses looking ahead down the pipeline at all when they elevated Sanford and Josh to the VP/Jefe-in-Waiting chairs?

• Why did it happen to a movie like this, the seers try to unravel.  Why does the rain in Spain stay mainly in the plain?   What else would’ve happened to this movie?  In olden times, one would’ve thought that a studio tentpole with a studio marketing machine behind it could muscle its way to….$20 million?  At the very least?  Not so anymore. The question these days is not why did $20 million more people not turn out, it’s with all the choices in the world, why 8 million worth did show up to this?

• On the particulars of Charlie: a project either makes sense or it doesn’t.  It’s a pitch that clicks or it doesn’t.  Ford vs. Ferrari is an easy pitch.  So is The Black Panther.   And so were HustlersGood Boys, Yesterday and Downton Abbey if you want to get into it. 

• Charlie’s Angels, however, decided to design a film at odds with its own IP.

• “Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy” is how the entire franchise begins after all. In Aaron Spelling’s memoirs, he recounts how he painstakingly worked with Farrah and each of the Angels to create a signature hairstyle for the first season, and promised viewers at least five costume changes per episode.  That is the DNA on which they tried to graft a feminist, empowering and woke film onto.

• You might as well say: We’re going to update Mayberry RFD but this time it’s focussed on the need for universal access to health care.

• Deadline and others “report” that there were script problems and development problems.  You don’t say. If Tom Rothman hollered down to the Writers Dungeon: bring me a kickass hard-R action version of The Love Boat, I predict there’d be some script problems, and maybe development issues too.

• We always hear the old “There has to be a reason for a reboot.” But here they too many reasons.  Charlie’s Angels but, and … If they had just put the Drew Barrymore cast together and had them chase some other random bad guy with McG at the helm, would it have done worse? I can imagine that version doing much better than $8 million.

• And while we’re talking about it, it’s a 40-year-old TV show.  You’re doing a movie directed towards women under 25 based on a 40-year-old TV show.   Just for point of reference, that would’ve been like making a movie in the 1950’s based on Ozzie and Harriet or Life With Father.  It would’ve been like making a movie in the 80’s based on a radio drama.

• And while not every movie needs to be a star vehicle, Charlie’s Angels, based on a show young people have only heard about from their grandparents, and without any dinosaurs or aliens blowing up the White House, originally built around it’s leads’ hair dos, is nothing if it’s not a star vehicle. Odd film to cut corners on stars’ salaries, but cutting corners is the magic Rothman touch.

• Of course, they passed around the pain and the slate financiers will eat much of the loses on this.   Which is A: A great advertisement to future financing partners and B. Doesn’t account for the time, focus and energy a studio has to put in on a release like this. And the opportunity costs of they are working on this, so they aren’t working on something else.

• Then there’s Ford/Ferrari. An original film. Two great stars in the right sorts of parts. A premise people are excited about.  RT critics score of 92, and audience score of 98.  Funny how all that still works.

• Question now, for those who care about these sorts of things, is how this balances out in the mind of Awards voters.  FvF a hit in theaters, a Cinemascore A+.  Has been tested before audiences and hit it out of the park.  Against The Irishman, now approaching the end of its very special run and soon to disappear into the App, where we will only be left to wonder how many people made it to the end of the three and a half hours. 

(Also for whatever this is worth: The Irishman in its very limited, Potemkin release one would’ve thought would’ve played to the most committed, pre-sold, enthusiastic, wedding guest like audiences on Earth who burst from the theaters ready to spread the gospel of St. Marty. But on RT as of this writing, it gets a very solid but not sensational audience score of 87.)

The Academy members, of course, never just trusts its own instincts about what’s a good movie or votes for the movie they alone like, but are, like any good Hollywood professionals, constantly looking over their shoulders to see if they got it right; grasping for external signs about what they are supposed to and not supposed to support.

Will the critics’ hyperventilations be enough to sustain The Irishman as it now vanishes from public view?  If FvF becomes a box office phenom with some legs, how much weight does, “Some middle aged critics liked it” carry?

• Make that seven on the Warners sub-$10 million list: Good Liar, Motherless Brooklyn, The Goldfinch, Blinded By the Light, The Kitchen, Shaft, and The Sun is Also a Star.    At some point, if your marketing has no idea who to open anything other than giant tentpoles, maybe you need to stop releasing anything other than giant tentpoles.

• There’s also the profitability angle of all this.  If A24 had released The Good Liar, budgeted at $10 million and it opened at 5, life would go on.  You might even come out ahead. 

But what is the smallest budget the Warners marketing machine can spend before its head splits open?  20 mil?  So if they spent $30 million on this and it opens at $5, then Born and some Canadian check writers get to find out the flip side of getting handed a piece of Joker

• Reality sets in on Midway.  Despite the surprisingly solid opening, it is what it is.

• Even a Disney under-performer makes almost half a billion. As we brace ourselves for Frozen 2

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