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EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Soon Latest Studio Closing Big Co-Financing Film Deal

EXCLUSIVE: All of the Sony parent company brass from Japan including Kazuo Hirai are in Culver City this week for meetings to discuss among other things the film studio. Finally, here’s some good news for Amy Pascal et al. I’ve learned that Sony Pictures is in the process of closing a rich co-financing deal. Sources say the 3-year transaction could start as soon as January 1st (or whenever it closes) and covers Sony movies for at least 2014, 2015, and 2016 (but perhaps not Screen Gems’). I’m told the entity Blue Anchor Entertainment is bringing $300M-$350M in equity and there could be an additional line of credit. For instance Bank Of America/Merrill Lynch at one point was approached for $350 million – but now bankers are being asked for less. ”Sony has been searching for a co-fi partner since its deal with Relativity ended. And they became desperate this summer as all the other studios closed co-fi transactions and Sony’s movies failed,” an insider tells me. “The Sony Pictures deal will be very similar to the Fox/Chip deal, the Warners/Dune deal, and the Universal/Legendary deal. Sony expects this reduction in risk on their slate to mollify investors such as Daniel Loeb and to make Wall Street very happy.”  Read More »

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‘Cloudy With Meatballs 2′ Beefs Up For $35M And Easy #1, ‘Rush’ Slows To Small $10.6M, ‘Baggage Claim’ Gets Lost With $9.2M, And ‘Don Jon’ Can’t Seduce Past $8.8M Weekend

SUNDAY 8 AM, 6TH UPDATEA total of 4 major releases this weekend amounted to a soft domestic box office with total moviegoing slightly below last year’s. Sony Pictures Animation’s 3D sequel to its 2009 instant children’s classic, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, managed to meet the studio’s lowball expectations of almost $35M, ahead of the first Cloudy‘s $30.3M opening even though sequel didn’t open in IMAX like that did. Result was the 4th biggest September opener of all time, but only a so-so toon result considering the big ones should manage $40+M debuts. The ‘A-’ CinemaScore, same as the original’s, helped word of mouth for the all-important Saturday kiddie bump which amounted to +63% over Friday since parents and their offspring lately have been underserved in the marketplace. Of course, it was also a massive release compared to the middling runs of the other newcomers this weekend. Studio said 80% of the audience was families - 37% parents, 43% children under age 12 and 20% were general moviegoers aged 12 and up. With a budget of $78M on CWACOM2, Sony Animation is taking a page from Universal’s Illumination Entertainment (makers of the hugely profitable Despicable Me franchise) and keeping costs modest. The division which turned 10 last year is now under Bob Osher and his head of production Michelle Raimo Kouyate. In the past five years, toon unit has created 3 franchises: Smurfs (whose sequel is crossing $300M worldwide), Hotel Transylvania ($348M), and CWACOM ($245.8M). Cloudy 2 opened day and date in only 3 territories – Central America, Chile, and Vietnam – this weekend. Directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, pic has a large voice cast including Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and Benjamin Bratt. Not sure why I should describe the pic’s marketing campaign since Sony Pictures unfairly fired film marketing chief Marc Weinstock when the fact is the studio’s 2013 product has mostly underwhelmed and the brass didn’t want to blame themselves. Even in this case, critics gave Cloudy 2 only 58% fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes complaining that the sequel wasn’t as “clever or inventive as its predecessor but compensates with enough dazzling visuals”.

Ron Howard’s Formula One R-rated adult actioner Rush from Imagine Entertainment and Revolution Films, with Universal distributing in the U.S. only, expanded after platforming a week ago. It earned an ‘A-’  CinemaScore from audiences to add to stellar reviews from critics. But ticket sales remained slow and disappointing – only an $10.3M weekend and $10.6M domestic cume - so the curse of car racing pics lives on. Note that Rush‘s negative cost to financiers Exclusive Media and Cross Creek was only $38M. Movie should do better overseas where Formula One is a major sport. It was #1 in the UK and has banked $17.6M in 21 territories where Exclusive is distributing. Entertainment One Group is releasing in Canada. When you’re a 2-time Academy Award winner (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) and rich and successful to boot, you’ve earned the right like Ron Howard to pursue your passion projects especially when his directing debut was Grand Theft Auto back in 1977. Even more so when you find your own financing for them like he’s done here. Rush was directed by Howard who reteams with Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan to rev the 1970s true story rivalry between Grand Prix racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It stars Chris Hemsworth who if he’s truly the next worldwide action star (after success in Thor and The Avengers and Snow White And The Huntsman) should have opened this film far bigger helped by a full frills TV campaign. Problem is pic is only appealing to older males and building among older females but not drawing younger moviegoers. Howard directs and Morgan scripts to much acclaim as well as produces with Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver, and of course Imagine partner Brian Grazer. But the low gross could affect the pic’s Oscar chances despite awards buzz since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and 90% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fox Searchlight’s PG-13 waste-of-time rom-com Baggage Claim also won an ‘A-’ CinemaScore despite dismal critical reviews – only 18% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and opened with $9.2M. The studio was so embarrassed  by this dopey premise pic that it never bothered sending me any pre-release or post-release intel about it. That said, films about a flight attendant’s love life belong back in the 1960s. The 2013 twist that she’s African-American is just lame. Written and directed and produced by David E. Talbert (whose first movie was 2008′s First Sunday and who gave his wife an exec producer credit because he cribbed from her female friends’ conversations), pic stars Paula Patton who co-starred in FSL’s 2010 Just Wright and whom many believe wouldn’t have such a thriving movie career if she weren’t married to Robin Thicke. Unfortunately Taye Diggs and Djimon Hounsou also co-star in this crapfest. I rarely praise Tyler Perry but he would have found a fresher way to position this.

Still, at the box office it beat out Relativity’s R-rated Don Jon‘s $8.8M weekend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing, writing, and starring vehicle, pic followed its January Sundance debut with a late night bidding battle that ended with Relativity paying a $4 million advance and a $25 million P&A commitment for a film financed by Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier on just a $3 million budget. (Although Relativity says it’s $5M-$6M.) Even an interesting supporting cast of Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Rob Brown didn’t help. Too bad pic received a disappointing ‘C+’ CinemaScore with audiences despite 81%  positives on Rotten Tomatoes with critics. A HitRecord/Ram Bergman production, it looks like a mistake to have bowed to Gordon-Levitt’s wishes and distributed Don Jon in 2,422 theaters in North America without platforming first. (Remtrack is releasing in Canada, and Voltage International overseeing international.) What’s sad here is that a film called original, unexpected, and daring for trying to reinvent the tired rom-com genre was overlooked by audiences despite a plethora of TV advertising and other awareness. Marketing kicked off with the MTV audience via the VMAs a month ago followed by very heavy and high profile cable including Comedy Central’s James Franco Roast and the usual sports games. Interestingly, Relativity was the first studio to drive audiences from a TV spot directly to the film’s official Tumblr Page. Gordon-Levitt took over IMDB.com as guest editor and Xbox Live: Home Channel hosted a full-day roadblock right after Grand Theft Auto V was released. Despite Don Jon‘s low gross this weekend, Relativity claims this is one of the highest recent openings for a directorial debut by an actor. Let’s remember that Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone only did $5.5M its first weekend – and he became a major helmer.

Here’s the Top Ten list based on weekend estimates:

1. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 3D (Sony) NEW [Runs 4,001] PG
Friday $9.2M, Saturday $15.0M, Weekend $35.0M

2. Prisoners (Alcon/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,290] R
Friday $3.3M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $11.0M (-46%), Cume $38.8M

3. Rush (Imagine/Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,297] R
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $4.3M, Weekend $10.3M, Cume $10.6M

4. Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight) NEW [Runs 2,027] PG13
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.8M, Weekend $9.2M

5. Don Jon (Relativity) NEW [Runs 2,422] R
Friday $3.2M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $8.8M
Read More »

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SNL: So If You Hate HBO’s ‘Girls’…

By | Sunday September 29, 2013 @ 2:45am PDT

The only thing unfunnier than HBO’s Girls and Lena Dunham is this Saturday Night Live spoof:

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Living Legend David Picker’s Movie Memoir

By | Friday September 27, 2013 @ 7:35am PDT

Here’s a wonderful reason to interrupt my vacation: my longtime pal David V. Picker has finally published his Hollywood memoir – Musts, Maybes And Nevers. A one-time wunderkind who is 3rd generation film royalty, David Picker Hollywood MemoirPicker at age 82 looks back on a legendary career that included running four different studios: United Artists, Paramount, Lorimar, and Columbia. Of course there’s a book party for him on October 1st hosted by Norman Lear, Tom Rothman, Mark Gordon, Larry Mark, and Bonnie Arnold who except for Lear all worked for David as assistants (as well as Jeffrey Katzenberg, Larry Kramer, and Jonathan Demme). Picker is a natural raconteur and this Amazon Digital book reads just like he talks and spins stories from the film industry during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He could have penned an entire memoir just about the days he became UA President in his 30s and made all the early Woody Allen movies, read the James Bond books and brought them to the big screen with Cubby Broccoli, signed the Beatles to a 3-picture deal before they ever came to the U.S. and… Well, you get the picture. David provided me with the following nuggets to tease you:

The great director Billy Wilder once said to me, “David, there are only three kinds of movies – musts, maybes and nevers.” The phrase stayed with me throughout my many years as a studio executive and then a producer. That’s what this book is about.

It’s a book about what most people consider the last Golden Age of the studio film and United Artists, the studio I ran, was central to that golden hue. But it’s also a book about raging ego, and corporate involvement, and out of control talent, and the inner workings of a film studio – all of which is relevant to today. This is a book that will make people understand what the movie business can be, and has been, and isn’t any longer.

It’s a book about movies that I was actually part of – from getting Sean Connery to come back and do one more James Bond film and save the franchise, to getting Brian Epstein to clear enough time on the calendar of his clients The Beatles to film A Hard Day’s Night after I signed them a year before anyone had ever heard of them. What it was like in the 1960s and 1970s to run United Artists and create the very nature of the independent film business, a precursor to the Weinstein Company, Focus Films and Sony Classics of today. What it was like at United Artists in those years bringing to the company filmmakers such as Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Sergio Leone, Norman Jewison, the Mirisch Company or Bernardo Bertolucci. To win Oscars with The Apartment, West Side Story, Tom Jones. Midnight Cowboy, Lilies Of The Field and subsequently, at Paramount and Columbia, Ordinary People and The Last Emperor.

But it’s not only about the successes. I’m credited with a famous quote in our business: “If I had turned down every picture I greenlit, and greenlit every picture I turned down, I’d have the same number of hits and flops.” Rob Reiner has told people it should be on my gravestone. So, yes, we’ll talk about the “misses” in some detail, too. And here are some of the questions that get answered:

Read More »

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Nikki Finke Live-Snarks 65th Emmys: At Least TV Isn’t As Bad As Its Awards Show

By | Sunday September 22, 2013 @ 8:14pm PDT

65th Primetime Emmy Awards
The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards by the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences begins from the Nokia Theatre in Downtown LA at 5 PM PT today… Come for the cynicism… Stay for the subversion… Add your comment… Warning: Not for the easily offended or ridiculously naïve:

Yes, I’m interrupting my 19 weeks of banked vacation to live-snark the small screen awards. But only because the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was hoping I wouldn’t. Seriously, its Board members counted on my beef with my boss  to keep me away tonight. As if Hollywerrd’s Queen Of Mean would miss an opportunity to kick the crap out of the primped and pampered inmates who run this asylum. Those who will get blamed for rotten reviews of tonight’s telecast are Emmys EP Ken Ehrlich and CBS Specials & Live Programming EVP Jack Sussman. [UPDATE: "Ehrlich is protected because AEG owns the venue and he delivers the Grammys for CBS. But Moonves may fire Sussman over this debacle," says one of my sources.] Moonves attended Emmy events all week but texted the town that he’s attending his son’s birthday extravaganza and missing tonight’s awards show. Then he showed up in the opening video. Meanwhile, Emmy attendees want to watch tonight’s Dexter finale and Breaking Bad‘s Season 5 penultimate episode instead of Sir Elton John’s Liberace tribute sure to be god’s gift to kitsch. And news has leaked … Read More »

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‘Prisoners’ Breaks Out For #1 With $21.4M; ‘Battle Of The Year’ #5 For Bleak $4.1M

By | Sunday September 22, 2013 @ 1:13am PDT

SUNDAY 1 AM, 4TH UPDATE: With the 65th Emmys broadcasting this weekend, Hollywood is only talking television, television, television. Yes, I’ll be interrupting my vacation and live-snarking the small screen awards starting Sunday at 5:00 PM PT. But only because the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was hoping I wouldn’t. As for the big screen, total moviegoing should be only $75M, or -9% from last year. Both Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal plugged, plugged, plugged Prisoners (playing in 3,260 theaters) to a $7M opening Friday and then up +28% to $9M Saturday for a decent $21.4M domestic weekend. Their pairing didn’t produce the hype that Christian Bale or Leonardo DiCaprio might have as originally planned. But Jackman and Gyllenhaal did their jobs to open this R-rated Alcon Entertainment developed, financed, and produced dark kidnapping thriller distributed by Warner Bros to a $20+M debut like stars should. (Who was the bigger draw? Definitely Hugh… Jake usually can’t open an envelope.) Prisoners is the 2nd biggest three-day opening for Alcon founders Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove behind Blind Side‘s $34.1M.

With a ‘B+’ CinemaScore despite a longish 2 hour, 26 minute running time, pic had a lean budget of $46M and a stellar supporting cast (Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo). During a slow September, this adult drama directed by Denis Villeneuve (Foreign Language Oscar nominee Incendies) and written by Aaron Guzikowski (whose script wound up on Hollywood’s prestigious Black List) could have legs here and overseas. The marketing strategy was “to sell a visceral, taut, beautifully made thriller with powerhouse performances that asks the question, ‘What would you do if this happened to you?’” Warner Bros Pictures’ Worldwide Marketing President Sue Kroll tells me. The film emerged with great buzz from the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals from cinefile and mainstream media. (EW critic Owen Gleiberman ranked it with classic vengeance films Straw DogsDeath Wish, and Kill Bill.)

This weekend’s new underperformer is Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems 3D teen dance pic Battle Of The Year (released into a middling run of 2,009 theaters) which dropped from #4 to #5. Inspired by director Benson Lee’s award-winning documentary Planet B-Boy, and co-written by Brin Hill (Won’t Back Down), pic stars Josh Holloway (Lost) and Grammy bad boy Chris Brown, it’s obviously a tired genre despite a fresh ‘A-’ CinemaScore from audiences. So Friday’s $1.4M and Saturday’s $2.0M (+45%) for the $4.6M weekend is half what the studio was forecasting for pic’s $20M-range cost. Media campaign was designed around television especially to target young females, clubbers, and urban audiences. Integrations and takeovers included Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance where dancers from the film performed on-air during the show’s finale, and BET’S 106 & Park where the winner of a national dance contest performed during a special BOTY cast show. Online and social media included Tumblr, VEVO, Buzznet, Instagram, Vine and hip hop sites.

No updated numbers yet for the following: The Wizard Of Oz: IMAX 3D, whose pre-sales big online ticketseller Fandango proclaimed were “looking great and powerful” in limited release. The PG upgrade of the 1939 classic released into 318 theaters and made $750K Friday and is targeting $2.8M this weekend. Platforming in 5 theaters this weekend is Universal/Imagine’s Ron Howard’s Formula One critical darling Rush starring Chris Hemsworth, for $66K Friday and a $223K weekend. Pic opens wider on September 27th when I’ll post a full report and see if car racing pics are cursed at the box office. Fox Searchlight’s James Gandolfini-Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said, opened Wednesday in 4 runs. With $62K Friday and a $210 weekend, one of the final movies from The Sopranos star has a cume of $263K.

Here’s the partial Top Ten list based on weekend estimates:
Read More »

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Deadline: Nikki Live-Snarking Emmys

By | Friday September 20, 2013 @ 12:31pm PDT

Yes, I’ll be interrupting my vacation and live-snarking the Emmys this Sunday starting at 5:00 PM PT. But only because the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was hoping I wouldn’t.

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‘Insidious 2′ Stuns As Sept’s 2nd Biggest With $41M For Year’s 2nd Best Horror Pic; De Niro’s ‘The Family’ Forgotten For $13.9M

By | Sunday September 15, 2013 @ 9:37am PDT

SUNDAY 9:30 AM, 5TH UPDATE: No surprise that a genre scarer did so well on a weekend frontloaded by Friday The 13th. But grosses flattened Saturday because of what my sources say was the big Mayweather vs Alvarez fight which scored big TV ratings from Las Vegas last night. That cooled what initially was hot total moviegoing this September weekend to $95M, only +10% over last year’s.

Regular readers know that I believe online domestic pre-sales are a more accurate indicator of a movie’s box office opening strength than traditional tracking. So it’s meaningful that Insidious Chapter 2 Box OfficeFilmDistrict’s PG13 and 2D Insidious: Chapter 2 (released into 3,049 theaters) trended as Fandango’s top horror pre-seller of the year. And the grosses produced by Blumhouse horrormeisters Jason Blum and Oren Peli on just a $5 million budget were indeed record-breaking: an impressive $20.1M debut Friday (including $1.5M in Thursday’s late shows and Friday’s midnights) and $13.4M Saturday for a $41M weekend. Pic now becomes 2013′s 2nd biggest grossing horror opening behind The Conjuring and sets 2nd largest September debut. (Only 3 live-action movies in the past decade have ever opened over $30M in this traditionally slow month. Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania did $42.5M in September 2012.) Weekend was double what FilmDistrict was expecting and another winner for CEO Peter Schlessel who tells me he credits distribution chief Jim Orr and marketing czarina Christine Birch for the huge weekend. Sequel overwhelmed the first installment’s $13.3M. Here are more stats: Blumhouse now becomes the first production company to have two movies with budgets of $5M or under gross over $30M on opening weekend in the same year. With The Purge and Insidious: Chapter Two, Blumhouse has produced 2 micro-budget films in the past four months that grossed over $30M in their opening weekends. Combined, the two movies will have earned over $65M on their opening weekends with combined budgets of $8M. Yowza! Despite tepid critical reviews, audiences gave the Insidious sequel a ‘B+’ CinemaScore for James Wan‘s direction of the cast of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne in Leigh Whannell’s screenplay. FilmDistrict’s marketing campaign targeted a younger audience (15-34 year olds) and focused on females during cable draws like ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars and the genre’s growing Hispanic market. The studio created customized Latino creative exclusive content featurettes, radio and TV spots as well as hosted a Miami Press day. The film’s trailer launched with The Purgeand continued via Comic-Con, paranormal conventions, the Vans Warped Tour, and exposure at Six Flags. Exit polling this weekend showed audiences were 52% male/48% female with 62% under the age of 25/38% age 25 and older. Internationally, Insidious 2 opened #1 in the UK, traditionally the second biggest market for horror films after the U.S., with a bigger opening than recent hits like The Conjuring and The Purge.

This other weekend’s new release was Relativity’s and Europacorp’s co-financed and co-produced dark adult comedy The Family (3,091 theaters). It stars Robert De Niro. Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones directed Family Box Office Robert De Niroand co-written by Luc Besson and executive produced by Martin Scorsese in yet another unnecessary and derivative gangster pic. With a disappointing ‘C’ CinemaScore from audiences and tepid critical reviews, this R-rated pic opened with a so-so $5.3M Friday and $5.3M Saturday for a $13.9M weekend. That’s smack in the middle of what Relativity was low-balling but no Red which in 2010 opened  to $21.7M and also was aimed at older males and females. “We are pleased with the result and the film’s performance. The point is that the movie cost $30M and it’s going to make back half its budget in opening weekend,” insisted a Relativity exec – not taking into consideration P&A or the usual 3X formula. But stars are supposed to deliver openings above $20M and this movie had 3 big names who can’t draw audiences anymore on their own. This is only De Niro’s second biggest opening over his past 10 non-Meet The Parents franchise pics. (Limitless, another Relativity film, was #1.) Going to the gangster well again and again just diminishes him. Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh took a producer credit: but surely he couldn’t have fantasized yet another De Niro cash grab with lousy reviews would do any awards business? Michael Caleo of The Sopranos co-wrote based on Tonino Benacquista’s novel Malavita. Since Relativity recently revamped its in-house marketing and advertising, I’d be wasting words discussing the very forgettable campaign which surely contributed to the mediocre result. Relativity and Europacorp made this pic as part of an overall co-production and financing deal, with Relativity releasing in the U.S., Europacorp overseeing international distribution, and EOne taking Canada.

Here’s the Top Ten list based on weekend estimates:
Read More »

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Vin Diesel’s ‘Riddick’ Opens Weak Weekend

By | Sunday September 8, 2013 @ 6:02am PDT

Box Office Riddick Vin DieselSUNDAY 6 AM, 4TH UPDATE: Welcome to one of the slowest weekends at the domestic box office. The movie season is off to a weak start – just $70M total filmgoing. Yes, that’s +20% over last year but only because of higher ticket prices and more 3D premiums. And no don’t blame this on some outages at online ticketseller Fandango on Saturday – because the studios aren’t. It doesn’t help that Hollywood once again is determined to churn out unnecessary sequels and threequels.

#1 - In this case, blame Vin Diesel who now owns the Riddick role and is keeping the $38M independently financed sci-fi franchise on life support. He leveraged a lot of his own assets because he loves this galactic ex-con character or hopes to earn more coin from it or both. Universal released in 3,107 U.S. theaters while eOne Entertainment is distributing in Canada. The R-rated pic opened mediocre with $7.3M Friday and $7.1M Saturday for what Universal says is a mediocre $18.6M weekend (but Hollywood estimates at $19.2M). it opened on 314 IMAX screens in North America, delivering about $2.5M. That’s after earning a middling ‘B’ CinemaScore from audiences and grossing an unimpressive $900K from Thursday night’s domestic late shows and Friday’s midnights. Even though this actioner had this first fall weekend all to itself, it took in only 1/2 what the original made and 1/3 what the sequel earned. The 3rd installment clearly didn’t expand beyond core fanboys since the outlaw character hasn’t been featured in a film in 9 years – although it’s been in a succession of DVDs and video games. Exit polls showed the audience was 59% male/41% female, 47% under age 30/53% age 30+, and 37% Hispanic/31% Caucasian. Written and directed (again) by David Twohy, produced (again) by Ted Fields, and starring Diesel (again), Riddick follows 2000′s Pitch Black which earned $39.5M and then 2004′s The Chronicles Of Riddick whose bloated budget made $57.8M gross. Diesel has been both savvy and stupid behind the scenes of this pic. When Universal wanted him for a cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, he asked for the rights to the Riddick character instead of an acting fee. Diesel and Twohy tackled the script problems and went into production on the threequel. When a completion bond fell through, Diesel personally advanced funds until bank loans were secured. Eventually Universal came back in with an equity position but also insisted on a PG13 rating. Diesel fought the studio for an R rating – and the result is more bone-crushing and blood gushing violence. Oh joy. Read More »

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Labor Day: ‘The Butler’ Tops 4-Day Holiday After ‘One Direction’ Wins 3-Day Weekend

By | Monday September 2, 2013 @ 5:03am PDT

MONDAY 7 AM UPDATE: Lee Daniels’ The Butler from The Weinstein Company is the first film in 2013 to take #1 at the domestic box office for 3 straight weekends at this end of the 4-day Labor Day holiday. This, despite a $5 million head start by Sony Pictures/TriStar’s One Direction: This Is Us after overperforming for Thursday and Friday 3D shows. But these concert films are always frontloaded even though this one is doing surprisingly well. Here’s the Top Ten based on the 3-day weekend/4-day holiday estimates:

1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 3 [Runs 3,330] PG13
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $5.5M, Sunday $5.7M
3-Day Weekend $14.8M, 4-Day Holiday $20.0M, Cume $79.3M

2. One Direction: This Is Us 3D (TriStar/Sony) NEW [Runs 2,735] PG
Friday $8.8M, Saturday $4.0M, Sunday $2.9M
3-Day Weekend $15.7M, 4-Day Holiday $18.0M

3. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 3,445] R
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $4.5M, Sunday $4.9M
3-Day Weekend $12.6M, 4-Day Holiday $16.3M, Cume $113.3M

4. Planes 3D (Disney) Week 4 [Runs 3,259] PG
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.9M, Sunday $2.9M
3-Day Weekend $7.5M, 4-Day Holiday $10.5M, Cume $73.6M

5. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 347] PG13
Friday $1.9M, Saturday $2.7M, Sunday $3.1M
3-Day Weekend $7.8M, 4-Day Holiday $10.3M

6. Elysium (Sony) Week 4 [Runs 2,539] R
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $2.3M, Sunday $2.4M
3-Day Weekend $6.3M, 4-Day Holiday $8.2M, Cume $80.4M

7. The Mortal Instruments (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,118] PG13
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.0M, Sunday $1.9M
3-Day Weekend $5.4M, 4-Day Holiday $6.8M, Cume $24.3M

8. The World’s End (Focus Features) Week 2 [Runs 1,553]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.8M, Sunday $1.8M
3-Day Weekend $4.9M, 4-Day Holiday $6.5M, Cume $18.4M

9. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters 3D (Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,393] PG
Friday $980K, Saturday $1.7M, Sunday $1.7M
3-Day Weekend $4.3M, 4-Day Holiday $5.9M, Cume $56.5M

10. Getaway (Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 2,130] PG13
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.5M, … Read More »

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R.I.P. Talent Manager J.J. Harris

Motion picture and television talent agent/manager J.J. Harris died of what is believed to be natural causes on Friday afternoon and was found today in her Beverly Hills home by her staff. She was 62. Always classy and funny but never a pushover, she at one time was among the top women talent agents and sole practitioner managers in Hollywood, representing such notable clients over the course of her decades-long career including Kevin Costner, Charlize Theron, Dakota and Elle Fanning, Kate Bosworth, Drew Barrymore, and Scott Bakula. After starting her career at the old William Morris Agency and jumping to UTA as a partner, she started her own management company more than a decade ago. Harris ran One Talent Management until recently deciding to wind down her business. Until her death, she was spending almost all her time on the career of her longtime confidante and client Costner. It was because of him that her office became worried. “She wasn’t returning my calls or texts. Then Kevin called her,” her assistant and co-manager Sharon Vitro tells me. “It’s one thing for her to ignore me. But she doesn’t ignore Kevin ever.” Her staff went to her home and discovered her body. Through the years, Harris was an outspoken feminist who challenged mano-a-mano the Hollywood men’s club that long ruled actor representation. Bluffing her way into the William Morris accounting department as a secretary, Harris rose through the ranks to become a young but … Read More »

Comments 58

‘The Butler’ #1 Again, ‘Mortal Instruments’ #3, ‘The World’s End’ #4, ‘You’re Next’ #6

SUNDAY 8:30 AM, 3RD UPDATE: As Summer 2013 whimpers to a close, this is traditionally one of those ‘who cares?’ domestic box office weekends not really worth my time or effort on analysis. It’s only a $90M weekend, on par with last year’s. The Weinstein Company’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a holdover for #1 while Warner Bros/New Line’s raunchy comedy We’re The Millers stays #2 and creeps up on $100M. Woody Allen’s critical tour-de-farce Blue Jasmine starring Cate Blanchett widens its release to wiggle into #10 . Among newcomers, Sony Pictures/Screen Gems’ pickup from Constantin is the demonic fantasy The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones  which opened Wednesday. It ends the weekend #3 and Focus Features/Working Title’ sci-fi comedy The World’s End reteaming Simon Pegg and Nick Frost finished #4. Both pics earned ’B+’ CinemaScores. Lionsgate’s horror flick You’re Next is #6 and only managed a ‘B-’. Here’s the Top Ten based on weekend estimates:

1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 2 [Runs 3,110] PG13
Friday $4.7M, Saturday $6.9M, Weekend $17.0M, Cume $52.3M

2. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 3,445] R
Friday $4.0M, Saturday $5.5M, Weekend $13.5M, Cume $91.7M

3. The Mortal Instruments (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 1 [Runs 3,118] PG13
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $3.7M, Weekend $9.2M, Five-Day Cume $14.0M

4. The World’s End (Focus … Read More »

Comments 235

Why Robert Rodriguez Is Hating On Sony TV

By | Friday August 23, 2013 @ 5:48am PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Deadline reported this week that Sony TV will produce an El Mariachi series based on the 1992 Robert Rodriguez film. Now I’ve learned that Robert Rodriguez and his reps are really pissed about it. I’m told that Sony TV execs reached out to Rodriguez only once to say that they were “thinking” about doing a TV show based on the writer-director’s trilogy of El Mariachi/Desperado/Once Upon A Time In Mexico characters. “After that they stopped returning our calls. So we thought that this had been abandoned,” one of Rodriguez’s insiders tells me. “Not only does Robert not have any involvement in this show, he wasn’t even given a ‘head’s up’on Sony’s press release. In it we noticed that Sony mentioned something about ‘staying true to the original story.’ Good luck with that without involving the creator! Not that it matters as the budget that’s allocated for the television production will make Robert’s original budget of $7,000 for El Mariachi look like Avatar. This TV series is a sloppy and lazy replica for the tourist trade, without any of the heart and soul that made the original El Mariachi win the Sundance Audience Award and become a landmark in independent cinema.” Ouch! The feeling by Team Rodriguez is that Sony TV is trying to piggyback on the hoopla surrounding Rodriguez and his English-language El … Read More »

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Clint Eastwood In Negotiations To Direct ‘American Sniper’ For Warner Bros

By | Wednesday August 21, 2013 @ 11:13am PDT

Clint EastwoodI’ve learned that Warner Bros wants to fast-track production for the first quarter of 2014 and is in “tentative negotiations” with Clint Eastwood to direct. This is after Steven Spielberg this month took American Sniper out of his crosshairs, after declaring in May that he would next helm the film about decorated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, with Bradley Cooper playing the marksman. DreamWorks joined Warner Bros in a co-production when Spielberg said he would direct the script by Jason Hall. Both Spielberg and DreamWorks pulled out completely so there’s no extra expense to Warner Bros. American Sniper has Cooper not only starring but producing with Andrew Lazar and Peter Morgan. Eastwood is prepping to direct the movie version of Jersey Boys for Warner Bros. Production on that film will start at the end of August on the studio lot and is produced by Graham King and Rob Lorenz.

(Nikki Finke is currently on vacation.)

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EXCLUSIVE: Relativity Sets ‘Act Of Valor 2′: Scott Wiper To Write/Direct About SWATs

By | Wednesday August 21, 2013 @ 4:15am PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Relativity and the Bandito Brothers scored a #1 domestic opening when they brought Act Of Valor about U.S. Navy SEALS to the big screen in February 2012 and grossed over $70M all in. Now the pair are re-teaming on another R-rated gritty actioner – this time about elite SWAT officers in the upcoming sequel. Relativity has acquired the worldwide rights to finance, produce and distribute Act of Valor 2. I’ve learned Scott Wiper (The Condemned, A Better Way To Die) is attached to write and direct and the Bandito Brothers will produce again. A year ago, Relativity Television announced it would produce a scripted drama series based on the original film in collaboration with the Bandito Brothers but it’s still in development. The first film was based on an original script by Kurt Johnstad (300) and directed by Bandito Brothers partners Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy and Scott Waugh. It featured a group of active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs alongside actors Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov, Jason Cottle and Nester Serrano, in a fictionalized account of a real-life operation. The Bandito Brothers consist of 8 partners who hatch, produce and independently finance content ranging from features to documentaries and commercials and programming for TV and digital. On Act Of Valor, they raised the $12M budget and flew under the radar until they were ready to take the finished film to the marketplace and see the high upside. Relativity Media won a bidding Read More »

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EXCLUSIVE: Relativity Naming New Film Marketing Team; Russell Schwartz And Dana Precious In, Terry Curtin Out

EXCLUSIVE: I understand that New Line veteran Russell Schwartz is already signed to become President of Theatrical Marketing. And Marvel veteran Dana Precious is in final talks to assume the newly created position of President of Creative Advertising and Research. Both Schwartz and Precious will report directly to Relativity‘s President Tucker Tooley. ”It is a coup for Relativity to get both Russell and Dana who have overseen some of the biggest movies in recent years,” according to a source close to the studio. Relativity hopes to make the formal announcement early next week. The news follows criticism inside and outside Relativity of the handling of movie marketing by Terry Curtin – culminating in this weekend’s flop film pickup Paranioa. “Relativity is losing confidence in its marketing head,” a  source close to the studio told me this morning when weekend box office results were announced. “Granted it is an incredibly crowded and down marketplace, but marketing should have at least opened the film to $10 million.”  Curtin is leaving the studio with an uneven record since 2011 with highs of The Immortals and Act Of Valor and lows like Mirror Mirror. Schwartz and Precious will jointly oversee all aspects of markeing campaigns for Relativity’s growing film slate which includes Luc Besson’s action comedy The Family, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, Jimmy Hayward’s upcoming animated buddy comedy Free Birds, and Scott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace. “Relativity has a strong slate in the second half of 2013 and early 2014 so they wanted to get a team with Russell and Dana’s track record and experience,” a source tells me. Read More »

Comments 48

Oprah’s PR Blitz Helps ‘The Butler’ Open #1 With $25M: Soft Box Office As ‘Kick Ass 2′ Falls, ‘Jobs’ Biopic Dies, ‘Paranoia’ Bombs

SUNDAY 8 AM, 6TH UPDATE WRITETHRU: With one exception, this weekend was a disaster zone for three of the four newcomers at the domestic box office. Tanking big-time were Universal’s Kick-Ass 2 based on the comic book, Five Star/Open Road Films’ Jobs biopic about the Apple co-founder played by Ashton Kutcher, and IM Global/Relativity’s Paranoia starring Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford. Total moviegoing this weekend was only around $160 million, or -6% from last year, despite the uber-crowded marketplace. Even the surprise #1 this weekend, The Weinstein Company’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, opened with $25 million which was down from the $30+M Hollywood projected when the weekend started. ”Everything is coming in softer,” one studio exec warned me Friday night. Love her or hate her, co-star Oprah Winfrey and her big media blitz helped open the pic even if it did little to help her public image by providing more dirt for her detractors. Yet a survey by Fandango found that 72% of Butler ticket-buyers claimed Oprah’s involvement increased their interest in seeing the film which was her first movie role in 15 years. But The Butler still trailed the opening weekend grosses of two recent and similarly race- and civil rights-themed adult pics: 42 and The Help. No one, and certainly not The Weinstein Company, expected director Lee Daniels’ or screenwriter Danny Strong’s biopic (playing in 2,933 theaters) to double its $15M weekend projection much less land on top of the weekend box office. But on Thursday morning it already was the #1 ticket-seller on both Fandango and MovieTickets – a welcome event for such a modest $25M negative cost film. Its 73% Rotten Tomatoes positive reviews and ’A’ CinemaScore from audiences surely helped word of mouth as much as Oprah. (Note that in 1998. at the height of her syndicated power when she could sell anything to anyone, Oprah starred in and produced the film flop Beloved. Now she’s on her struggling cable network. But I’m assured she had no financial investment in the film nor contributed into the P&A nor bought up advance tickets in bulk like the rumors claimed.)

Related: Oprah No Match For Housewives On Watch What Happens Live
Related: Oprah Talks Her OWN Failure And Her Nervous Breakdown

Forest Whitaker, Terrence Howard, Alan Rickman, and Cuba Gooding Jr helped overcome the uneven script that – depending on your POV – is dumbed-down or condescending, historically important or filled with historical inaccuracies. But the stunt casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan has caused considerable Red State outrage on social media. Like 42 and The Help, this pic was marketed first to African-Americans through outreach in those faith-based communities. Then the campaign widened to the art house crowd and curious general audiences. Rival studios initially speculated that The Butler‘s grosses would be frontloaded since it was so dependent on pre-sales. But its Saturday number went up +10% over Friday’s. The film’s genesis began with a Washington Post profile of the longtime White House black butler Eugene Allen that was optioned by Sony Pictures producer Laura Ziskin. When she died of cancer 3 weeks before shooting began, Cassian Elwes and Pam Williams met with Daniels and, together with CAA, scrambled to put together financing. In all 28 investors came together including Buddy Patrick, Sheila Johnson, Michael Findley, and Len Blavatnick. Harvey Weinstein and his TWC boarded late in the production and banked $4M to help finish the film. Then Harv “helped edit” – we all know what that means – with Daniels. Initially The Butler was a fall film to platform for awards consideration. “But when it tested through the roof, we decided then that we needed to go wide. And we saw a gap in the schedule for adult fare in the summer,” an insider tells me. “In our deal we had a $20M P&A cap, and we had to go to the investor group to get the cap raised to $30M in order to go wide.” I’m told 100% of the P&A money is TWC’s. Along the way, Harvey orchestrated free publicity as he battled Warner Bros over the pic’s title.

Pre-release tracking predicted that Universal’s superhero action-comedy Kick Ass 2 (playing in 2,940 theaters) would be the #1 film this weekend as it made steady gains in key areas with solid interest indicated from younger audiences and males in particular. Instead, it bombed with only $13.6M after looking to open #1, then #2, then #3 on Friday - trailing the Warner Bros/New Line holdover comedy We’re The Millers. Not even its ‘B+’ CinemaScore could help word of mouth after critics savaged it with only 29% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes because it fell short of the original. Fanboys decided to stay away. I predict debate will rage about whether this sequel based on Mark Millar/John S. Romita’s comic book was necessary. Even the 2010 original’s $19.8M opening was considered dismal, only to make up for it as a hot DVD sale and rental and digital download because of its R-rated irreverence and style. Wrongly, the studio believed “there was a committed fan base that could be activated as a core audience for a sequel,” as a Universal exec emailed me. So the studio handled worldwide distribution for the further adventures of Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz  and Christopher Mintz-Plasse respectively). Vigilante crusader Colonel Stars and Stripes is played by Jim Carrey who kicked up a fuss by proclaiming he wouldn’t promote the film because of its ultra-violence. A few weeks later, he got onboard – but not before generating a ton of bad publicity for the pic. (He didn’t make himself very popular in Hollywood with this stunt. Let’s see if his career continues to crater.) From a screenplay by director Jeff Wadlow, pic also reteamed producers Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack and David Reid. It was independently financed for only $28M, then acquired by Universal before production began in September of 2012. Film opens day-and-date in 18 international territories including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany and grossed $6.3M at 1,500 dates.

Flopping in wide release (2,381 theaters) was Open Road Films’ Jobs, the much-publicized biopic about the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher. It came in only #7 with a meager $6.7M despite a plethora of TV ad buys. Ashton just isn’t a movie star, period, and the ‘B-’ CinemaScore didn’t generate any helpful word of mouth for the pic directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and scripted by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely. Open Road acquired Jobs just before it premiered at Sundance in January from Five Star Feature Films which financed the $12M production. Rotten Tomatoes critics only gave it 24% positive reviews because of its superficial made-for-TV depiction of a complex creative and business icon. Still it’s surprising how many Apple devotees stayed away despite the marketing’s psychographic targeting to them. And digital stunts included the launch of the first-ever Instagram movie trailer and Kutcher ringing the bell at the NY Stock Exchange.

Another tech pic tanked. Dropping from #10 on Friday to #13 by Sunday was the IM Global/ Reliance produced thriller Paranoia (distributed by Relativity into 2,459 U.S. theaters with EOne releasing in Canada). Even starring Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford, and Gary Oldman who all are good in the film, it made only $3.5M or about half what was projected. Both audiences and critics hated on it with a ‘C’ CinemaScore and 4% Rotten Tomatoes positive reviews. ”I think Relativity’s marketing department screwed up,” one insider tells me. “They tried to focus on the youth audience and teen girls in particular, and it isn’t that kind of movie at all. Also, IM Global picked this date, and they never should have opened this kind of film in the summer.” Read More »

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Oprah Winfrey Talks OWN Network, Failure, And Symptoms Of Her Nervous Breakdown

UPDATE FRIDAY 2 AM: Oprah is all about carefully controlling her image at all times. But not this week when she made the media rounds to promote her return to the big screen in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. During the process she made several public revelations about OWN that could complicate Discovery chief David Zaslav’s current spin campaign that her cable channel is no longer a disaster.  First, Oprah told People Magazine that last summer she suffered “the symptoms of a nervous breakdown” and reached her “breaking point” because her Oprah Winfrey Network was struggling very publicly. Tonight, she told host Andy Cohen on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live that her biggest personal ‘aha’ moment would have to be last year when she was “getting all the schadenfreude from the media cause OWN wasn’t where I wanted it to be at the time.”

Zaslav’s joint venture with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Inc, OWN had a wobbly 2011 start and weathered more problems in 2012  even though Discovery advanced it hundreds of millions of dollars. (Exactly $509M total as of June 30th of this year and, while Discovery isn’t required to lend any more, it might do so if needed, according to Zaslav.) Oprah told People magazine she had a meltdown last summer because “people were counting me out… After 25 years of being No. 1, I had become accustomed to success. I didn’t expect failure. I was tested … Read More »

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‘Elysium’ #1 But Can’t Break $30M, ‘The Millers’ #2, ‘Planes’ #3, ‘Percy Jackson: Monsters’ #4; ‘Smurfs 2′ Now $156M Global

Related: World War Z Cracks $500 Million Worldwide For Brad Pitt’s Biggest

MONDAY 7 AM, 7TH UPDATE: This weekend’s total moviegoing was $158M which is +11% from last year. Overall a too-crowded marketplace. Meanwhile, I’m seeing a big schism separating audiences and critics as Summer 2013 continues. CinemaScores are coming in higher and higher for pics that Rotten Tomatoes is rating lower and lower. Who’s out of touch: movie reviewers or filmgoers? Well, Rotten Tomatoes scored 3 of the 4 newcomers only 24%-34% for positive reviews even though they received high CinemaScores. Hmm, interesting development.

Sony Pictures’ futuristic Elysium (playing in 3,284 theaters) received only a ‘B’ CinemaScore from audiences but 67% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. Starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and written/directed by Neill Blomkamp, it was sitting in the #1 spot as of Sunday but didn’t break $30M domestic. Sure, Elysium was sci-fi, R-rated, and cool – yet it still underperformed because of summer movie fatigue. Film did deliver a best-ever August opening on IMAX screens. Opening weekend demos show audience was 61% male and 39% female and 52% was under 30. Studio is banking on foreign coin. Earning $10.9M from 17 markets, Russia, Tawan, and Ukraine launched #1 with Russia grossing $6.8M which was 46% bigger than the opening of District 9. Problem is that domestically pic hasn’t been as well-received as Blomkamp’s previous District 9 sleeper hit which opened to $37.4M in mid-August 2009 on its way to earning $210.8M worldwide. Elysium cost Sony $115M for worldwide rights since it was packaged, financed and produced by Media Rights Capital and produced by Bill Block, Neill Blomkamp, and Simon Kinberg.

R-rated comedy We’re The Millers (3,260 theaters) ended the three-day weekend with $26.5, good enough for #2, and $38M for its first five days in theaters. New Line used to wear the Hollywood box office crown when it came to laugh-out-loud comedy. Not so much anymore. (Remember that bomb The Incredible Burt Wonderstone earlier this year?) So parent company Warner Bros is pleased to see We’re The Millers look like a hit for only a $37M production cost. “That put Millers way in front of the costly Elysium including the entire IMAX footprint,” a Warner Bros exec snarked. Including $1.7M for Tuesday’s 8 PM late shows in 2,700 locations, pic came in around $6.8M Wednesday for an easy #1 opening. Its ‘A-’ CinemaScore built word of mouth helped by omnipresent marketing and endless flacking by the boring Jennifer Aniston. (Who was all-too-willing to show off her stripper moves to get attention. So, Stephen Huvane, can your funnywoman make as reliable movie coin these days as Melissa McCarthy?) Toby Emmerich has successfully reteamed Aniston and her Horrible Bosses co-star Jason Sudeikis to satisfy moviegoers’ craving for summer comedies since The Heat, Grown Ups 2, and This Is The End only whetted their appetites.

Disney’s 3D Planes (3,702 theaters) received an ‘A-’ CinemaScore but only 24% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes – and placed 3rd. PG toon is a Cars spinoff and resembles a Pixar product but isn’t. Instead, it’s from direct to DVD unit DisneyToon Studios and this pic was supposed to debut on home entertainment but didn’t. Planes opened to underwhelming $22M weekend theatrical grosses after the hand-holder turnout stayed low. It also was too crowded a family fare market where Despicable Me 2, Turbo, and Smurfs 2 are still playing. Internationally, the little blue guys/gals earned $34.6M in its second weekend of release, bringing the overseas cume to $110M and $156.6M worldwide.

With a ‘B+’ CinemaScore, PG-rated Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters based on the best-selling book came in 4th through Sunday after opening Wednesday. With a CGI-heavy cost of $90M, this Harry Potter wannabe made only $23.4M for its first five days after pic’s TV ads ran incessantly during Discovery’s Shark Week. (Sea monsters, get it?) Exit polling showed that moviegoers were 59% female and 41% male with 61% under age 25 and 39% age 25 and over. Fox stressed that exits and CinemaScore were nearly identical to the first Percy with strength and playability in the middle of the country as well as Canada. The first Percy movie made $88.8M domestic and $138M international, so let’s see if this sequel can match both numbers. Percy 2 opened for $9.8M internationally after opening in 6 territories – Chile, Ecuador, Malaysia, Philippines and big markets Mexico and the UK – this weekend for 1,799 screens. More than 70 territories roll out through August with 15 more in September, and Japan and Venezuela in November.

Here’s the Top Ten based on domestic weekend estimates: Read More »

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