The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2017

Friday Estimates by Slow-Cruising Flatliner Klady

Friiday Estimates 2017-09-30 at 10.33.27 AM

Tom Cruise Opens Movie

That should be the headline.

American Made isn’t having a great opening. But it opened. And there was little on offer other than Tom Cruise smiling. Not even Tom Cruise running. Certainly not enough story. The ads almost told us that it was Tom Cruise making a Burt Reynolds comedy, albeit without Dom DeLuise, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick and Charles Nelson Reilly.

I missed the screenings, but I am curious… mostly because Doug Liman is capable of true genius (and real crap). The film, I assume from the ads, was meant to look like a 70s film and will have that vibe. The choice interests me. And whatever made this story interesting to both Cruise and Liman interests me.

But from Universal, which is usually really, really good at telling you what is coming… it feels like a dump… like they are still upset about The Mummy or something. And I have zero inside info on this. Haven’t asked. Haven’t squeezed. Really, haven’t thought about it much until this very moment. But if I actually pay to see this movie this weekend, I am sure to be surprised, because all I know is that Cruise plays a pilot, smiles a lots, and transports drugs, eventually getting in over his head. “A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.” At least if you watch the trailer, you know there is a hot blonde wife and Domhnall Gleeson, who you know will probably end up being the bad guy.


But Cruise opened it. And for all of the downs in the last 11 years, starting with Mission: Impossible III, which lost enough money for Paramount that it broke their since-mended relationship, the guy still opens movies. $17 million ain’t $20 million, but still… if I was Universal, given what they sold – and maybe they maximized what they had, haven’t seen the movie and I don’t trust Rotten Tomatoes scores to tell me otherwise – they should be celebrating on Lankershim this weekend.

(Side Note: There is actually a Lankershim family (Bavarian, jewish) and Toluca used to be called “Lankershim.” The paterfamilias arrived in California in 1854 and by 1870 had massive land holdings from San Francisco to San Diego. He also converted to Baptist. When you are that wealthy, you could afford a better name. But I guess when you are that rich, you can impose your odd name on the entire valley. The Lankershims’ daughter, Susanna, married Isaac Newton Van Nuys… no relation to the genius… but many still live on his farm.)

Less fortunate than UniCruise was Rothman’s Flatliners, which seems to have forgotten why the original was a modest hit in 1990. Julia Roberts was in Pretty Woman a few months before it opened. She was engaging and disengaging in sexual relations with Kiefer Sutherland. Kevin Bacon was still in line to be the next leading man of Hollywood, in spite of setbacks. Oliver Platt was funny and identifiable. Even Billy Baldwin was maintaining the illusion that he could be a major movie star, the hotter younger brother of Alec, the star of that year’s The Hunt For Red October.

The first Flatliners opened to $10 million in 1990.

Put Chris Pratt and Dakota Johnson and Lupita Nyong’o and Tom Holland in Flatliners 2017 and you have a movie that cost 1/2 of what Passengers cost and does 5x what this Flatliners ever had any chance of doing. (I don’t expect anyone to be able to have seen Tiffany Haddish coming and cast her as the Oliver Platt 18 months ago.)

I love Ellen Page, as an actress and a human being. But she doesn’t open movies. Nor does Diego Luna. Nor does anyone fantasize about them having sex. Nor did they make the movie about Ellen’s lead character being gay and having a hot girlfriend. Nor do we know anything about Nina Dobrev as a star other than she is pretty. And Kiersey Clemons is buried by the rest of the cast (while she might be a real opener someday.)

The story of Flatliners remains fool’s gold for movies, since you can’t explain it without giving it away. It is the kind of piece that would be great as a $5 million Blumhouse movie that sells itself on the shock beats then overdelivers. But as a $20 million studio movie without stars that open… just an exercise in masturbation. Movie cold break even somewhere around $50 million worldwide. But every movie takes a lot of personpower at a studio. And… sigh…

Battle of the Sexes found its limitations yesterday in its first expansion. $3 million weekend. $2,500 per screen on 1,213. Not a flop. Can’t find a great comp. Hell or High Water may be the closest in the last couple of years, but it did $3.6m on 909 screens for a $3,908 per-screen. Battle is behind that. $20 million domestic total seems like the max.

Lucky, the last Harry Dean Stanton starrer, doing nicely for Magnolia on one screen.

Why is Mark Felt: Man Who Brought Down the White House called Mark Felt: Man Who Brought Down the White House??? Feels like you are going to watch a filmstrip, not a movie. Was every iteration of Deep Throat taken already? I guess Deep Throat/Big Schlong would be disrespectful to everyone… except maybe Liam Neeson. But silliness aside, this goes right on the shelf next to the Valerie Plame movie (from Doug Liman) as impossible-to-market, overly literal historical dramas.


Review-ish, Blade Runner 2049 (no spoilers)


This will be brief (for me, at least).

I don’t want to ruin a single surprise in this remarkable film.

Villeneuve, Scott, Deakins, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, and a big parade of filmmakers of every shape, size, gender and race have delivered a true sequel, which is also not a sequel as they tend to work with movies.

It is Aliens to Alien… or, ironically, Blade 2 to Blade.

Many of the old pieces are there, albeit in this story they have aged 30 years. But this is not, as Blade Runner was, a film noir set in a dystopian future. There is some dystopia. But the opening crawl gives us some positive news as well. And unless you really like Las Vegas, the world is not as grim as the first time around. And it is definitively not a film noir. Denis Villeneuve, as he has before, finds a more current reflection of well-established genre and takes it somewhere new, both saluting what we love and putting it in the rear view.

At the center of this film is, as expected, Ryan Gosling, who is perfect and not overly solicitous (which tends to leave some ignoring the deft care he puts into his work). But unlike the original, which had literally strong women who were somewhat objectified, our lead is surrounded by women of power… and in some cases, physical power. Each of the three women is complex and an important part of the emotional puzzle of the film. (Technically, I don’t think the film passes the Bechdel test… which is a limit of the Bechdel test in defining films in which women have a strong place.)

And as you know, the film brings back Harrison Ford’s Deckard as well. It turns out to be one of his most layered and rangy performances.

And oh, the setpieces.

The muthaf***ing setpieces!!!

There is a parade of wildly imaginative, beautifully rendered, quite different setpieces. I have my favorites (just gonna say… broken projector… you will understand later) and you will have your favorites. What seems easy becomes complex and what is complex may seem easy.

Villeneuve, Deakins and Dennis Gassner make sets and light and atmosphere into characters a number of times in this film… and it is glorious. It’s not Kubrickian… but it has some of that texture of hyper-reality that Kubrick brought to so many of his scenes.

In the cutting room, Joe Walker brought it all together in spite of serious challenges, especially super long beats that are not “how long a shot can I do” stunts, but need their space. You can feel that the freedom of CG must have made many things harder, leaving to many choices in post. Hard to explain what I mean without getting into specific scenes. But when the edit of what is shot in camera gets matched to a created CG element, it takes a special skill to cut subtly on emotion. And Walker, with Villeneuve nearby, does amazing work here.

Acting is pretty much great, top to bottom. Ana de Armas has a tough role to not allow to become frivolous and gets it just right. Jared Leto also has a really tough line to walk and with the help of some beautiful concept work, brings richness to a cipher. Sylvia Hoeks is like a young Marcia Gay Harden who can also be very physically dangerous. I don’t want to tell you who gives the film’s first unexpected acting turn because you deserve to be happily surprised by the subtly and skill of the performance as I was. Avoid the imdb page if you want to stay pure.

This movie grew on me and continues to grow on me.

One thing that really sticks: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” That title is embodied in this film. That isn’t really what Blade Runner was. There were elements of it, but it was busy with other ideas. BR2049 feels almost like Villeneuve and Ridley Scott had a four-day conversation and figured out what moved Denis about the source material, about the original film, and about 2017… and then brought the greatest film artists in the world together to breathe life into it.

Don’t think about it too much. Try not to read reviews or articles about the film. And while you watch… and just after you watch… deep breaths. Let it bloom in your mind and your heart.

We’ll talk about it again…


Trailering Annihilation And The Killing of a Sacred Deer




The first wave of the very cautiously-embargoed Blade Runner 2049 are out. What are your expectations for Denis Villeneuve’s 164-minute sequel?




Weekend Estimates by The Klady Circle of It

Wknd Estimates 2017-09-24 at 10.24.28 AM

Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes up with the lower end of expectations, still scoring the fifth best September opening of all time as this month stands to break most every September record. It continues to hold well, given the big numbers, as it positions Itself to pass $300 million domestic next weekend. Lego Ninjago fights to just over $20 million, which is a small genre franchise kind of number, not the machine WB was counting on. Friend Request, conservatively marketed by Entertainment Studios, won’t make back that small marketing number, much less acquisition costs. And Stronger gets a fighter’s chance with some audience sampling, but the future for the film is blurry at best.

Not only is this September going to be the highest-grossing September of all time by 15% or more (we’ll see how next weekend goes), but it is already the highest-grossing September-for-September releases by 6%, the first time September releases have ever generated $400 million during the month.

And mind you, this will be the biggest September ever in spite of the worst holdover numbers from the summer in more than a decade (I stopped checking with 2006). In those previous 11 years, there was no holdover from the summer of less than $230 million in September. We’re at $186 million as of this weekend. Holdovers added between $10m and $13m this weekend.

Will September make up for August? No.

But if, hypothetically, It had opened in August and done similar business, that single title would have made 2017 the third-best August ever. And September, depending on next weekend’s openers, would, in theory, have been down, but not dramatically. This doesn’t make 2017 a barn-burner at the box office. But it might offer perspective.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle didn’t get the hoped-for bump from two years of post-theatrical excitement around the original, but the sequel did open better than the original. I enjoyed the sequel, but not as much as the original. The reviews deserve their own place in memory, reading like a parade of reviewers exhausted by overpraising It and defending mother!, looking for something to unload on. Negative is one thing. But reading through those reviews is like being at a divorce proceeding. Machinegun briefcases, men in meat grinders, characters brought back from the dead… that needs a whuppin’! Lots of whining about too many star actors… but the surprise to me was the key role given to Pedro Pascal, who was great in “Narcos” and “Game of Thrones,” but felt out of his star range here.

Most film criticism is straight. Good, bad or indifferent, opinions seem direct and to the point. I write this two or three times a year. And a couple times a year, a couple movies get too much love and blowback on some film is as inevitable as the sun rising. I don’t think it is a conspiracy or that anyone talks about the reflex. It just happens… like the seasons.

The next instance will be in the heat of award season.

Regardless, Kingsman 2 will land amongst the Top 10 September grossers ever.

The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much. A $21 million opening for a major studio animated family movie is weak. The titles considered “misses” in animation recently all opened to more. As the father of a 7-year-old, I know that Ninjago is a niche in the Lego universe. My son wants to see the movie, but he’s not rabid. And a lot of his friends, especially girls, have no interest. Since Ninjago has zero footprint with anyone who was a Lego fan five years or more ago and no footprint as anything else besides as a Lego brand, I’m not sure why they made the movie. As a direct-to-streaming title or for Cartoon Network, okay. But this title was never going to do anything good for the Lego movie brand… unless it was as special as Lord & Miller’s The Lego Movie. Making the Ninjago movie was kinda like making the next Justice League spin-off about Cyborg.

Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, getting a rep around town for being persnickety, tried another low-budget assault on the majors with Friend Request and missed badly. $840 per screen for any opening leaves people sleepless. Back to the drawing board.

Lionsgate took Stronger to an odd number of screens (574) and got an odd number per screen ($2.990). Neither fish nor fowl, the distributor will look hard at every metric to decide how much farther they want to chase this film.

Searchlight took Battle of the Sexes out on a more traditional 21 screens, looking to build an audience. $25k per is a strong open. The relevant comps from last year are Hidden Figures and Hell or High Water. And that is the question that will be bouncing around for the next couple of weekends at Searchlight. It was the question coming out of the festivals. Which is it?

The other awards season launch this weekend was Focus’ Victoria & Abdul. Four screens. $38k per. Lion or Loving? Judi Dench is getting a Best Actress nod. The film has a serious shot at Best Picture nods and more.


Friday Estimates by Kladyman: The Golden Excel Chart

Friday Estimates 2017-09-23 at 9.19.56A


Weekend EstimITes by American klady!

Weekend Estimates 2017-09-17 at 11.54.09 AM
What more can I write about this weekend?

If you want to know where to place the It hold, which is excellent, it is hammocked by Beauty & The Beast (better) and Guardians 2 (not quite as excellent). Not close to the amazing Wonder Woman drop (43%). Amongst $100m openers, it’s right around Avengers and Dark Knight, albeit from a smaller opening number.

In other words, pretty much as surprising and excellent as the opening.

Doing less than one-quarter of the leader, American Assassin opened okay.

And the fight over mother! seems clear. Some want to defend the film’s aesthetic honor and blame anything else they can for the weak box office. Some people want to throw the film in the bin. I am waiting to see the film again before reviewing (this week, I hope). But I think both sides have a point and both sides are ridiculous. I find the film of much more value than The Trash Bin Club. But the conspiracy theories against the greatest artist of our time folks… love Darren… he’s not Kubrick… not close. Ironically, the movie is about, in part, some of the people defending Darren’s vision… and not in a pretty way.

Happy to see Frederick Wiseman in the $10k per-screen club this weekend. Also there, Brad’s Status.

Next weekend should be more interesting.


Friday Estimates by Kladywise

friday estimates serpt 15 2017
What do you say when the second weekend of a movie breaks the month’s former record for the best opening, even in that month? Holy It!

Even The Passion of the Christ didn’t do that. Nor did The Avengers. If you take American Sniper‘s second wide weekend as its second weekend, it accomplished this in January 2015, grossing $64.6 million vs top opener Ride Along, which had opened to $41.5m in 2014.

To be honest, I still personally do not understand why It is such a phenomenon, though I do understand why such a huge opening becomes a social vacuum that sucks in a lot of ticket sales the next weekend. People tend to personalize box office analysis in a way that it isn’t personal. I am happy for WB and for exhibitors and all the fans who are so passionate about this film. And on a personal note, I suspect that the sequel, which will actually be based on the book and not just made up as a cash grab, could be better than the first film of the franchise.

The core principle of great box office success, in this era as in the four decades since Star Wars, is that the will of the ticket buyer overcomes all rules. Star Wars in December, which didn’t come close to Avatar’s first-run total, expanded the idea of an opening weekend in that month. Deadpool created a new front in February. Alice in Wonderland took March a giant leap forward. Spider-Man and later, The Avengers set standards in their day. And now, It.

And even if Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens to $50 million next weekend, which would have set a record for September were it not for It, it will now look small. Falsely, but perception is perception.

The all-time record for September grosses, overall, is $627 million in 2015. It alone is on pace to gross about half of that. (High grosser in 2015 was Hotel Transylvania 2 with $170 million.) With Kingsman and Lego coming, September should smash the old record and probably top the best October ($758 million) as well.

On top of this, this will be the third month of 2017 to record the highest-ever overall grossers, with March and April both the best ever to date. That three best-ever months out of nine months of the year. And February was the third-best February ever, missing the top of that list by $35 million with $783 million in revenue.

So yes, August sucked. It was horrible. And a great big part of that was that the majors released just TWO movies widely in the entire month. It’s a shocking figure and the only real answer to “What happened to August?” There were six wide major studio releases in August 2016. Six in 2015. Eight in 2014.

And what really makes no sense… August 2016 was the highest-grossing August ever (inc holdovers from earlier in the summer). So there was nothing to scare studios out of the month.

If you really think about it, given that the majors released one-third of their normal August output this year, August did pretty well. I know. It’s perverse. But to make up for the lack of product – and this is not an exaggeration – either The Dark Tower or Annabelle: Creation would have had to have been the highest-grossing August release, and by a lot… Say, $500 million domestic. (Guardians of the Galaxy did $333m.) And they still would have needed more help than they got from late-July entries The Emoji Movie, Atomic Blonde and Detroit.

2017 was running roughly 5% behind 2016 at the domestic box office going into this month. That number should be cut in half (or more) by the end of September.

American Assassin will be in the Top 3 all-time of CBS Films (now distributed by Lionsgate) openings. I saw the movie a while ago, to do an interview with Michael Cuesta that never happened. I like Michael Cuesta. He’s a long way from L.I.E. and Twelve these days. He’s become a commercial director. Most famous for launching “Homeland,”this film is an upgraded double episode. Entertaining and expected. Always a pleasure to watch Michael Keaton work (though he needs a big comic role about now… his immature energy is much desired).

It’s an interesting moment to notice that although Summit hasn’t been killing it lately, they are still the stronger part of Lionsgate output. Since Hunger Games ended, one Madea and Power Rangers (output deal) are the only straight LG films to open over $20m while the LG/Summit films have seven such launches. The reasons why can be disputed. But it is.

Of course, American Assassin won’t open to $20m either. The CBS Films experiment only ever had one of those openings… and just barely.

Opening at $3 million and likely falling farther as the weekend progresses, mother! tried to squeeze a studio opening out of a ripe arthouse orange. Paramount made magic with Paranormal Activity, but every advantage that Paramount hoped to have with this film has backfired on them.

Just two years after the end of The Hunger Games, which she eclipsed by sheer star power, Jennifer Lawrence’s future as one of the three top movie stars in the world is under serious reconsideration. Passengers struggled to $300 million worldwide, which still left it bleeding red. Lawrence did X-Men: Apocalypse, having to know that she would have the entire franchise hoisted onto her shoulders… and it, too, wildly underperformed (and probably cost Jim G his Century City job). And Joy, her first of the three post-Hunger outings, was widely seen as a disappointment (and in the red).

Some may scream “SEXISM” about now… but it’s not. The Rule of Three is real and it applies to all genders, races, etc. Tom Cruise has been here. Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest star in the world right now, hasn’t been up long enough to fall. Will Smith is still trying to find his mega-movie-star feet since Men in Black III underperformed ($625m worldwide).

I don’t know what advice to offer Jennifer Lawrence. And she certainly isn’t required to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world forever. But the franchise thing keeps turning up. It has saved Tom Cruise. Mission:Impossible III laid him low… but Mission: Impossible IV made him relevant again, and the franchise is now a successful backstop against missteps (American Made, which is probably better than the ads suggest… the next one?).

Red Sparrow is an important film for her now. On a commercial level, Charlize couldn’t pull it off. Taraji Henson is next (January 12, Proud Mary). Red Sparrow has to kick both of those films’ ass. Needs a $30 million launch. Because there is this stat, which I found shocking… J-Law has no $20m openings that aren’t X-Men or Hunger Games. None. Seven $50 million-plus openings in six years is extremely compelling… but the 0-for outside of those two franchises is a real thing and a very real thing to studios getting the $20 million for Lawrence’s work. If you needed an explanation as to why she signed up for Dark Phoenix… that’s it.

If Red Sparrow blows up, Lawrence can make a couple mother!s between episodes and all will be “forgiven.” Or she becomes a really beloved 30something actress who is stuck waiting to relaunch her career as a movie mother. Or she gives up on commercial cinema for a while and makes a run of movies with great indie filmmakers from around the world. Or… who knows? But the ebb and flow of this industry is brutal. And if Red Sparrow does Atomic Blonde business, the “Whither J-Law?” stories will begin.

That brings us to Reese Witherspoon, whose movie career since she won her Oscar for Walk The Line should be closely examined by Team J-Law.

I wonder whether Nancy Meyers would have allowed Reese Witherspoon to recreate the famous Home Alone one-sheet image for the poorly named Home Again. They needed something to break the clutter. As far as I can tell, the story is about a single mother who has sex with or is tempted a lot by college-aged boys to act out their MILF fantasies. (I wonder if Nancy Meyers would have allowed a name change to “MILF.”) That and the Home Alone face on posters may have opened this thing to more than $5 million. I’m kidding… but I’m not. Pretty as the outdoor was for this movie, there was no compelling reason for anyone to be conscious of this film, much less plan to go to the movies, as they did for the crassly named Bad Moms or raunchily-advertised Girls Trip.

Annapurna’s second release, Brad’s Status, opened okay. Just okay.

I saw Brad’s Status a month ago. Liked it. Thought it was imperfect and not really an Oscar play. But it was the kind of movie that could have launched a lot of discussion threads and opened to more than this. But it felt like once it didn’t get into Telluride and just gave up. Do some last-second press in Toronto, out comes the baby, less than a week later.

Brad’s Status was never going to be a huge hit. But it could have done better in the bubble and continued Ben Stiller’s reputation for pushing himself beyond commercial cinema (now six years from a $20m opening). Sometimes, you can feel a movie falling through the cracks. Happens.


Harry Dean, Off To The Dan Tana’s In The Sunset Sky

Lucky Harry Dean Stanton


“What’s IT All About, Beee Ohhhh?!”

it money

This is what changed about box office and here is when it changed…

People will go see a movie they really want to see on any date in massive numbers. Passion of the Christ. February 25, 2004. $83 million opening weekend.

Here are other titles that have made Hollywood reconsider release-dating since…

Ice Age: The Meltdown, March 31, 2006, $68 million

300, March 9, 2007, $71 million

Fast & Furious, April 3, 2009, $71 million

Paranormal Activity, September 25, 2009, platform opening

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, November 20, 2009, $143 million

Alice in Wonderland, March 5, 2010, $116 million

The Lorax, March 2, 2012, $70 million

The Hunger Games, March 23, 2012, $153 million

Avengers, May 4, 2012, $207 million

The LEGO Movie, February 7, 2014, $69 million

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, April 4, 2014, $95 million

Guardians of the Galaxy, August 1, 2014, $94 million

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 18, 2015, $248 million

Fifty Shades of Grey, February 7, 2016, $85 million

Deadpool, February 12, 2016, $132 million

Furious 7, April 3, 2016, $147 million

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, March 25, 2016, $166 million

Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016, $134 million

Beauty and the Beast, March 17, 2016, $175 million

It, September 8, 2017, $123 million

January and October are now the only months not to have $60 million domestic 3-day openings. (Even if you count American Sniper‘s first wide 3-day, in weekend 4, January and October are still the only months with no $90m+ openings.)

You’ll notice the non-franchise pictures sticking out. 300. The Lorax. The Lego Movie. Fifty Shades of Grey. And now, It.

These movies (and some others, like Deadpool) made a lot of their own gravy. Things that are true about their successes do not translate to other movies. Of course, there is a lot of gray in that. For instance, was Logan‘s success play off of Deadpool or was it so different that it hit a completely different vein (in the same time period).

This analysis is not meant to diminish It. Nor to bury it. The film is a legitimate phenomenon. But it is not the first… not even this year.

And it is not the savior of anything… not even Warner Bros, which has had a nice run of 4 legit hits in their last 5 releases.

Media needs to get out of the old paradigm of how previous media reported box office. Summer and Holiday season are still uniquely important. But it doesn’t much effect the WB bottom line whether that have a massive hit in August or September (detailed cash flow issues, yes, but put those aside for the moment)… but it matters a lot in how the industry is covered.

Beauty & The Beast doesn’t not matter because it was released in Q1. Nor does international box office because we don’t get a clean set of numbers from the studios every week like we do for the domestic box office.

There are many theories about what connected about It. I don’t deny any of them. But I also don’t think I have heard of any combination that can be repeated in any real way either. Warners has had well marketed flops. Lots of Stephen King movies.

Now, did the movie come out of the tracking gate very strong and then build on that sense of a huge hit coming, more by the nature of audiences than by any unique marketing or publicity effort? Yeah. Seems fair to me. But how did it get into the gate at $70 million, which would have made it a record breaker even at that number? And did WB screw up by not flipping the film with Annabelle: Creation and having the film open on August 11? No one can credibly deny that the scheduling makes clear that WB felt A:C was a stronger play (before it came on tracking).

This is central to the nature of the $100m+ opening segment of the film industry which is now very much a part of regular order.

Remember, the first $100 million opening domestic 3-day in the history of cinema was just 15 years ago, in 2002. In 2015, there were 6. In 2016, there were 8. We have already had 5 this year.

And if everyone is being honest – heaven forbid – there is no rhyme or reason to be sorted out between mast of these numbers. No one expects The Spanish Inquisition… or a $248 million opening for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December.

Yes, I know there are people who predicted it. There are enough voices out there that everything is predicted. And then the 90% of the time they are wrong, no one cares, but we will forever here about the rare moment “they” are right. Yawn.

I am talking about people with a vested interest or who cover this stuff professionally. This is not an insult to the amateur anglers. But with a professional interest, it is not supposed to be such a guessing game. History is taken seriously. And when it comes time to disregard history, you move on… can’t linger in the past, even though it will most often show the answers of the future.

This is the super-tricky thing about analyzing this industry. Movies are not widgets. And I am not saying that because I love movies (though I do and movies are not widgets that way either). Every movie is a new product launch with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of variables that may or way not get the movie where it wants to go commercially (or aesthetically… but not the conversation at hand).

Four of the six top worldwide grossers last year were movies about animals featuring anthropomorphic animals. Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and The Secret Life of Pets.

Now you do the analysis…

Domestic Opening

Finding Dory, $133m
Secret Life of Pets, $104m
Jungle Book, $103m
Zootopia, $75m

Domestic Total
Finding Dory, $486m
Secret Life of Pets, $368m
Jungle Book, $364m
Zootopia, $341m

International Total
Zootopia, $683m
Jungle Book, $603m
Finding Dory, $542m
Secret Life of Pets, $507m

Worldwide Total
Finding Dory, $1.03b
Zootopia, $1.02b
Jungle Book, $967m
Secret Life of Pets, $876m

These are, obviously, all great successes. But can anyone legitimately differentiate what separates each? One thing that sticks out is that there seems more interested in domesticated animals in the North American while the rest of the world is somewhat more interested in wild animals.

Okay… interesting. But how does one parse that out? And can it be repeated?

Talking Animals of 2016
Total – $3.9 billion – avg $974m

Superhero Movies of 2016
Total – $4.8 billion – avg $796m

Then look at it this way…

Superhero Totals Since 2012
2012 – $3.7 billion (3 – avg $1.1b)
2013 – $2.9 billion (4 – avg $736m)
2014 – $3.6 billion (5 – avg $720m)
2015 – $2.1 billion (3 – avg $698m)
2016 – $4.8 billion (6 – avg $796m)
2017 to-date – $3.1 billion (4 – avg $780m)

Last year was the biggest grossing year for superhero movies ever. Yet, the average worldwide gross per movie is extremely consistent since the blow-up year of 2012, when Marvel’s Avengers, Batman, and Spider-Man were all in play.

So since the average gross of talking animal movies topped the best average in the last 5 years for superhero movies, will Hollywood revert to all talking animal movies? Of course not. But if the media figured out that stat, this would be covered as an inevitability.

Thing is, I think you can be pretty sure that talking animal movies will turn up a lot in the next few years. And most of them will die an ugly box office death.

Stats are a dangerous thing in the hands of people who don’t know what questions those stats should be trying to support.

This also brings us around to the Rotten Tomatoes discussion, wherein Captain America: Civil War gets the highest RT score of the superhero movies and grosses the most… but second-best RT scorer, Doctor Strange, is the 5th highest grosser. What does it mean? Not much… but that is my point.

Deconstructing how things went down on any one movie is virtually impossible from the outside. The takes from inside the group that made the film are, like any high school, variable depending on who is telling the story. Then start trying to qualify the decisions, good and bad, that were made along the way and you realize that “truth” is an illusion.

This is most true of great success and great failure.

Toby Emmerich was quoted somewhere about It, saying something to the effect of “I am gratified by how this has been embraced by the audience.” And that is about as honest a comment as you will find because he isn’t pretending that his vision was of this degree of success, he is not pretending that the bumps in the road weren’t there, and he is not crediting some magic trick done by marketing.

I have believed, going back to the early days of $100 million openers, that every film that wildly over-opens by expected standards starts by being handled in the standard and smart way the marketing departments at every major are capable of delivering (and do regularly). Then, something happens that is really beyond the control of the handlers. And a second level of nourishing and building on the out-sized passions of the audience then occurs. Maybe a third.

Mind you, the explosive nature of this event is mostly happening and changing within a six week period.

And then you have this explosion. And everyone wants to understand why it happened. Why is this movie different than all the other movies?

All the machinery and money and effort and love that goes into getting people to buy a ticket to your Movie X over their Movie Y… all real professionals who are real smart behind the wheel… and the answer is, “Ticket buyers wanted to see it.”

The horror business has been hugely successful in recent years, really starting with Paranormal Activity (in this generation of business) and its terribly clever campaign by Paramount. (Mind you… couldn’t open Ghost in the Shell while another studio had a shock win with Lucy… go figure. Did one group get dumb and the other get Lucy-ed? Of course not.)

Jason Blum, who has become the master of the genre for his generation, has has a 2017 as surprising as It‘s openings. He has made 3 or 4 movies every year since Paranormal and the majority have been profitable hits. But this year, suddenly, after 6 years without a $100m domestic grosser, boom. Split does $138 million domestic and Get Out does $176 million domestic.

What happened? What changed?

And in terms of It, there has been only one horror movie since Get Out, all the way back in February/March, Annabelle: Creation, which carried the weight and advantage of being the 4th in a series (cousins once removed of Mr. Blum). So is that it? A happy buzz from Get Out leading to a 6-month hunger for the next “original” horror film that looked good and It was that?

In the end, I think I feel about the handling of these unexpected mega-openers like parents who give birth to prodigies. Yes, they are capable of breaking the child and killing the gift. But that is rare. Most likely (in this case), they will be responsible and caring and do their best to create the best possible environment for the gift to blossom and grow. And then, when there is success, they will brad on it and enjoy the new cars and houses that their hugely successful child is likely to offer out of love.

These are career-making and career-saving events. Like the director or star of a massive hit, the behind-the-scenes players also get a boost and a pass for a nice period of time. Some will effectively built on the win. Others will quickly fade. Because the real answer to these phenomena is, I think, that it is almost always more than the sum of It‘s parts.

Except when it’s not.


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It proves what has been clear for a long time… when you have THE movie that people want to see, you could open it in a sewer during a hurricane and it will still open great.

That said ,It has nothing at all to do with August box office or the summer. Had It been released in August, it would have had a similar opening and delivered a Top 3 all-time August opening and by itself would have made the drop from 2016 about 5% smaller. Had there been another Compton-level August release, the summer would have been about the same as 2014. There still would have been hysteria… but that is entertainment coverage. Everything is tainted by obsessive myopia (in great part because the trades have erased institutional memory).

And for those of you anxious to tell me how wrong I was about the It opening, yes… I was wrong last month. But I was factually accurate. This opening should more than double the previous best September opening (Hotel Transylvania 2‘s $48.2m launch). That is a major box office event. And WB, before tracking came on insane, would have been giddy with a $40 million opening and wet their pants for a $55m open. This number will have execs wrestling for credit for many months, especially in conversations with the new AT&T overlords.

It should also be the #2 all-time R-rated opening, which gives WB four of the Top 6 of all-time.

Paranormal Activity 3‘s $52.6 million opening was the previous R-rated top opening in the genre. The Conjuring‘s $42 million opening was top original opening. Insidious Chapter 2 was the PG-13 champ with $40 million. (Scary Movie, a spoof of horror, had a second-best ever $42.3 million launch.)

Why did It open like this? There will be stories with numbered lists all next week, explaining that the authors really don’t know. I don’t know either. Hollywood loves formula and this will be a formula that every exec in town – even Jason Blum – will be trying to solve.

I would say that It has It… the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield… between James Dean and Montgomery Clift… between The Rock and Jason Statham. It’s not that the others are inherently inferior. They aren’t. But some films – and talent – just rises above in a way that can’t quite be explained… at least when we are being honest.

Some will say that I am saying this because I don’t personally have the answer. But that is not completely true. If I were an exec, I would have happily made It and would have expected to make money. But no one can honestly claim they saw this coming. (Yes, fanboys… you saw it coming…. ya.) Hollywood is littered with big expectations for Stephen King movies. Children gathering to fight off ultimate evil is nothing new. Some really terrific movies have done a lot less business in September.

My personal standard for analysis requires the ability to see the repetition of a phenomenon, preferably at least three or four times before being embraced.

For a long while, Sony and Screen Gems owned the September genre slot. There were 26 $20m+ openings in September between 2003 and 2015. Seventeen of them were from Sony divisions. Three were cartoons, but the rest were in the action genre.

This opening, as well as the likely $45 million+ opening of Kingsman 2, will change how studios see September. But it’s worth noting that both of this month’s likely big opens (by September standards) are genre films. Sully is also still on the radar though, with its $35 million launch last year.

BUT… it must be noted, both in micro and macro, that the major studios didn’t release a single movie between Annabelle: Creation‘s August 11 launch and It‘s September 8 launch. Abandoned the space. Almost a full month. And this is with everyone really expecting The Dark Tower to be a bust months out. Atomic Blonde came up from the minors to be handled by Big Universal, but July 21’s Dunkirk/Girls Trip weekend was the end of the summer for everyone except Sony (who had The Emoji Movie and Dark Tower before they, too, shut down).

Who the HELL scheduled this summer for the majors?

Fox did great putting Apes 2 in July in 2014… but they were hammocked by non-competitors, Tammy and Deliver Us From Evil the weekend before, and The Purge, Sex Tape and Planes the weekend after. This summer? Right in there between Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk. Are you kidding??? With the entire month of August open?

June was brutally dense. Could The Mummy have opened huge, even with Wonder Woman the weekend before, had audiences wanted it? Of course. But was there another $20 million in lazy “we’re at the theater… what should we go to?” in August? Probably. Baby Driver did great, but the strategic move to create more positive energy at Sony by moving the action-comedy to late June, long before The Dark Tower and cleaning up the Rough Night mess, probably cost that film $20 million domestic.

Congratulations to It and to Warner Bros. I would be more thrilled if it was a very good movie. It’s not. Another myth busted… quality reflected in wide release box office… ha.

And by the way… Open Road opened a Reese Witherspoon movie from the Spawn of Meyers/Shyer this weekend. It is doing about what Reese Witherspoon can be expected to do these days. Reese owned the September opening record for a decade with Sweet Home Alabama (2002). So there is something perfect about her having a new release on the date where the new September record-holder lands.

I can hear Nancy Meyers screaming about Open Road screwing up her kid’s movie release from over here on the other side of Beverly Hills from her elegant kitchen in (enter wealthy enclave). But she is wrong. It’s been over eight years since Witherspoon had a $20 million opening. I don’t think RT changed the box office, but the movie is a Rotten Tomatoes 32. The marketing budget at Open Road was never going to be the size of Sony or Universal, perhaps faking out more people into buying tickets this weekend. But a $10 million launch for Home Again is a win, in my book. And no blaming It. In fact, I bet a chunk of this Reese opening is a counterprogramming win for women who like Reese and don’t want to be scared. (They can go to It and not be scared… but…)


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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