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David Poland

By David Poland

Friday Estimates by The Kladyman: Spring’s Confused Sequel

Friday Estimates 2016-04-23 at 9.05.24 AM

By this time in 2015, we had just one film open that would go on to gross more than $202 million domestic (Furious 7). The $201 million domestic movie was Cinderella. But there were movies that grossed in the 100s that excited entertainment journalists (Fifty Shades, Home, Divergent 2, Spongebob, Kingsman).

This year, we have had just five films that will do over $100 million domestic openings so far… but there have been three that have exceeded $300 million domestic. There has never been more than one that opened in the first 4 months of the year before… ever.

So why does this all feel so… meh?

Studios have stopped pushing past the opening. Now and again, you see a film that has legitimate ad spends going into a third weekend… but it’s rare. The habit of getting the movie open and then just running out the clock until Home Entertainment 90 days later is costing studios money. It is true that not every film is appropriate for an additional expenditure of energy past opening. But why did it feel like the Deadpool conversation was over less than a month after it opened? Zootopia is a legitimate phenom that came virtually out of nowhere. Why are we obsessing on the one big grosser that is a relative flop within its genre?

One thing that too often gets forgotten in this business is that all things have their own time, their own rhythm. As much as the corporate culture (and Wall Street) prefers consistency to artisan efforts, the reality of the film business is that every one of these studio films that is being released is a product of, first, dozens in development, then hundreds in production, and then scores of people working to make the release work. The input of those individuals becomes a cumulative, shared product. None of them are widgets. But the faster the well-oiled machinery goes, the more anxious to get to the next huge grosser, the less craftsmanship is allowed for everything else.

And the premise that Hollywood will become an industry that makes only those giant machine films is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, idiotic.

Let’s assume that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the most profitable film released in 2015. Part of that was, for instance, opening on every major screen (or in all the biggest rooms in plexes) in cities like Los Angeles. In Hollywood alone, it screened at The Chinese, The El Capitan, the Arclight (including the Dome), and The Grove. Every first run house within two miles of Hollywood & Highland.

It is likely that no matter what the industry does, these four theaters will stay in business. The El Cap is co-owned by Disney. The Arclight and The Grove cater to a specific, committed clientele. Bet The Chinese? Probably safe now as the area’s only IMAX screen.

However, The Chinese was abandoned as a traditional first-run theater a few years ago, as it was not profitable enough, even with its weekly premieres and endless foot traffic. And in the last decade, four first-run theaters in the same area no longer show movies.

This is the business center of the film industry, so things evolve more aggressively than in the real world. Our big mall in Century City, for instance, is getting its third major movie theater make-over in 25 years. But like The Chinese or another struggling premiere location, the Village, or the already demolished National, we are seeing  clear proof that big movies alone are not enough to sustain the infrastructure of film distribution, the front line of which is exhibition.

The preferred exhibition conceit of the last decade plus—many screens of high quality with a significant screen size-to-seat count ratio that allow for a major expansion of the footprint of big openers, but can show a wide range of product when the heat is lowered—works great for distributors. We are seeing the biggest opening weekends ever, beyond previous comprehension, because the larger ecosystem works (mostly) in the service of those openings.

Entertainment journalism, by the way, does not cover this well. We still run theater counts as though they were screen counts, hiding the reality that exhibition still has mostly empty theaters most of the time. There are a ton of variables in the Jungle Book‘s 4028 theater count that is noted today. How many 3D showings… how many IMAX… how many vanilla 2D… how many seats… etc?

But “journalism” prefers aggregate numbers that have the least amount of insight given the range of stats. Studios parse out information that serves their purpose on Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning, and the press runs it as the key data, when those details are very rarely questioned or reported… in great part because very few people writing on box office these days has the slightest idea what questions should be asked… how to follow up. As film criticism used to be just some assignment a newspaper gave to a city desk writer who seemed bored, so is box office writing now. No one wants to have to get up early on the weekend to file this stuff, weekend after weekend. But it gets a lot of page views, so the papers who mine these views now fight for position, speculating more and more, reporting in depth less and less.

As with the comic presumptions of VOD or The Screening Room being inevitable and/or inevitably successful, we have plenty of experiential proof otherwise… but in the pursuit of The New, people just don’t want to hear about it. Some of the richest people in the world want to have their selection of first-run movies available on opening day for $50 (getting the print driven over from the studio costs more than that!), so now we are all being sold this shtick that the world is waiting for this, it is the end of piracy, and that people who pay $100 a month for cable/satellite and going to pay $50 for one movie? Remember, at much lower price points, no movie has ever grossed as much as $50 million on VOD/PPV. Not one. But at 5x the price, it’s gonna be HUGE!

Of the Top 20 movies of 2016 to day, 13 are “middle” or small movies. But wait! Studios don’t make or release those movies anymore!

Brooklyn Bridge. Buy it now. Cheap.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War will open to slightly better than 1/3 of its predecessor.

Universal is having a profoundly mediocre 2016 so far. They saw it coming. They have hits to come. May 20 is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. July has two legit shots at strong showings in Jason Bourne and The Secret Lives of Pets. (And they aren’t even changing its name to Petopia!) I hope that writers skip the opportunity to crap all over the studio and the industry for the studio not doing the kind of numbers it did last year… or even the year before. Donna Langley is not a moron this year any more than she was the greatest genius of all time last year. She is a whip-smart, politically-skilled executive who is going to ride the wave like every long-surviving exec has before her has done and every one after her will do. There is nothing easy or obvious about this job.

Zootopia, which is well ahead of Batman v Superman worldwide, should pass it domestically this weekend as well.

On the indie scene, the strongest newcomer is The Meddler, which should be a solid success, especially with the over-60 crowd.

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46 Responses to “Friday Estimates by The Kladyman: Spring’s Confused Sequel”

  1. EtGuild2 says:

    What does Disney’s dominance of the industry mean exactly? WB’s domestic record of 2.1 billion stood for 6 years before being smashed by Universal (2.45 billion) and beaten by Disney (2.2 billion) last year. But this year it looks like Disney will obliterate Universal’s mark, with at least 2.8 billion (3 billion seems likely), and the highest domestic market share of a single studio in modern history.

    To put it another way, it’s going to beat the pre-2015 record by nearly 50%. Hard to imagine that the other majors don’t scurry faster to copy their template.

  2. Geoff says:

    Etguild I think if the other studios are smart, they won’t try to duplicate Disney’s model at all because it’s not sustainable long-term – besides, Fox’s 2014 and Universal’s 2015 were MUCH more profitable than any year Disney has had recently.

    And 2016 isn’t even half-way over…..yeah Rogue One, Finding Dory, and Civil War will likely clean up, but they’re also sinking at least $150 million each into The BFG and Pete’s Dragon and likely $200 million plus each into Dr. Strange and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Studios need a VARIETY of product to sustain long-term profitability: you need mid-budget films like Gone Girl and Straight Outta Compton or even smaller budgeted niche films like The Visit or The Fault in Our Stars in the pipeline as well. Disney lost at least $70 million on the one mid-budget film they have released the past six months: The Finest Hours.

    And I guarantee that NONE of the Marvel films they release over the next several years are going to make half of the profit that Deadpool has – there are SO many ways to bring in revenue and if a major studio is going to eliminate ALL R-rated films catering to a more mature audience and is going to automatically spend AT LEAST $150 million on EVERY potential franchise film, then it’s going to catch up to them.

  3. EtGuild2 says:

    Did anyone expect $800 million-$1 billion from Zootopia and Jungle Book though? We keep expecting Disney to strike out, but when it does (with The Finest Hours as you note), it does so with product that doesn’t fit in with its current strategy. (Not sure how much pressure there is for BFG given that it’s one of the last two movies under the Dreamworks deal btw)

    It’s been noted on this blog many times that Disney’s strategy is EXTREMELY high-risk, high-reward, and at the moment there’s no real way to replicate it given the uniqueness of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm. But it sure doesn’t mean other studios won’t try.

    We keep expecting THE BOMB from Marvel Studios, which doesn’t come (and cmon, ULTRON at $1.4 billion is more of a cash cow than DEADPOOL at 0.75, even without toy ancillaries, where the margin makes it not close). For Disney, THE BOMBS last involved original product in which they felt they gave directors too much creative control (Stanton, Zemeckis). Until THE BOMB happens to a franchise property with short-leashed direction, it’ll continue to milk the goose for all its worth, and other studios will probably follow.

  4. Christian says:

    Is that NINA number correct? $1,800 across 32 screens? Ugly.

  5. Tracker Backer says:

    “June 20 is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.”

    May 20.

  6. Geoff says:

    Etguild and nobody expected worldwide to BARELY exceed production costs on The Good Dinosaur and Tomorrowland either. And no, I’m at the point where I do not think they will EVER bomb with a Marvel property – Ant-Man proved that even performing domestically, the Marvel brand is entrenched enough overseas that they can count on grosses from a China or Japan to rescue them. They’re obviously taking steps to keep the Marvel brand sustainable long-term by cancelling The Inhumans movie and doing more cross-pollination with Sony and their new Spider-man.

    And nobody is calling ‘Ultron a bomb but there’s no way it was as much of a cash cow as Deadpool either – they spent more than $300 million on production, another $200 plus on promotion, and probably around $100 million plus on profit-participation deals (they had to commit to serious bank just to keep Downey on the team). For Deadpool, Fox probably spent $200 million on production, marketing costs, and Reynold’s points COMBINED…..that said, they’re not going to see NEARLY as good deal on Deadpool 2. 😉

    It IS high risk-high reward for Disney but it doesn’t have to be that way for the other studios – Universal and WB can clean up on a regular basis by backing Blumhouse films…..more sequels/spin-offs for The Conjuring, etc. Studios can still make mad cash from R-rated literary properties like Gone Girl and 50 Shades of Gray and spend a fraction of what Disney is spending on its Marvel films. If you think about it, it’s kind of absurd for Disney to NOT go after those markets too.

  7. Bulldog68 says:

    Dave, it seems from your choice of words that you are desperate to carry the mantle of the guy who does not want to join the popular chorus of voices and prefers to be viewed as a contrarian. But sometimes the writing is just on the wall.
    You undervalued the unmitigated success of Jungle Book with its $103m with your “nothing to see here folks” comment. You said that this opening was the lowest of Disney’s $100m plus openings, which makes absolutely no sense at all. Now with this fantastic 2nd week hold there is no comment about it. It’s running almost $50m ahead of Zootopia, itself an unmitigated success. But you’re quiet on this.

    Now Huntsman opens to a disastrous number, and I get your need to not wanting to pile on, but now your language is that it opens “slightly better than 1/3 of its predecessor .” Why the soft analysis for what is a bomb?

    Jungle has a legitimate shot at $1b now, but at least $800m is all but assured in my book. That’s a home run. And among pure Disney fare, that doesn’t include acquisitions like Marvel and Pixar, this will be among the top.

    C’mon Dave. You can do better.

  8. Movieman says:

    No Friday # for “Miles Ahead”?
    It went wide-ish yesterday, wide enough to open locally (!!), and we still haven’t gotten “Eye in the Sky,” “Midnight Special,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” etc., etc. here.
    Must have been pretty dire for Sony Classics not to report.

  9. Lane Myers says:

    Bulldog, have you not noticed that has been DP’s take nearly every single weekend when reporting box office for years? It’s actually pretty funny how predictable it is. It goes like this:

    Movie “X” opens to a huge number, way above even the most optimistic pre-release predictions. David’s response: “Everybody calm down. It’s not a big deal. Also, it’s only the opening weekend, we won’t know if it’s a success or not for weeks.” And then he predicts some low-ball box total box office number. (E.g. “Jungle Book” may end up in the 600s Worlwide.”)


    Movie “Y” opens to a terrible number, way below even the most pessimistic pre-release predictions. David’s response: “Everybody calm down. It’s not a big deal. Also, it’s only the opening weekend, we won’t know if it’s a failure or not for weeks.”

    I for one, appreciate that he doesn’t overhype box office results. While others are writing: “Movie Z cost $25 million to make and opened to $25million, covering its cost in its 1st weekend!!” I appreciate that David knows enough to point out that the reported $25million cost is lower than the actual cost, that the marketing costs were probably another $25M and that the studious didn’t get 100% of the box office.

    But the relentless contrarian view he takes every weekend is somewhat tiresome. Maybe it’s because he’s simply seen too much, so now he can’t be impressed or moved either by clear success or obvious failure…

  10. Bulldog68 says:

    Yes Lane, I have noticed. As recently as Star Wars, even after all significantly low balling the opening weekend after Friday estimates were in, and then the 2nd weekend, he was all in his no big deal mode. Then he went quiet after it continued its meteoric rise and then only chimed in weeks later when he thought there was something negative he could point out.
    I mean really, “the lowest of Disney’s $100m plus openers” is like saying you won the 100m gold medal in 9.7 seconds and belittling it because somebody won it years previously in 9.5 seconds. Sure you’d like to be fastest, but gold is gold.

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    “And nobody is calling ‘Ultron a bomb but there’s no way it was as much of a cash cow as Deadpool either”

    Im not sure on what planet you reside, but on mine there isn’t a line of DEADPOOL toys and other tie-ins targeted at kids that compares with Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, etc etc etc. Even if ULTRON cost $400 million more than DEADPOOL, which is nuts, the studio took in about $250 million more in revenue. It eaaaaasily makes up $150 in ancillaries/home market advantage.

    And yeah…TOMORROWLAND and GOOD DINO are exactly the point. They’re originals that buck their current model…and those aren’t working for Disney at this point. I agree with your last paragraph. Hopefully that’s what happens/continues.

  12. Geoff says:

    Etguild if Disney could find a way to spend 70% less on a Marvel property that would end up making significantly more than ‘Guardians, Winter Soldier and pretty much ANY other Marvel property not featuring Robert Downey, you don’t think they should?? 😉 And The Good Dinosaur and Tomorrowlamd were as indicative of the regular Disney model as any other properties: Pixar comedies featuring anthromorphized versions of animals or things…. and theme park ride adaptations.

  13. EtGuild2 says:

    Personally, I’d give Brad Bird a bit more credit than insinuating he’s a theme-park property building hack ;). TOMORROWLAND had nothing to do with Disney theme parks aside from the title. Knowing Disney, they probably think it failed BECAUSE it didn’t incorporate the park. With GOOD DINO, you have more evidence that canceling NEWT in favor of CARS 3 and INCREDIBLES 2 was a great move.

    I have no idea what you mean by your question re: Marvel. Sure Disney would love a cheaper model, and it’s going to try it with BLACK PANTHER and CAP MARVEL. Would they trade Marvel Studios’ 2015 or 2016 for Fox’s Marvel results? Hell no. (and did Guardians, which had a Platinum-selling soundtrack and endless raccoon and anthropomorphic tree toys really make less than Deadpool? Who knows). And would they want DEADPOOL? Hell no…it’s Disney. Bad for the brand. Unfortunately for them, that’s what makes the property unique, and replicating it’s success with the novelty of minority and female-title characters in PG-13 mode is unlikely.

  14. Geoff says:

    I’m not bashing Brad Bird at all but you can’t tell me they would have greenlit that film if it wasn’t loosely based on a theme park attraction. And yes I think Disney would trade last year’s balance sheet with Universal’s or with Fox’ 2014. You think Disney wouldn’t find new ways to make cash off of Minions or Planet of the Apes…….just think of the theme park attractions based on ‘Apes alone! 😉

  15. EtGuild2 says:

    Fox’s 2014 was not nearly as good as first glance. A slew of big budget movies that lost money or barely broke even (Exodus, Penguins, Night at the Museum, Peabody and Sherman) or disappointed (X-Men, Dragon 2). Regardless, sure, Disney’s not going to be on top every year, and Universal had a dream 2015. But who is more consistent over the last 3 years, and adds a massive new brand every single year? (2013=Frozen, now the biggest toy brand on the planet 2014=Guardians, 2015=Star Wars, 2016=Zootopia/Jungle Book).

  16. Geoff says:

    Gone Girl made $370 million on a $60 million budget, Rio 2 made $500 million on a $103m budget, The Fault in Our Stars made $307m on a $12m budget, The Maze Runner made $348M on $34M budget, and The Other Woman made $196m on a $40M budget…..and those aren’t even including their three biggest blockbusters (X Men, Dawn of the Apes, ‘Dragon 2)- that’s a DREAM year for the balance sheet and one that Disney’s accountants would certainly envy even post-Force Awakens.

  17. Geoff says:

    And if you’re talking about consistency in recent years, Warner Bros. has been among the Top Three studios in market share for NINE years in a row (even with last year being a significantly down year) and ranked #1 in four of those years… other studio has been able to pull that off. Believe it or not despite all of the hype we keep hearing, Buena Vista/Disney hasn’t had a #1 Box Office year since 2003! 🙂

  18. EtGuild2 says:

    @Geoff, Fox had a nice year, but no one at Disney is envious of their macro situation. Their biggest budgeted films, including my beloved DRAGON, all disappointed aside from APES, which is less profitable than this JUNGLE BOOK remake. Did Fox launch any franchises in 2014 aside from the low-end MAZE RUNNER? Nope…the name of the game now, unfortunately, is endless monetization (you could argue PAPER TOWNS is a FAULTS sequel I guess…didn’t take)

    And cmon….you have to be joking about WB. They engage in market saturation, and always have. They cultivated a flagship franchise, Harry Potter, that allowed them to do whatever the fuck they wanted for a decade plus. Now that the gravy train is dry (and Hobbit, their replacement series is over), they’re hemorrhaging money at a rate perhaps never before seen. Of course, their response to this, is mimic Marvel Studios.

  19. jspartisan says:

    Yeah. WB is run by followers, that have no idea what the fuck they are doing. If Fantastic Beast doesn’t make serious bank. Ha. They are fucked.

    Also, this is Dave’s standard fucking thing with Universal. He always, ALWAYS, throws them a bone with box office. It’s a thing. I just hope Kristen Stewart had a steak this weekend with her girlfriend, because she should be laughing her ass off about the Huntsman.

    Oh yeah. HOW THE FUCK DOES UNIVERSAL FAIL AT MARKETING GOD DAMN HEMSWORTH? How do you FAIL THIS FUCKING HARD? Also, does Emily Blunt look at Scarlett Johansson’s career, and wonder what the fuck might have been? Passing on Nat, may be the stupidest fucking move any actor has made in the last decade.

    Finally, it’s all about IP, and Disney has the IP. You know what else they have? They have the god damn revenue from TV, that keeps shit a float. Sure. They screwed over Kelly Ripa last week, but they still have a structure few other studios have other than Comcast, but they suck at it.

  20. Lane Myers says:

    Comparing Disney to any any other film studio makes ZERO sense and should simply stop being done. Disney is playing a different game than the other studios — not necessarily better, but different to be sure.

    Here’s an example. Disney made a couple of inexpensive comedies in ’07 and ’09. One was a Travolta/Tim Allen/Martin Lawrence comedy called “Wild Hogs” which grossed 168Million domestic, the other was “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds which grossed $167Million domestic. Name one other studio in town that doesn’t fast track sequels to cash cows like that. (Hint: You can’t.)

    (Btw, Disney didn’t have a problem greenlighting a second Muppets movie, even tho the first cost more to make then the two above-mentioned comedies, but grossed 80 million domestic.)

    Clearly they’re playing a different game. They only make movies that inform the other parts of the company (the parks, the networks, the merchandising, etc) or the overall brand.

    Just look up how much Cars merchandise and licensing added to Disney’s bottom line, to remind yourself why Disney simply does not look at Box Office the same way other studios do. Not sure why people, especially well-informed folks like DP, look at it thru the same lens.

  21. Bulldog68 says:

    Disney did plan a sequel to Wild Hogs.

    But you’re still right about what type of movie business they are in Lane.

  22. AdamL says:

    I don’t understand why the new Bourne film is called Jason Bourne. Can you imagine if the 5th Bond film had been called James Bond? Everyone would have been like “what the fuck – lame.”

  23. Bulldog68 says:

    I think they just decided to go with the abridged name instead of the original The Bourne Franchise Saver.

  24. leahnz says:

    thanks to ludlums’s titles the film-makers kind of painted themselves into a corner with the bourne one-upmanship: identity > supremacy > ULTIMATUM
    where can you go after the Ultimate? nowhere, really, by definition.
    rebirth? ‘The Bourne Reborn’ ‘the Bourne Afterbirth’
    nah apparently you just go with the guy’s name (not even a full name mind you, a bit formalism, no just a roll call, Jason Bourne – present). wonder how long it took them to come up with that bolt of brilliance

  25. PcChongor says:

    “The Bourne Placenta” does have a certain pleasant ring to it.

  26. palmtree says:

    I think they should have gone with more original titles like “A Star is Bourne” or “Bourne Yesterday.”

  27. YancySkancy says:

    Bourne to Run
    Bourne to Be Wild

    And of course the New Orleans-set Bourne on the Bayou.

  28. leahnz says:

    haha these should all be made. maybe beyonce would be in THAT version of ‘a star is Bourne’. gotta get Wilford brimley to reprise his role of Uncle Dovee for ‘Bourne on the bayou’.
    then there’s Bourne Free (jason tries his hand at repatriating captive lions into the African wild whilst reprogramming himself to call Operation Treadstone ‘blackbriar’).
    and when matt damon’s knees finally give out there’s always Bourne Again (bourne is back and taking names with Jesus)

  29. Hcat says:

    Just a couple nitpicks…

    Sherman and Penguins were DWA, Fox lost nothing by releasing them.

    As was said above Wild Hogs 2 was pursued but abandoned, proposal 2? How many romcom sequels are really out there? Especially given how A) Bullocks success basically priced her out of what Disney likes to pay for talent and B) Touchstone was for all intents and purposes shut down at that point. The minute the first Pirates dropped the Disney strategy had changed to what it is today. They abandoned trying to compete with other studios with touchstone and Hollywood, nixed any adult skewing films and went straight for all family all the time strategy. No more Open Ranges, no more Nixons, no more Joy Luck Club Oscar Chasing pictures. They grabbed Dreamworks to fill that gap, but the Dreamworks partners seem to be as disinterested in making a slate as Disney was in releasing it.

    Ironically the other studios seem to be falling into the same problem that Disney used to have. Touchstone lost millions and millions trying to ape Warner’s and Silver with things like Bad Company or Gone in Sixty Seconds. Even when there wasn’t a total failure their hits like Pearl Harbor and Gangs of New York were big budget gambles that didn’t bring the award prestige or BO rewards that they hoped (and their luck didn’t last forever, that chamber turned out to be loaded when Alamo came around).

    So Disney decided to be Disney and is reaping the benefits. Just as Universal being Universal pays off. Not this weekend, because Universal has never built a franchise off a Big Budget Opus. Bourne and Fast and Furious were all modestly priced little engines that could series that grew with each installment. Even Despicable Me and Jurassic were in the middle range of budgets for their time. It is when Uni tries to go big out of the gate with 47 Ronin and RIPD and Battleship that they get creamed.

    So after Disney tried for years to be the imitation everyone else, and found success with their specialty, everyone else is going to chase Marvel’s strategy and fail miserably. I am flabbergasted with the article listing Paramount’s ideas. Transformers plus GI Joe plus MASK plus Micronauts plus Rom. That seems like just a intricate way to spell bankruptcy.

  30. PcChongor says:

    Which is exactly why Warners has been failing with trying to copy the Disney model. As soon as they go back to focusing on Midnight Special instead of Special Superman, they’ll hopefully hit their stride again.

    RIP Midnight Special

  31. EtGuild2 says:

    @Hcat, Fox spends on marketing and distribution for DWA titles. I can’t imagine they’ve been happy with the deal overall, as the company’s launched only a single new franchise in the last 6 years, has seen only 2 of its last 6 releases break the $400 million bare minimum for profitability, and announces a change in strategy every other quarter (btw…TROLLS might be the most annoying trailer since JACK & JILL). It’s sad, because Dragon and Panda are probably the two best active animated franchises, but barely make enough to justify their existence.

    I totally agree with Lane that Disney is playing a different game, but yeah, when you read about Paramount’s new ideas, Robin Hood cinematic universes, a 21 Jump Street/Men In Black crossover (I’m excited for this one but still) and Universal’s aborted attempts at a “Monster Cinematic Universe,” it’s clear other studios are sure willing to try.

    Speaking of Beyonce, I hope she makes an on-screen comeback. LEMONADE is an incredible work of art.

  32. amblinman says:

    Disney’s strategy with Marvel was inventive but it also worked because they took zero risks outside of the first Iron Man in terms of the actual filmmaking (and the only risk in that one was casting Downey at the time, movie was pretty cookie cutter). Most of the Marvel movies are just okay/good because of iron fist control over the entire process beginning to end. No strong/strange storytelling detours, solid, no frills casting, even villains that are completely vanilla. GOTG posed the biggest “threat” to this due to the source material but the finished product was in line with every other Marvel film produced.

    As a BO strategy, I totally get it. As a movie buff, it’s mostly boring for me.

  33. hcat says:


    But since Fox is distributing, wouldn’t they be getting first dollar gross on these titles? So they are repaid first, so while something like Penguins would have to be deep into ancillaries before it covers the budget that DWA put down, Fox’s marketing budget plus whatever percentage they get would be covered by the domestic release. They may not be thrilled with the agreement but they will probably recoup their costs on the DW titles sooner than they will with the Peanuts film.

    What Disney reminds me of most at the moment is 80’s Paramount. After Reds they seemed to have a similiar assembly line for hits and dominating market share. They could do almost no wrong for the next decade. And while that assembly line was uber profitable, it didn’t produce the classics that they had the previous decade. There were plenty solid 3 1/2 star movies (Tucker, Red October, Untouchables) but nothing compared to Raiders, Grease, Godfather and so many others. I get the same vibe from Disney fare, it all feels processed to produce the Disney feel and hit the same pleasure spots each time. And while that is fine if you see one or two movies from them a year, fatigue begins to set in if you watch more than half the slate (and I have two kids, so half the slate at the least is mandatory).

  34. EtGuild2 says:


    Yes, but spinning their wheels isn’t what they signed up for. Dreamworks, for years, was a close 2nd to Pixar in the world of computer animation. Now, if Illumination is finally able to expand their brand with PETS, they aren’t even in the the top 3. They’ve spent the last few years going back and forth, first saying they’re concentrating on TV/streaming, then turning around and saying they’re going to concentrate back on their “core” film business. 2 years ago on a much-discussed post-mortem conference call they said they’re going to to cut to 2 movies a year from now on, and suddenly we have one last year and three next year.

    I’d argue that the deal has cost them money, because of bizarrely ill-conceived scheduling. Fox has Blue Sky and a distribution deal with ReelFX that inexplicably had them marketing three major animated movies at virtually the same time TWICE, both in 2014 and 2013, and another 2 within a month of each other in 2014. People were surprised at the relative “success” of the generic-looking, mediocre HOME, but I’d argue that it was helped a lot by not having the same distribution company pile cartoons on top of each other.

  35. Hcat says:


    I am curious though, along with the minimal risk, wouldnt there also be minimal reward? After Fox takes their cut I don’t see them really sharing in the spoils if something got knocked out of the park. I can see the idea behind them taking it on for a quick buck and then being able to market their own stuff on the home video release (plus any recognizable big release gives them leverage with theaters and retailers), but you are right that when there is a glut in the marketplace Fox is competing against their own interests. It made sense when Paramount was releasing them, they desperately needed product, but Fox would do fine without them.

    Is DWA still in the red overall? At this point shouldnt they just call it a day and sell the catalog to the highest bidder?

  36. Mike says:

    “Is DWA still in the red overall? At this point shouldnt they just call it a day and sell the catalog to the highest bidder?”

    Aren’t they? I heard on the radio this morning that Comcast-Universal was making a bid to take them over.

  37. Hcat says:

    Hey look at that! That was probably in the works for awhile but since we are on the Internet I will take full credit for the idea and declare myself a genius. Not a bad fit, since illumination only does one a year they can drop DWA to one or so and they can not over saturate the market and still have plenty of animation tentpoles. Universal doesn’t have an established kid brand for television like Disney nick or Cartoon Network so DW helps them out there, as long as they don’t overspend it’s a decent plan.

    Now instead of ponying up a ton of money for a shared universe plan that will just go bust Hasbro should just purchase Paramount outright. Or maybe Lionsgate can buy the mountain, it’s pretty apparent that they will never cross that Major Studio Threshold on their own, they can just buy their way in.

  38. Hcat says:

    My god, 3.8 billion? That’s marvel money, that Lucas film money. The IP for DWA isn’t nearly as deep or exploitable as those two companies. Hopefully there is some below the waterline deal where Spielberg gives back some points in future Jurassic projects in exchange for making his investors whole, otherwise Comcast is dropping easily twice what this is worth.

  39. EtGuild2 says:

    @hcat, it depends on how the distribution fee is structured. Is it based on % gross receipts? Probably not, but I would assume there are incentive-based returns based on certain gross levels being achieved for individual titles, given that’s how it usually works (so as to give a distributor a reason to proactively market). So essentially Fox is earning the bare minimum it could. It’s not losing money directly, but yeah, movies like RIO 2 and EPIC I believe suffered due to the scheduling.

    And yeah, I’m not sure why the amount is that high. Does Shrek still make a ton of ancillary money we don’t pay attention to? (or maybe the Panda movies in China?) From a film standpoint DWA’s franchises are either dormant/dead (Shrek, Madagascar after the Penguins fiasco) or barely justifiable in continuing (Dragon, Panda, Croods), while their upcoming slate reads like a potential disaster (Trolls, and whatever Boss Baby and Captain Underpants are).

    This makes me wonder if Universal is worried that Illumination is just another Blue Sky, a studio with one flagship franchise, that has had success with just one new product in the last 14 years. It’s weird because Illumination’s upcoming products look good.

  40. Hcat says:

    For some perspective Paramount was valued at 4 billion when they reached out for a minority stake. This awaomeness TV must be a massive growth property, or Comcast just got took.

  41. palmtree says:

    DWA is counting on Trolls to be big, and they are not necessarily wrong about that.

  42. EtGuild2 says:

    The more I read about this deal, the more I think Comcast really IS trying to follow the Disney model. Talk about incorporating Shrek, Dragon, Lassie, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer et al into theme parks was rampant on their investor call.

    Additional thoughts:

    *TROLLS looks so bad to me, but obviously I’m not the target audience.

    *Ironic that this deal came on the weekend Uni/Focus releases what’s undoubtedly the worst animated movie they’ve ever distributed. I almost went into a catatonic state after viewing RATCHET & CLANK and MOTHERS DAY back-to-back on Wednesday.

    *I certainly hope that LAIKA isn’t a victim in this, but I feel like KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is really make or break now. I have no idea if Focus remains in a long-term deal with them, or they’re taking it picture by picture. After Dreamworks disowned Aardman following the FLUSHED AWAY debacle, it took them years to find a partner/distributor, and then Sony dumped them after their own animated division took off, which left them (thankfully) to seek refuge in Europe. That’s not something I can see Laika pulling off though:/ Maybe Paramount will be a safe haven if Comcast/Uni decides two animated divisions is more than enough….

  43. Hcat says:

    I will be shocked if there is not a rudolf theatrical feature by 2021.

    As for Lakia, they were never going to compete at this level, no matter how good their films are. I loved Coraline but Norman and Boxtrolls were just exercises in ugliness. And while I adore most of Aardman’s stuff, they were right to cut them loose. No one can afford to bleed cash like that.

  44. EtGuild2 says:

    I personally loved PARANORMAN. I’m just hoping that they can keep making movies. If garbage companies like Reel FX and Rainmaker can find a way to churn out productions, hopefully Laika can.

    Aardman should have never been co-producing stuff with Dreamworks, especially in an era when DWA was throwing money around like there was no tomorrow thanks to SHREK (BEE MOVIE, anyone?). CHICKEN RUN and WALLACE AND GROMIT were practically cash cows compared to the stuff DWA has released the last few years…it didn’t take a genius to realize Aardman’s stylized animation wasn’t going to break half a billion worldwide, but Katzenberg was determined to go for grand slams at every turn. LAIKA and AARDMAN should be able to make a quarter bil on $50 million budgets consistently, I just hope they’re given the chance in this animation arms race the majors are in.

  45. Hallick says:

    “I loved Coraline but Norman and Boxtrolls were just exercises in ugliness.”

    No, The Boxtrolls is demented greatness and Ben Kingsley gives an all-time great vocal performance as the baddie.

  46. martin says:

    Nice thread. When do we discuss WB vital signs? Comcast just poured accelerant on their inevitable merger.

    Is Fox still the lead suitor? Does a hybrd WB/Par/Sony finally commence?

    Tull wants to use Legendary’s Chinese capital, and that would be the easiest transition for WB. A Columbia/Tri-Star Redux.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon