BULLETS OVER THE BOX OFFICE: THE BIGGEST SICK

BULLETS OVER THE BOX OFFICE: THE BIGGEST SICK

It’s far too early to declare Brittany Runs a Marathon a flop–relative to the amount Amazon spent on it and spent promoting it. It just had a stellar weekend on five screens, as weekends on five screens go.

But if miracles could still happen for Brittany when she scales up, a miracle for Brittany doesn’t change the basic fact on the ground here, that we’re still covering indie acquisition sector like it’s a going concern, when it’s time to declare it as dead as the “B” Western, the Biblical epic, and the Jim Carrey vehicle.

Last year, there wasn’t a single one of these pick-ups on the box office Top 100.  That's not the top 20; that's the top 100.

In 2017, you had the amazing breakthroughs of Lady Bird making it to the 56th highest grosser of the year and TheBig Sick at 65th—grossing $48 million and $42 million respectively—effectively functioning as that sound you hear in the distance of the casino telling you someone is winning, the jangling of nickels spilling into someone’s pocket, and if you just keep coming back it could be you!

In 2016, you had Manchester by the Sea, of course, which raked in $47 million. And below that . . . Birth of a Nation took in $15 million ; Love and Friendship made $14 million. Southside With You brought in $6 million.

Point is a unicorn-like breakthrough that yields a marginal profit (after marketing expenses) once or twice a year does not make an economy. 

This year we’ve seen the runaway successes of Fighting With My Family, Late Night, The Farewell, Blinded By the Light, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, to name just a few. Several of which were delightful movies. None of which became the next Little Miss Sunshine, despite considerable marketing spends behind them.

Who killed the indie sector is clear. The question is what keeps otherwise reasonable people in it at the level where it’s been set.

Unlike the death of the U.S. foreign film market, where general malaise led to a rapid meltdown, the murder of the indie sector was executed in a brilliant pincer movement from which nothing could escape. On the one hand, the streamers have glutted the market with so many small, personal, idiosyncratic movies—many made by the lions of the very sector—that to leave your house in search of a film like this is like diving off David Geffen’s yacht into the port of Long Beach in search of some decent beluga caviar. 

In this glutted marketplace, the value to viewers of intimate personal movies suddenly became very small.

At the same time, the streamers, driven by awards lust, have bid up the cost of the hottest indie titles to the point where there’s no possible economic model for buying them. When the price stands so high that you can’t make your money back on a platform release and your only hope is to open wide—for which you need to spend a fortune marketing which you can never hope to make back—well, that is no longer a business.

The indie sector now is like the LA retail space market: rows upon rows of empty storefronts, but no one can afford to rent them. 

What you’ve got left in the little film world is this: You better have a big concept, explainable in three words or less, hopefully with the right star(s) on board. And that’s it. Yesterday, Scary Stories, It—big, easily sellable ideas that aren’t something I could just watch on TV.

You can spend a fortune on anything else—say, a filmmaker’s black-and-white period tribute to his childhood nanny—to prop up its awards chances. You can even tell yourself that the nominations are good for business, despite the tens to hundreds of millions it takes to play in that business now. But I still haven’t seen the math on how all that works out.

Will Hollywood abandon this sector like rats from a sinking party yacht? It took awhile for distributors to figure out that there was no more market for foreign language releases in this country, but somehow in the past few years, they sure did. Now if you’re Pedro Almodovar or Hirokazu Kore-eda, good luck getting your movie on more than the slightest handful of third-tier screens on this side of the Atlantic.

A few other box office thoughts:

• Another tough week for Box Office Narratives. Someone’s going to have to add a couple more pretzel twists into the argument to explain how Sequelitis and Franchise Fatigue are still raging in a world where Part Three of the Has Fallen saga wins the weekend.

• Is there an odder named franchise than the “Has Fallen” series? Will this set off a frenzy of Present Perfect tentpoles? 

• Look who’s on top two weeks in a row, with two different movies no less? Welcome back to the arena Lionsgate!

• Lion King made $8 million in its sixth weekend. So close that window Disney? Cap your theatrical at, say, a month?

• If there’s a point in the cinematic universe farthest away from the Alan Horn Zone of Comfort, that point might well be occupied by Ready or Not. A brutally violent, genre-bending, star-free, R-rated, no IP film. If we’re wondering how well films like this might fare under the newly expanded Disney umbrella, this could be an early test. 

There might’ve been a release under which Ready had a chance but this wasn’t it. Sending a film that is a complicated sell with zero-built in awareness head-to-head against the third installment of a holding steady action film aimed at just about the exact same audience . . . . There might have been a logic to that, but it looks an awful lot like, just get this out the door.

If you were going to make this work against a Has Fallen, it would require some major support to explain what this is. On the last twoiSpot TV spend reports however, Ready or Not is nowhere to be seen…

• Hobbes and Shaw rolls towards $600 million. Mission accomplished. The fabled tentpole pivot is achieved.

• 47 Meters 2 is quickly drowning. How many flops can Byron Allen afford? One? An infinite number? Is that answer even knowable? Anyway, he didn’t seem to be sitting around waiting for the 47 Meters 2 verdict (or the Comcast verdict) a couple months back when he bought his third house in the $20 million range. So we’ll assume everything is just fine.

• Re: Overcomer. Is it time to worry about what’s happening to film title grammar? Are we approaching an era of titles like Trying Harderer and Batman Was Eaten and Haircutz of Fire and To Race on Skis Before Buffets of Agony? 

Anyway, audiences gave Overcomer an A+. Are faith-based producers the only people who know how to keep their audiences happy these days? Maybe they should hold a seminar for the rest of Hollywood.

THE APP SURRENDERS THE FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO MARTY

TOLDITTOYOU!™

Not even a Martin Scorsese mob pic could bridge the divide between Netflix and cinema chains.

The streamer will forgo a wide theatrical release for Scorsese's The Irishman in order to make the film available to its subscribers as quickly as possible, a longstanding policy that doesn't fly with exhibitors. There had been rampant speculation that the Oscar-hungry Netflix might further soften its stance in regard to honoring theatrical windows, but in the end, it couldn't reach a compromise with chains including AMC and Cineplex.

Last week the papers, including the one of record, were in a titter that the great, paradigm-smashing App of the Future was about to bend the laws of exhibition to their will. With The Irishman in their armory, the theater owners were an inch away from caving!

In response, The Ankler wrote:

The theater owners are looking down the road to the new mega-conglomerates and their dreams of a great streaming subscription future.  And they know that at some point that future is going to run right up against their entire business.  

The windows war have largely been in a ceasefire for the past couple years, but you’d be crazy to think that shots aren’t going to break out sometime before the end of 2020.  

So with the theater owners looking ahead to that, they are going to compromise their entire business, cave and surrender before the studios even come at them, so that they can get The Irishman

And so it turns out, as much as they may have thought The Irishman looked interesting, the theater owners of America weren’t so interested they were willing to destroy their entire business for it.

So now what might well be the most expensive drama ever set to film, will be released streaming direct to iPhones.

Scorsese has been a loyal Netflix beneficiary through all this, making very supportive statements about The App that let him make the most expensive drama in history. I wonder how he’s feeling about it now..whether he’s still telling directors, this is the future!  Spend $300 million on shooting something and people can watch it on their phones.

And what does this mean for the Oscar voters, most of whom, truth be told would watch it on their TV’s at home anyway.  Are they, the organization whose entire reason for being is to promote, honor and defending cinema, going to insist that a movie is made to be experienced in a public theater on a screen larger than the palm of your hand.  Or are they just going to go along with Video City Ted and say: I mean, what’s a movie anyway?  Isn’t it just some pictures that you can look at someplace?

FLEMINGISM OF THE WEEK

"In its most ambitious ever theatrical rollout plan for one of its original productions, Netflix will give The Irishman a 27-day theatrical window before the film makes its streaming service bow November 27. Netflix will launch on November 1 in Los Angeles and New York the epic crime drama that reunites director Martin Scorseseand Robert De Niro for the first time in 24 years, in the Steven Zaillian-scripted adaptation of the Charles Brandt novel about the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. The film will add screens in the U.S. and expand to UK theaters on November 8.

"While the screen counts aren’t set yet, the film will be in theaters in most major U.S. cities by the time it begins streaming on Netflix the day before Thanksgiving. Netflix will promote The Irishman with heavy P&A and  endeavor to hold and even expand its movie screen presence after the film expands to the streaming service."  - DEADLINE

THE POWER POINT ERA CONSOLIDATES ITS HOLD ON THE FRONT OFFICE

We’ve commented plenty on the fantastic irony of Joe Ianniello ending up, after all this, as the number two at the newly unified CBS Viacom.

But another trend this brings to mind: the extent to which in these troubled times, the conglomerates are turning to suited MBA’s to run their studios, away from the creative executives who actually have history, preferably extensive history, picking projects, negotiating deals, dealing with talent – the things that actually determine whether a company thrives or not.

Of all the recently open major seats have gone to people with obscure business background, fluent in Power Pointese with almost no, or very low-grade experience in the creative decision-making process.

Viacom now is in the hands of Bob Bakish  – a graduate of Viacom’s various planning, advertising, and operations jobs – and Joe Ianniello, the bean counter.

When the big Sony job came open, after the Michael Lynton experience, one would’ve thought they’d see the importance of someone with deep roots in the entertainment making work in that role. Instead, they turned to ad sales veteran Tony Vinciquerra. 

The Telephone People have put their entire entertainment division in the hands of John Stankey, longtime telephone exec and CTO. And to take over on the Warners lot, to oversee the vast complex of TV and film production, Stankey turned to Ann Sarnoff former Dow Jones/WNBA mucketymuck Ann Sarnoff, who’s highest profile entertainment experience was at BBC America.

It’s not that you don’t need the trains to run on time, but in selecting their leadership a company shows its priorities. When making the trains run on time and getting the Power Point right becomes elevated above making great entertainment choices, when making great entertainment choices takes a back seat, you can bet there’s going to be a lot less great entertainment choices to worry about in that company.

And lost on everyone is the background of the most successful executive doing this of the last few decades: Robert Iger who came to the job from the humble background of..picking TV shows.