EXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox, already undergoing seismic changes with Tom Rothman’s year end exit, might have a major director to replace on one of the studio’s most important film franchises. I’m hearing that Rupert Wyatt, who helmed the superb franchise reboot Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, will leave the sequel. I’m told that Wyatt’s exit is similar to the same reason that Gary Ross stepped out of Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Wyatt didn’t feel comfortable making the May 23, 2014 release date that the studio announced in May.
By JAMES FRANCO
The new Planet of the Apes film, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, belongs to Andy Serkis. Narratively it was always his film: I play an emotionally stilted scientist who in the process of mistakenly unleashing a lethal virus on the human race, learns to care for others; Serkis gets to play Caesar, essentially Che Guevara in chimp form. There is no question that his character arc is much more dynamic and fascinating, it is the story line that takes the franchise’s central theme of culture/racial/species clash and turns it on it’s head by making the maligned apes the unequivocal heroes. We get to watch the fall of mankind and enjoy it because we root for the underdogs, the apes.
But this narrative structure is only half of the story; there is also an acting revolution that has taken place. Andy Serkis is the undisputed master of the newest kind of acting called “performance capture,” and it is time that Serkis gets credit for the innovative artist that he is.
When Serkis was hired to play the inimitable character, Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy it was initially only for his voice, the character was meant to be entirely animated. But Serkis got so physically involved in the production of the
Big Media 3Q Corporate Earnings Roundup: Are CEOs Really Worried About Recession? Or Just Looking For Convenient Excuse?
Three months ago, when Big Media CEOs wrapped up their 2Q earnings, they were still relentlessly upbeat about the business. Any worries about the economy? Not then. But the messages they delivered over the past few weeks, as they discussed 3Q, were different. Although they’re still optimistic — remember, they’re paid to be salesmen — now and then you could hear expressions of concern about where things are headed. It stood out when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman noted that “ad sales growth will face some headwinds.” Other CEOs who are known for speaking bluntly warned that other shocks may bedevil the business. For example, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said that his satellite company — and others in pay TV — have to fight harder against rising programming costs because “there’s a limit to the price increases that could be passed on to consumers.” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt warned that premium channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz “are clearly impacted by the economy as consumers try to cut back.” Either they’re genuinely worried, or they want a scapegoat to blame for things that are going bad, or may soon do so. Whatever the case, we can expect to hear a lot more about the economy when it’s time for the post-mortem on the all-important 4Q earnings.
As for industry performance matters, parents of movie studios had their usual mixed results to brag about or explain away: Time Warner benefitted from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2. Viacom was up on Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. And News Corp beat its chest about Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and X-Men: First Class. But Disney’s Cars 2 was no match for last year’s Toy Story 3. Comcast’s Universal Pictures had nothing to compare to last year’s Despicable Me. Lionsgate suffered from Conan The Barbarian and Warrior. And DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 didn’t contribute as much in the quarter as Shrek Forever After did in the same period last year.
Over at the TV networks, Comcast’s NBC underperformed the Street’s already modest expectations. Execs at almost all the companies were eager to talk about the cash they expect to collect soon from political ads — as well as their favorite new ATM machines: retransmission consent deals and digital streamers including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Speaking of Netflix, CEO Reed Hastings once again tried to reassure investors that he’s focused on “building back our reputation and brand strength” after his decision in July to slap a 60% price increase on customers who wanted to continue to rent DVDs and stream videos. In 3Q Netflix lost 57.7% of its market value and 800,000 subscribers. And since that customer loss was bigger than projected, Netflix shares continued to fall — they’re now down 67.3% since July 1.
Here are some other themes from the latest earnings reports:
Ad sales: They’s good, but for how long? Most television networks report that scatter prices are comfortably above the upfront market from this past summer. CBS chief Les Moonves says prices in 4Q are up by “mid-teens” on a percentage basis, while Discovery says it sees least high single digit percentages. But Disney’s Bob Iger noted that scatter prices have “slowed slightly these last few weeks.” Kurt Hall of National CineMedia — the leading seller of ads in movie theaters — was far more direct when he spoke to analysts after ratcheting down his company’s financial forecasts. “I’m sure that the broadcast and cable guys are sitting there now counting their lucky stars they got their upfront done before August,” he told analysts. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
UPDATE, 2:35 PM: The comment about James came from News Corp president Chase Carey, filling in for Rupert Murdoch, who wasn’t on the quarterly conference call with analysts and reporters. Despite growing concerns about James’ role in the News Of The World hacking scandal, the deputy COO “has done a good job and we are not contemplating any changes,” Carey said. He added, in response to a question, that the company is taking “seriously” the strong opposition that several shareholders expressed at the recent annual meeting to many members of the News Corp board — which includes three members of the Murdoch family. “The board will, and is, discussing those votes,” he says. “The board continues to evolve. …. That being said, we’re proud of the board.”
In other matters, Carey says that “we’re not buying the (Los Angeles) Dodgers,” but didn’t elaborate. Sports costs are not a big concern for the company for now because “outside of Los Angeles, most of our contracts are long term,” he says. He’s also unfazed by the NBA strike, saying that “it’s not a significant financial event for us” although “we’d like to see them settle it.” Carey denied that Fox is offering make-goods ads for lower-than-expected initial ratings for The X Factor: ”We have the No. 1 show and make real money from it,” he says. “It came out a bit below where we targeted … but is building momentum.” Not much detail about the collapse of the auction for Hulu. Carey says that it ”has been a positive for us in terms of creating value” despite its “complicated ownership structure.” Carey also didn’t provide much insight into the new programming deal with DirecTV, although he says it’s “fair for both of us.”
Weekend Box Office: ‘Apes’ Still Mighty #1, ‘The Help’ Strong #2, ‘Final Destination’ #3, ’30 Minutes Or Less’ Gets ‘Smurf’ed For #5, Very Feeble ‘Glee 3D’ Drops Out Of Top 10
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 2ND UPDATE: Far be it from Summer 2011 to wind down with a whimper. Instead, these waning weekends are crowded with North American releases. I’m suffering burnout especially with four major studio releases in one weekend. It’s not just me: Hollywood’s distribution departments were calling this the “crowded-nearing-the-end-of-summer-but-thank-goodness-for-Apes-and-Help-kinda-weekend”. So what can we glean overall from these box office grosses close to $150 million, +5% compared to last year’s?
That Twentieth Century Fox’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes stayed #1 for the second straight week because humans empathize with apes no matter if we believe in Darwin or Dr. Spock. That DreamWorks/Disney’s The Help was a close #2 despite a midweek debut because movies based on bestselling books nearly always attract loyal readers and this pic has Oscar buzz. That New Line/Warner Bros’ Final Destination 5 looks like a dying franchise even in 3D because the filmmakers stopped murdering people in interesting or original ways. That Sony’s 30 Minutes Or Less isn’t going to result in action comedies replacing raunchy comedies even if this script started its life as one of Hollywood’s Black List of celebrated unproduced screenplays. (Instead Aziz Ansari needs to keep his day job.) That all non-Gleeks now can relax in the knowledge that Fox will never make another Glee 3D unless a few execs at 20th and 20th TV undergo lobotomies. The concert film opened in only 6th place Friday with $2.7M, then Saturday plunged -39% for just $1.6M which took the pic out of the Top 10 completely. Its $5.5M weekend from 2,040 theaters would be humiliating and downright disastrous if it hadn’t been made for such a low budget – around $9.5M to $9.7M, according to Ryan Murphy who emailed me: “That’s compared to the Bieber film which was around $14 million I believe. So the risk [was] very very low. No matter what it will be a money maker for Fox. I am proud of it.” Murphy, who produced but did not direct, was as befuddled as Fox TV and film execs why the pic didn’t do better, especially because it was given an ‘A+’ CinemaScore from audiences under age 25. “The CinemaScores were excellent. They don’t sync up with the results,” one Fox TV exec emailed me. The film studio expected the film would at least reach double-digits and crack the Top 5 for the weekend. Nope. (More Glee 3D analysis below)
Here’s the Top 10:
1. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 2 [3,691 Theaters]
Friday $8.1M, Saturday $10.8M, Weekend $27M (-49%), Cume $104.4M
Twentieth Century Fox was hoping for a drop of 50% or less on Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and got it. “You do remember that ‘A-’ CinemaScore don’t you?” boasted one studio exec to me. As if this movie wasn’t a prequel to a played-out franchise saved by CGI primates.
2. The Help (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW (Wed opening) [2,534 Theaters]
Friday $7.6M, Saturday $10.1M, Weekend $25.7M, Cume $35.5M
So here’s a big fat TOLDJA! to DreamWorks and Disney execs who whined to me since Wednesday that my five-day projections of $30+M were too aggressive. ”For starters ‘A+’ CinemaScores don’t come along very often and this one will matter as The Help works to help itself into a meaningful crossover film,” as one rival studio exec told me. Interestingly, this dramedy is playing like a Tyler Perry film in the Southeast with significant strength in the Midwest as well. (Not so much in the Rockies and the West. And anemic in Canada.) Now The Blind Side is a comp. Controversy within the African-American community over the racial subject matter didn’t hurt moviegoing and may have increased it because of the media coverage. The DreamWorks pic based on the bestselling book overperformed for its first 5 days with distributor Disney predicting only $25M. The question was exactly how frontloaded The Help would turn out to be and how many more loyal readers flock to theaters after Day One. Then again the book sold 3 million copies and remained on the NYT best-seller list for 103 weeks. According to comps, these so-called appointment films for women based on popular books usually perform in the $20sM. For instance Eat Pray Love did $23M for Friday-Saturday-Sunday the same August weekend last year and its first 5 days was $29M. Julie and Julia also hit $20M.
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 7TH UPDATE: Another strong day for Twentieth Century Fox’s prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apeswhich scored a $19.4M Saturday (small -2% drop from Friday’s $19.7M), indicating word of mouth was good about these CGI animals and Andy Serkis. With an estimated $14.9M Sunday that makes for a 3-day weekend of $54M, lots more than the $35M which Hollywood expected. No doubt about it: origins story movies are working this summer if they’re done as well as this and X-Men: First Class which was another prequel on a Fox franchise. Nice win for former News Corp No. 2-turned-showbiz producer Peter Chernin and his film lieutenant Dylan Clark on Chernin Entertainment’s first film release. The pair said in a statement Sunday: “We’re thrilled to launch Chernin Entertainment with a film that so positively resonated with audiences. We’re proud of the artistic achievement as it is a testament to a smart script, great direction by Rupert Wyatt, stellar actor performances, the amazing visual effects created by the WETA team, and the passion and dedication of the entire crew and our partners at Twentieth Century Fox.” The other major studio new release, Universal’s The Change-Up, surprisingly ticked up (+4%) from Friday for $5.2M Saturday but that’s still a very disappointing $13.5M weekend. This truly isn’t Ryan Reynolds’ summer of stardom after the collapse of Green Lantern here and abroad. Stars are supposed to open movies to at least $20M. Overall moviegoing this weekend looks like $170M, which is up +30% from last year.
Here’s the Top 10:
1. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) NEW [3,648 Theaters]
Friday $19.7M, Saturday $19.4M, Weekend $54M
It’s not just surprising but kinda shocking that Time magazine declared this “2011′s Best Film So Far” and that even fanboy websites declared that “whatever expectations you’re likely to have going in, there’s a good chance this movie will surpass them”. Directed by Rupert Wyatt and written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes seemed too schlocky a project for Peter Chernin to waste his time producing. Or so Hollywood thought. Its CinemaScore was an ‘A-’ and exit polls showed males making up 54% of the audience which was 59% at or over age 25. Why all the fuss over the prequel to such a dated franchise? Because Fox PR claims this is the first live-action film in the history of movies to star, and be told from the point of view of, a sentient animal — a character with human-like qualities, who can strategize, organize and ultimately lead a revolution, and with whom audiences are supposed to experience a real emotional bond. (But my commenters counter: What about Babe etc?) Fox execs point out that the studio wasn’t going to do the guys in ape suits thing again. So the film was impossible to make until James Cameron’s Avatar and Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital progressed performance capture technology to the point of the most realistic CGI ever. Given that, the claimed $93M pricetag co-financed by Fox, Dune Entertainment, and Ingenious seems absurdly modest.
Every single monkey, baboon, and ape in the movie is a product of this performance capture techonology. That earned raves from PETA and for Wyatt a Proggy Award given to animal-friendly companies, people and products. (PETA also showed up at the Ape‘ premiere in LA with signs reading, “Real Apes Love CGI,” and “Thank you, Fox for not using real Apes.”) The buzz this weekend is that Andy Serkis does an award-worthy job as the main chimp Caesar who leads the rebellion. But I don’t know why the trailers I saw mistakenly focused on James Franco who isn’t why moviegoers flocked to opening weekend. Fox was hoping for North American box office in the low-ball $30sM, so $54M is fantastic. “Phenomenal opening validating a sensational marketing effort led by Oren Aviv and Tony Sella,” a Fox exec gushed to me. Then again, tracking has been good for males and fans of the original movies, although softer for females. The fact is that the studio had a lot of ground to make up with this movie because fanboys hated the Tim Burton version from a decade ago. But this origins story scored 82% positive reviews on RottenTomatoes.
Marketing with a company called Mekanism was primarily focused online with the intent to create a global viral phenomenon and spark millions of Internet conversations about the film. There was the strategic use of digital influencers, creative content, and social media platforms to create widespread engagement for over 14 million viral video views and hundreds of millions of earned media impressions. “We’ve created excitement, driven credible word of mouth, and ensured that butts will be in seats to watch Apes Rise on opening weekend,” A Fox exec told me before Friday. WETA Digital hosted a livestream event on Facebook from WETA’s headquarters in New Zealand and gave viewers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the work on the film. The livestream event was live on Facebook’s official fan page for Avatar as well. A free online digital comic book prequel to the movie debuted prior to release from comic series writer Daryl Gregory and artists Damian Couceiro and Tony Parker to set the stage for the movie. There was a new free 5-page digital comic book story weekly since mid-July until the final 10-page conclusion on August 3rd.
2. The Smurfs - 3D (Sony) Week 2 [3,395 Theaters]
Friday $6M, Saturday $8.2M, Weekend $21M (-41%), Cume $76.2M
It’s embarrassing for me just to be writing about The Smurfs. But after just 10 days of release, the film has generated $128.9M worldwide with an overseas cume to date of $52.7M. One of the big surprises of Summer 2011, last weekend’s exceptionally strong debut in North America was followed by enormous strength in several key countries including Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Belgium, France and Germany, among others. This worldwide number is especially impressive when you consider the film has only debuted in about 3 dozen territories. In North America this weekend, The Smurfs saw big mid-week sales that led box office from Monday through Thursday. Strong ticket sales continued into the weekend and went up +37% on Saturday.
3. Cowboys & Aliens (DreamWorks/Universal) Week 2 [3,754 Theaters]
Friday $4.7M, Saturday $6.4M, Weekend $15.7M (-57%), Cume $67.3M
Not an embarrassing drop, but it didn’t have far to fall either. The big question is whether Cowboys & Aliens can make up the deficit overseas where Daniel Craig is a bigger star but also Westerns don’t do well traditionally. For an astute dissection of what went wrong, read this pre-release post by Deadline’s Mike Fleming, Can ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ Lasso Youth?. He answers the questions about why this well-pedigreed pic, despite the godfathering presence of Steven Spielberg and Imagine’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and direction by Jon Favreau, went into the tank. He details the tortured development history involving more than a dozen writers over 14 years. He analyzes the problems of a confused mash-up of two genres that usually don’t cross paths. And he reveals that with a cash break participation pool in the 35% range and no 3D conversion to justify higher ticket prices this movie may have been doomed from the start.
4. The Change-Up (Universal) NEW [2,913 Theaters]
Friday $4.7M, Saturday $5M, Weekend $13.5M
Universal started out the summer very high on this raunchy R-rated comedy with a $52M budget (Relativity was a financing partner) especially because The Change-Up was from the director of Wedding Crashers and the writers of The Hangover. Still it was surprising that David Dobkin would waste his time on such a tired body-switching premise, but this film won’t have the enormous playability or multiples of this summer’s other raunchy R-rated laughers. CinemaScore was a ‘B’ with an audience that was 59% Female vs. 41% male and 50% at or older than age 30 vs. 50% under
30. All along tracking had been strongest with females, with younger females demonstrating the strongest interest. “It’s disappointing. We’re kind of confounded by it,” a Uni exec told me Friday night. “This movie played like the best R-rated comedies we have.” But reviews hammered this pic and trailers looked lame. Marketing was sub-par as if red-band online trailers, one that opened the campaign and one that closed it, would put people in seats. Maybe audiences were tired after so many of Summer 2011′s R-rated comedies.
The TV campaign began early with a spot on the finale for The Family Guy in late May, followed by a run on the NBA Finals in early June and then cable, cable, and more cable channels as well as the TV talk shows. The supposedly “likeable” pairing of Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman was a key strategy in publicity, and they did many of their promotional appearances together. Universal fanned out with an extensive word-of-mouth campaign and 350 screenings across the country. But none of it worked.
5. Captain America - 3D (Marvel/Disney/Paramount) Week 3 [3,620 Theaters]
Friday $3.7M, Saturday $5.5M, Weekend $13M, Cume $143.1M
6. Harry Potter/Hallows Pt 2 – 3D (Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,175 Theaters]
Friday $3.3M, Saturday $5.1M, Weekend $12.1M, Cume $342.8M
7. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,020 Theaters]
Friday $3.7M, Saturday $4.9M, Weekend $12.1M (-37%), Cume $42.1M
8. Friends With Benefits (Sony) Week 3 [2,398 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.7M, Cume $48.5M
9. Horrible Bosses (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,025 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.6M, Cume $105.1M
10. Transformers 3 – 3D (Paramount) Week 6 [1,854 Theaters]
Friday $850K, Saturday $1.3M, Weekend $3M, Cume $344.1M
Deadline Comic-Con Movie Contributor Luke Y Thompson reports:
It’s the story every media outlet is dying to tell every year: “Comic-Con just ain’t what it used to be.” This year, however, the event — set for July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center — comes with some alarmist (and circumstantial) evidence: Warner Bros won’t be doing a movie presentation. Marvel Studios won’t be either, even though the tiniest teaser for The Avengers last year made for the most memorable panel. Disney initially appeared absent too. So what’s going on? Did the failure of Scott Pilgrim to triumph at the box office following a massive Con promotion last year leave studios leery?
Well, you’d think if that were the case, Universal would feel the most burned — yet they’re doubling down by holding the premiere of Cowboys and Aliens there, inviting many of the fans to attend; one would imagine the big names like Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig will at least attend.
Disney, which now owns the Muppets and Marvel Studios, is likely saving those properties for its own D23 Expo in Anaheim toward the end of August. They are, however, bringing the DreamWorks pickup Fright Night to Comic-Con (in presentation and screening form) — notably, this is a movie that will open Aug. 19, the same day the D23 Expo begins, so it makes sense to hype it sooner. Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are the big names attending; curiously, the publicity has consistently downplayed the presence of former Doctor Who star David Tenant, and he has not been mentioned as attending, though he’d be given a hero’s welcome if he did.
Warner Bros’ lack of a movie panel may largely be due to the fact that the next Superman and Batman movies aren’t ready to show much yet — Man of Steel star Henry Cavill will be there, but on behalf of Relativity’s Immortals (also Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz and Mickey Rourke; director Tarsem Singh is not currently expected). Certainly WB is showing a ton of TV previews, but I’ll leave that to my colleague Gary Hodges to discuss. The biggest question mark in my mind is what Time Warner-owned Entertainment Weekly will put on the cover of their Comic-Con issue now: traditionally, it’s been a big reveal from a Warners movie.
The biggest name being batted about right now as a possibility is Steven Spielberg, to present footage from his The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Certainly, a Tintin presentation would be wise, as the teaser has left many (myself included) highly skeptical. The fanbase needs persuading, and since it’s Spielberg, there’s probably at least one kickass scene that can get people hyped. But Paramount’s still playing things close to the vest — when I asked a publicist there about Comic-Con plans, I was told “It’s uncertain what or if we’re bringing anything.” That’s not a denial. And there has been talk of a Captain America screening — whether that translates into an actual panel is uncertain, as the regular press junkets and such will already be in full swing for the movie, opening that week.
20th Century Fox’s resuscitation of the Planet of the Apes franchise has brought another trailer that better reveals the story behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The Rupert Wyatt-directed film stars James Franco and opens Aug. 5. There will be high expectations, considering that the 1968 Charlton Heston …
20th Century Fox has released the first trailer for one of its big summer hopefuls, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The prequel to the venerable ape saga stars James Franco and will be released Aug. 5.