August 04, 2017
In the dog days of August, the line between franchise-spawning summer blockbuster and colossal financial flop gets rather blurry.
Studios tend to put their surefire tentpoles in the months of May, June and July. Meanwhile, the more riskier outings are saved for August. This month is home to the films Hollywood hopes are hits yet remain nervous about. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, in 2014 “Guardians of the Galaxy” was embraced by audiences and shocked the industry with a $773 million worldwide gross.
A year later, “Fantastic Four” bombed so hard director Josh Trank virtually disappeared and fans literally petitioned 20th Century Fox to sell the film rights back to Marvel Studios. Last year, “Suicide Squad” split the difference, becoming a financial success despite being critically reviled. Now, “The Dark Tower” occupies this tumultuous spot on the calendar.
It’s a long time coming for this adaptation from Stephen King’s book series. J.J. Abrams and writing partner Damon Lindelof first secured the rights back in 2007 but could never get the project off the ground. In 2010, Ron Howard and Universal stepped in with an ambitious plan. The goal was to make a trilogy of films with a TV mini-series in between each installment.
The real canary in the coal mine, though, arrived on Variety’s homepage Tuesday morning with a piece painting a troubled production."
Howard hired Akiva Goldsman to write the screenplay and reached out to Javier Bardem to play the main protagonist. A 2013 release date was set but production stalled in 2011. A plethora of rumors followed: Russell Crowe was in talks. Warner Brothers was approached to finance the project. Liam Neeson expressed interest.
The process finally kicked into gear in 2015 when Sony and MRC won the rights. Relative unknown Nikolaj Arcel was tapped as director while Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey signed on as the leads. Nonetheless, observers remained skeptical. King is famously protective of his work and some of his adaptations are notoriously awful.
That trepidation was exacerbated when the release date kept being shifted around. The first trailer wasn’t released until May and the runtime was announced as 95 minutes. An hour and a half is a common runtime for comedies but not action pictures. Insiders interpreted this as a troubling sign since the shorter span allows more showings on opening weekends, which is the best way to get as much cash as quickly as possible.
The real canary in the coal mine, though, arrived on Variety’s homepage Tuesday morning with a piece painting a troubled production.Sony felt Arcel was in over his head and studio chief Tom Rothman went so far as to supervise edits. Test screenings left audiences confused leading to reshoots to better explain a complex backstory (the film apparently takes place in the middle of King’s seven-part series). A story like that, coming out in a major Hollywood publication the week of release, suggests the negative chatter surrounding the picture is overwhelming. It also provides the opportunity for those involved to pre-emptively and anonymously point fingers and put the blame onto others.
Reviews were embargoed until Wednesday night, another poor sign, and so far the movie is sitting at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Tracking puts the opening weekend in the $20M-25M range. There is a silver lining, though, as the film cost just $66 million to produce. That’s quite economical for a film like this.
Prediction: $20 Million
Oscar season is coming early as “Detroit” expands nationwide in the hopes of serving as counterprogramming. The film chronicles the true story of the Algiers Motel incident during the 1967 Detroit riots. Given the fraught subject matter, indie studio Annapurna is depending heavily on the movie’s star and director, John Boyega and Kathryn Bigelow, respectively.
Bigelow, meanwhile, is arguably a star in her own right. Not only is she the only woman to win a Best Director Oscar (“The Hurt Locker”), until “Wonder Woman,” Bigelow was also the sole female to direct a $100 million budgeted film (“K-19: The Widowmaker”).
Her most recent work “Zero Dark Thirty” made $24 million during its wide release. Although that film benefitted, and suffered, from controversies about how it received information concerning the raid to kill Osama bin Laden as well as scenes depicting torture. So far, “Detroit” has grossed $433,456 from 20 theaters since last weekend. At the moment, it’s looking at an opening between $10M and $15M. A 93% Rotten Tomatoes score should help it get there.
Prediction: $12 Million
The thriller’s actually already made $146,555 from Thailand, of all places, when it hit theaters there in June. Tracking has it earning $8 million, while Rotten Tomatoes shows just 40% of critics approve. It won’t even get that much.
Prediction: $4 Million