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Today’s Ankler Hot Seat podcast tackles this weekend’s big studio opening, the oft-challenged biopic Elvis. Hosts Tatiana Siegel and Richard Rushfield are joined by The Wakeup writer Sean McNulty to discuss the $85 million Warner Bros. film that endured a lengthy production shutdown back in March 2020 when Tom Hanks became the first celebrity to land in the hospital with Covid. Add to that an untested star in Austin Butler, a 2-hour-and-40-minute runtime and a jam-packed marketplace with such options as holdovers Top Gun, Jurassic World: Dominion and Lightyear, as well as new horror entry The Black Phone.
But McNulty notes that the biggest problem is “Does anybody care about Elvis?” He adds: “I'm in my mid-40s and I have a mild curiosity about him. I didn't grow up on his music. So does anybody born after 1980 really care about Elvis, or really care to find out if they don't know [his music]?”
Siegel, who was on the ground for the Cannes Film Festival in May, says that Warners also didn’t capitalize on the built-in buzz of premiering at the festival because — unlike Top Gun — Elvis bowed so late in the festival that most attendees were gone by that point. Additionally, Presley songs have not remained part of the popular music canon in the way Elton John and Queen had before the releases of biopics Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.
Rushfield also highlights that older Middle America — the most natural demo for Elvis — might be put off by director Baz Luhrmann’s take on the King. “The Baz Luhrmann treatment has him skewed in a way that's emphasizing Elvis as this sort of transgressive figure in a way that's definitely not making a pitch towards Elvis' natural fan base,” Rushfield says. “The great advantage of this film is that all the people that you might blame for it are gone. There's nobody at Warner Bros. taking the fall for this movie.”
If preview tallies for Elvis are any indication, $3.5 million doesn’t bode well for the film. (The low-budget Black Phone did $3 million in fewer theaters.)
The trio also broke down why Lightyear stumbled and what it means for beleaguered CEO Bob Chapek as well as more Netflix layoffs (and more schadenfreude).