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Entries in Hollywood (2)



A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

They are the big six; the studios that have shaped Hollywood history. Today, the red-&-black ink ledgers that only the likes of Louis B Mayer, the Warner brothers or Lew Wasserman were privy to are open books for all to see. And the marketplace is filled with mini-majors (like Lionsgate) and small, savvy operators (like Megan Ellison’s A24). So, in 2016, which studio heads slept easy at night and who woke every day feeling the burning glare of the stockholders…

(Combined domestic/international, in US$; as of December 18; Source: ShowBuzzDailyBox Office Mojo)

1. DISNEY: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $6.426billion; Market Share – 24.2%
HITS: Captain America: Civil War (#1; $1.153b; pictured, below); Finding Dory (#2; $1.027b); Zootopia (#3; $1.24b); The Jungle Book (#4; $966m); Doctor Strange (#10; $667m); Rogue One A Star Wars Story* (#11; $576m); Moana* (#25; $308m)
MISSES: Alice Through the Looking Glass (#26; $229m); The BFG (#39; $178m); The Finest Hours (#80; $52m) The Light Between Oceans (#102; $23m).
ANALYSIS: The studio’s red inkers (the expensive underperformance of Alice Through the Looking Glass; the non-starters like The BFG and The Finest Hours) have faded from memory in the wake of the combined box office might of the Marvel line-up, a resurgent in-house animation division (Zootopia; Moana) and smart property relaunches (The Jungle Book; Pete’s Dragon, which hit $144m). And there are still the first two weeks of Rogue One grosses to round out the year! The undisputed box office champ of 2016.

2. WARNER BROTHERS: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $4.499billion; Market Share – 17.8%
HITS: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (#6; 873m); Suicide Squad (#7; $746m); Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them* (#9; $740m); The Legend of Tarzan (#19; $357m); The Conjuring 2 (#24; $320m); Sully (#30; $228m); Central Intelligence (#31; $217m); Lights Out (#47; $149m)
MISSES: Collateral Beauty* (#109; $20m; pictured, right); Keanu (#108; $20m); The Nice Guys (#89; $36m**); Barbershop The Next Cut (#79; $54m); War Dogs (#65; $86m)
ANALYSIS: The WB fought off a savaging by critics and fanboy backlash to post big numbers on their DC blockbusters and successfully recaptured that Potter magic to find fantastic returns on JK Rowling’s return. The big profits stemmed from mid-budget horror hits The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out; did well to position the upmarket Eastwood/Hanks pic Sully as both a prestige title and box office performer. Dropped the ball on The Nice Guys (which seemed a pre-elease sure thing); counter-programming the underwhelming (and terribly titled) Collateral Beauty against Rogue One hasn’t work.

3. 20TH CENTURY FOX: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $3.963billion; Market Share – 13.4%
HITS: Deadpool (#7; $783m; pictured, below); X-Men Apocalypse (#12; $544m); The Revenant (#13; $533m); Kung Fu Panda 3 (#14; $520m); Ice Age Collision Course (#17; $407m); Independence Day Resurgence (#18; $390m); Trolls* (#23; $328m)
MISSES: Rules Don’t Apply* (#134; $4m); Morgan (#126; $8m); The Birth of A Nation* (#117; $16m); Keeping Up with The Jones (#94; $29m); Eddie the Eagle (#81; $46m); Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (#70; $77m).
ANALYSIS: The infectious sense of fun that the marketing team clearly had with the release of Deadpool caught on with audiences. Stood by Leo with an all-or-nothing Oscar campaign for The Revenant, though Best Picture loss must have lead to head-scratching. Worked hard to counter negative buzz, pre- and post-release, on X-Men Apocalypse (“Memo from head office: Don’t choke women in your key-art”). Delivered good returns on ready-made family hits (Ice Age and Kung-Fu Panda sequels; Trolls), but couldn’t find mid-level performers. Felt like Beatty’s bomb, Rules Don’t Apply, was marked ‘ Too Hard Basket’ from early in the campaign.

4. UNIVERSAL: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $3.011billion; Market Share – 12%
HITS: The Secret Life of Pets (#5; $875m); Warcraft (#15; $433m); Jason Bourne (#16; $415m); Bridget Jones Baby (#34; $212m); The Girl on The Train (#40; $175m; pictured, below).
MISSES: Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping (#123; $9m); Kevin Hart What Now? (#104; $23m); Hail, Caesar! (#77; $63m); The Boss (#69; $79m); My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (#64; $89m); Neighbours 2 Sorority Rising (#60; $108m)
ANALYSIS: Universal’s one big, ambitious role of the dice, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, was butchered domestically yet rose to the challenge globally; kudos to the international marketing teams, who did what their bosses couldn’t, silencing the critics and convincing the fans. Otherwise, it was a play-it-safe, steady-as-she goes slate – an animated hit, a slew of ok sequels, one surprise hit in lit-adaptation The Girl on The Train (again, despite the baying of critics). Proved with their mirthless raft of ‘funny’ films that, apparently, both dying and comedy can be easy.

5. SONY PICTURES: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $1.789billion; Market Share – 8.2%
HITS: The Angry Birds Movie (#20; $350m); Ghostbusters (#29; $229m); Inferno* (#32; $217m); The Magnificent Seven (#42; $161m); Don’t Breathe (#44; $153m); Sausage Party (#50; $140m); The Shallows (#54; $119m)
MISSES: Pride and Prejudices and Zombies (#115; $16m); The Brothers Grimsby (#97; $25m); Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk* (#96; $26m; pictured, right); Risen (#82; $46m); Money Monster (#63; $93m); The 5th Wave (#57; $110m).
ANALYSIS: It was Angry Birds then daylight for the SPE crowd. Their phone-app property made the leap to bigscreen glory (financially, at least), but the rest of the bunch proved frustratingly blah (Inferno; The Magnificent Seven) or bound by genre (Don’t Breathe; Sausage Party). Must be still shaking their collective head at what they had to overcome to give Ghostbusters a fair go; all things considered, a global gross of $229m was not too shabby. The Shallows seemed primed for bigger things, but couldn’t quite break out. Of the duds, Money Monster must’ve been the biggest letdown, with a Cannes world premiere and old-school star power (Clooney, Roberts, Foster) failing to ignite interest.

6. PARAMOUNT: 2016 Worldwide Gross - $1.338billion; Market Share – 7.7%
HITS: Star Trek Beyond (#21; $343m); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of The Shadows (#28; $246m); Jack Reacher Never Look Back (#43; $160m); Arrival* (#48; $144m); 10 Cloverfield Lane (#59; $108m)
MISSES: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot** (#102; $23m; pictured, right); Florence Foster Jenkins** (#95; $27m); Zoolander 2 (#78; $56m); 13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (#75; $69m)
ANALYSIS: Arrival is making a late run for box office glory, but in every other respect it was a year to forget for Paramount. Was relieved when the choice to let Fast & Furious guru Justin Lin liven up the Star Trek franchise worked out, but other prime properties (TMNT; Cruise’s Jack Reacher) left critics and audiences soured. Like Sony and Fox, the art of pumping up mid-level entrants into box office leaders seems to be a lost one; 10 Cloverfield Lane had buzz and opened big, but fell short of its promise. Terribly missed opportunity with Tina Fey’s terrific Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; coulda been this generation’s M*A*S*H, but turned to mush. Downbeat year had far-reaching consequences; amongst a raft of layoffs by Viacom overlords, long time Australian boss Mike Selwyn and marketing head Kate Smith were walked.

*Still in general release
**Domestic only; International release via distribution partners.



Reflecting upon the cinematic year, I recalled not so much the movies I saw (681 in total, with thanks to the awesome Letterboxd site) but the lively discussions, heated debates and vast opinions I enjoyed with those I am fortunate to call colleagues and friends. So below you won't find my Best/Worst of the Year opinions (if you're inclined, you can find that here), but more a revisiting of the issues and events that left an impression upon me...

“Another round, bartender…”
In 2014, ‘Hollywood Blockbusters’ mostly resembled drunks in a seedy bar early on a Wednesday afternoon. There was the refined gentleman acting above his fellow patrons yet, deep down, fully aware he was the just like them (Captain America: The Winter Soldier); the increasingly haggard old broad (The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part 1) who dragged along her innocent daughter (Divergent) for her first sip; the hulking, brooding boozer who threatens to erupt but mostly just mumbles to himself (Godzilla); the fading 40-somethings who loudly reminisce about the good old days when they were relevant (X-Men Days of Future Past; The Amazing Spiderman 2; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, top); the violent, obnoxious jerk who everyone hates (Transformers: Age of Extinction); the douche-bag hipster, covered in brand names, who gets less funny the longer he drinks (The LEGO Movie); and, the sad little nobody that no one talks to and most forget is even there (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). But then there were the films who peeked into the bar, saw the worst that they could be and said “no”; blockbusters that instead developed vibrant, funny personalities (Guardians of the Galaxy; 22 Jump Street; Neighbors), serious smarts (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Edge of Tomorrow, above) and human, empathetic souls (The Fault in Our Stars).

Film Critics Can Make of Break Your Movie. Except if you’re The Babadook. Or These Final Hours. Or Tracks. Or Predestination.
Respected Australian critic Margaret Pomeranz had a lot to say in the wake of director/star Josh Lawson’s A Little Death (pictured, below) tanking domestically. Pomeranz, who called time in December on a 28 year career as the yin to David Stratton’s yang on the iconic At The Movies show (the pair; pictured right), penned an op-ed piece in which she took her peers to task for bagging the sex-themed rom-com (on which her son, Josh, was an EP). Toronto critics liked it (it had its US premiere there, so the festival mood was...festive), while Australian journos largely derided it. “(When) effort is made and talent is discernible, I think it ought to be acknowledged rather than have its undeniable flaws recklessly highlighted,” Pomeranz opined. It was an embarrassing outburst of self-serving personal opinion by Pomeranz; she has bagged innumerable films with one or two star reviews, most of them made with good intentions and plenty of talent attached, though few of them Australian (“I have become well-known for supporting Australian films, I've been accused of being too generous, of awarding half a star too many, whatever,” she deflects in her rant). It was one of the many bewildering contradictions in the piece. “What is it with Australian critics of Australian films? Are we setting the bar so high that no one can possibly jump over it?” she bleats. Well, Australian critics loved The Babadook, These Final Hours, Felony, Galore, Charlie’s Country, Tracks and Predestination; they mostly liked Healing, The Rover, The Infinite Man and The Turning. But shitty marketing and outmoded distribution strategies hurt them all. Pomeranz should have used her profile to force answers from decision-makers in the sector and worried less about the general opinion of a minor work in which she has personal investment.

No, television is not ‘The New Cinema’…
Television continued its highly touted ‘renaissance’ in 2014, which led many to declare that film would soon be dead in the water. Which is, of course, nonsense. Television is offering up some terrific entertainment, such as 2014 newbies Gracepoint, Broad City, Peaky Blinders and Olive Kettridge and holdovers The Walking Dead, Masters of Sex, The Americans and Orange is the New Black. But television, by its very nature, is bound by convention, from the 43 or 22 minute commercial framing to the very platform on which it is seen (no matter how big TVs get, they will always be ‘the small screen’). What has improved is the boldness of the writing; not the quality per se, just the themes and narratives being tackled by some of Hollywood’s best wordsmiths. But television can never mimic the scale and scope of cinema, the fully immersive sensorial experience, the all-consuming atmospherics. In his popular podcast, Bret Easton Ellis chatted with director James Gray (on-set of his 2014 film, The Immigrant; pictured, right) on the essential value of seeing films on the biggest screen possible. “The specialness of the event, of going to the theatre, with a lot of people, in a big room where you (eat) your warmed popcorn with the bad butter,” said an impassioned Gray, “well, that was amazing. I don’t think anything tops that. Certainly not watching it on my iPad."

The Booming Irrelevance of The Oscars…
Actually, that needs clarification. The Oscars circus is still crucial to the movie-making industrial complex. The award season madness, which culminates with the glitz and glamour of the Academy Awards ceremony, provides a point-of-difference for Hollywood’s marketeers, allowing them to cover their respective studios in the glow of socially redeeming, issue-based films, the kind that can make money without fast food tie-ins. The films need not be very challenging, very insightful or even very good; earlier this year, such earnest, average voters-bait as 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club triumphed, while Her and American Hustle were elevated far beyond their worth to provide an element of ‘cool relevance’; in a few weeks, the vastly over-rated Boyhood, this year’s BIG issue-pic Selma and obligatory Brit contenders The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything will dominate the 2015 line-up; we can only hope Birdman (pictured, left), Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Nightcrawler brighten Oscars’ podium with their unique visions. Of course, I’ll clear my calendar to watch it live. 

Also, it just crossed my mind that...

Scarlett Johansson is in a very good place. From the fearless ferocity of Under the Skin, the lunacy of Lucy and the sexy, good-time physicality she exuded in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the actress (pictured, right) had a great 2014.

Shailene Woodley will be America’s next great film actress. Two big hits in 2014 (the franchise-starter, Divergent; YA phenomenon The Fault in Our Stars), a hotly-anticipated indie (Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard) about to roll-out, and the lead in the new Oliver Stone film locked in, Woodley is on track for super-stardom.

Indie Horror is where it’s at! Studios have bailed on horror fans (Annabelle? Ugh, puh-leeze; Eric Bana's Deliver Us From Evil was terrible) but the independent sector delivered the year’s most memorable midnight movie-going moments with nerve-rattlers like Honeymoon, Starry Eyes, The Sacrament, How to Save Us, Oculus and Inner Demon.

Keanu Reeves is back. Not just because he was in the year’s bloodiest, most exhilarating action film, John Wick (pictured, left), but also because he handled with grace the wave of ill-will about his actually-quite-awesome flop 47 Ronin, took on the new technological paradigm of digital filmmaking as frontman on the doco series Side by Side and directed the martial arts bone cruncher, The Man from Tai-Chi (yes, 2013, but saw it this year).

Subtitles rule. Iranian Nami Javidi made his directing debut with the unnerving, compelling drama, Melbourne. Other foreign sector must-sees were Cannes favourites Leviathan and Winter Sleep; the dialogue-free social document, Manakamana; the 5½ hour Filipino drama, From What is Before; and, Ida.

And, from the desk of Amy Pascal. Change all your passwords, now.

Thanks for all your support in 2014 and have a happy and safe New Year.
Simon Foster, Managing Editor