It’s Day 81 of the #WritersStrike and Day 9 of the @sagaftra strike. We stand with writers, actors, crew members, and every creative worker fighting for a livable wage.
After news of a string of movies shutting down production, we received reports of completed films delaying opening dates or outright going into the vault until the SAG-AFTRA strike ends. Yesterday, Eric Bana announced the delay of “Force of Nature: The Dry 2.” The Australian actor is the producer and star of this Robert Connolly-directed thriller, also starring Anna Torv - from David Fincher’s Netflix series “Mindhunter” -.
The sequel to surprise hit “The Dry,” also directed by Connolly, is the kind of movie Hollywood does not make anymore: a mid-tier programmer pitched at an adult audience. Its box-office prospects are, at best, those of a sleeper hit. The theatrical runs work as a preview of the eventual run on View on Demand and streaming channels, where most of its audience will find it.
You could almost see theater owners shrugging. Alas, today we woke up with the news that Warner Brothers is considering delaying pretty much all of its remaining slate of films for 2023. According to Variety, the studio may push the eagerly-awaited sequel “Dune: Part Two 2”, the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” and D.C. Comics “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” to sometime in 2024.
If Warner does it, chances are the rest of the big studios will follow suit. Universal has “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and David Gordon Green’s surprise sequel to “The Exorcist” set for October, the animated sequel “Trolls Band Together” for November, and Illumination Studios’ “Migration” for December. Disney dated the superhero extravaganza “The Marvels” for November 10 and the original animated feature “Wish” for November 22. If all these movies were delayed, the 2023 balance sheet of theater owners would suffer.
Teyonah Parris has a mystical experience in "The Marvels." / Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
At this moment, these are conjectures. However, MGM’s “Challengers” is the first big movie to hit the bench for real. The romantic comedy starring Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor would open the Venice Film Festival on August 30, ahead of a September 15 premiere stateside. The studio decided to pull the movie off, putting the release on hold until summer 2024. Festival organizers announced the Italian “Comandante,” directed by Edoardo De Angelis and starring Pierfrancesco Favino, will take its place as the opening attraction.
You could say that studios have to do this to preserve the potential of their investment. These expensive projects need the stars in the frontline, doing the hard-sell shimmy in red-carpet premieres, interviews in banner outlets, and press junkets. The actors can’t even post on social media to promote their movies. Naively, I thought the popularity of, say, Zendaya was more than enough to supply for her absence. The “Challengers” delay is proof that that is not the case.
Josh O'Connor and Zendaya face off in "Challengers." / Photo courtesy of MGM, © 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This choice points to a more troubling issue. It looks like the suits are ready to play hardball. They are in this for the long run and seem willing to let writers and actors suffer the hit of a prolonged strike, missing income for weeks or months. The studios have enough reserves to ride this out for a while. Regular people on the picket lines do not. And film festivals will have to count on non-US, non-SAG actors to bring star power to the red carpet.
What can theaters do if the studios pack their wares? Well, all signs point to “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” and “Mission Impossible 7 - Dead Reckoning, part 1” having legs at the box office, which would allow them to play well into the fall. Besides nurturing holdovers from the summer season, exhibitors can learn a thing or two from Comic Con.
The landmark event of commercial fandom seemed doomed when his usual partners at Disney/Marvel and Warner Brothers/DC held back from participating. Is it Comic-Con if there are no stars on the podium? God bless director James Wan, but the main draw of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is its cast: Jason Momoa, Nicole Kidman, and Patrick Wilson. What to do if the Hollywood blockbusters are MIA? Well, get something that looks like a Hollywood blockbuster!
“Project K,” also known as “Kalki 2898-AD,” is an epic action film combining elements from Hinduism and science fiction tropes. The movie is in production, aiming for a 2024 release date. The cast includes Bollywood institution Amitabh Bachchan. A panel complete with dancers served as a showcase for the movie. Director Nag Ashwin and some of his actors were in attendance. Check out the teaser trailer.
Like Comic-Con, theaters can look for movies outside of the USA borders, or rather, outside of the English-speaking countries whose industries hold connecting vessels with Hollywood. Remember, Eric Bana is an Australian actor. Distribution of American documentaries is unencumbered by the strike, although you might have some screenwriters who belong to WGA and might have to abide by strike rules. Classic horror films and cult classic movies have a built-in audience. Do you want to make a screening special? Book an academic for a Q&A.
The studios’ reprieve might be a boon for foreign cinema and documentaries, but it will not summon the crowd traditional studio fare attracts. But it is a bigger drag to be a working film actor or writer and has to take extra jobs to pay the rent. Perhaps theater owners can close ranks with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA and take the right side in this fight.
There is another stream of movies that can help theaters stay afloat during the strike: classic cinema! Many oldies are getting a new lease on life, and the proof is in the pudding. Sure, it sucks that we’ll have to wait months to see “Challengers,” but have you seen the Venice Film Festival classics’ sidebar?
"The Exorcist" (William Friedkin, 1973) and "Days of Heaven" (Terrence Malick, 1978) are so easily available that their presence fails to register as a novelty. We can't say the same for restorations of "Andrei Rublev - Director's Cut." Carlos Saura's landmark allegory of Franco-ruled Spain "The Hunt" (1966) - not to be confused with the 2012 Danish drama starring Mads Mikkelsen or Craig Zobel's 2020 violent satire of Trump's America -and Mexican maestro Arturo Ripstein's "Deep Crimson" (1996), his take on the true-life story of the Saint Valentine Killers.
Other highlights include Yasujiro Ozu’s “There Was a Father,” with some of the scenes cut by censors in 1942 re-edited into the movie, and Stephanie Rothman’s “The Working Girls” (1974), a proto-feminist exploitation film done under the wings of producer Roger Corman.
Robin Williams would have been 72 years old today. The beloved comedian harnessed his manic energy on the big screen and won an Oscar for his dramatic performance in “Good Will Hunting” (Gus Van Sant, 1997) as the therapist helping out a math prodigy who works as a janitor in M.I.T.
Gone too soon: Robin Williams would have been 72 years old today. / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
The exuberant stand-up comedian first found fame as the titular alien in the sitcom “Mork and Mindy” (1978-1982). He had an early brush with Hollywood as “Popeye” in Robert Altman’s misunderstood 1980 comic classic. Critics embraced him with “The World According to Garp” (1982) and “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984). He scored his first of four Oscar nominations with “Good Morning, Vietnam” (Barry Levinson, 1987). He alternated between dramas and comedies with abandon, conquering the box office with “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) and “Jumanji” (1995). He died in 2014.
"The Marvels" are coming on November 10!….well, if Warner Brother does shelve it until the strike ends. Check out Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson in the new trailer for Marvel-MCU's next adventure.
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