Through Monday, the Marvel Studios release has earned $242.2 million domestically, the second best four-day return ever for a feature film, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The film has become a watershed for cinema starring black actors, dismantling the myth in Hollywood that they aren’t financially successful internationally. It is also an unprecedented hit for a film set in Africa — in Black Panther‘s case, the fictional nation of Wakanda, but still emphatically set within the continent.
Those figures indicate both how small and how new of a market sub-Saharan Africa remains for Hollywood features. For example, in Nigeria, which features a robust filmmaking industry known as Nollywood, many movies historically premiered either on television or direct to home video, bypassing theatrical distribution entirely.
Much like BlackPanther‘s impact elsewhere, however, the film has created a new model for how Hollywood could roll out its feature films in major African markets — and smaller ones, too.
Tearing through the box office — and Hollywood preconceptions — with a pair of vibranium claws, Black Panther opened this weekend with an estimated $192 million domestically over its first three days. With an additional $169 million in international grosses since Tuesday, the movie has already made an astonishing $361 million worldwide. (And that total should climb significantly on Monday due to the President’s Day holiday; Disney is already projecting a $218.2 million four-day domestic total.)
Marvel Studios’ first black superhero film — and the first mainstream black superhero movie at all since 2008’s Hancock — earned rapturousreviews, and early projections suggested the film would be a significant hit. Instead, Black Panther ended up as no less than a watershed moment in Hollywood history:
It’s the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a film released in February. Or March. Or April.
The previous record was held by Deadpool‘s $132.4 million debut in 2016. Black Panther has also easily surpassed in three days Deadpool‘s $152.2 million domestic record for the four-day President’s Day holiday weekend. It’s worth reiterating that Black Panther made this much money in February, taking in more in a single weekend than several of the month’s all-time top grossers earned in their entire theatrical runs.
It’s the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a Marvel Studios film that doesn’t have “Avengers” in the title.
The previous record was held by Captain America: Civil War‘s $179.1 million domestic debut in 2017.
It’s the biggest global debut ever for a film with a predominantly black cast.
The previous record was held by Straight Outta Compton‘s $66.3 million worldwide debut in 2015.
It’s the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a black director.
The previous record was held by F. Gary Gray’s $98.8 million debut for 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. (Grey still holds the global record of $541.9 million, due to the Fast and Furious franchise’s colossal popularity abroad.)
And it’s the fifth biggest domestic opening weekend ever.
Black Panther‘s rare A+ CinemaScore is a strong indicator that word-of-mouth should lead the film to continue breaking records for the duration of its theatrical run. Reports of totallysold-outtheaters have been common, and demand was so high over the weekend that many multiplex theaters simply choose to play Black Pantheronpracticallyeveryavailablescreen.
The outpouring of rabid enthusiasm makes plain that Black Panther‘s triumph at the box office means more than just outstripping financial milestones. Much as 2012’s The Hunger Games made abundantly clear that a female-fronted action movie could be a global sensation — and paved the way for Wonder Woman‘s historicbox officerun last summer — Black Panther has demolished the persistent and pernicious idea that movies starring black actors, made by black filmmakers, and telling black stories are niche projects incapable of making blockbuster money.
It will take many months, if not years, to discern how (or whether) Black Panther‘s success affected real change within Hollywood. But what is immediately clear is that the reverberations of the movie’s impact should be felt well beyond the scope of a single superhero movie. Here’s how.
Black Panther should explode the careers of the people who made it.
For the weeks leading up to Black Panther‘s debut in theaters, its stars — including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Gurira — were everywhere promoting the film, in interviews, on social media, and at glamorous red carpet premieres on at least four continents. It’s the kind of massive global exposure that black actors who aren’t Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, or Samuel L. Jackson rarely if ever receive.
Many actors have joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with tattered careers (Robert Downey Jr.), struggling film careers (Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston), or perfectly fine film careers nonetheless limited by the prejudices of who was allowed to headline a major action movie (Scarlett Johansson), and then witnessed their professional fortunes blossom when nourished by Marvel Studios’ global popularity. They’ve gone on to headline everything from gigantic action franchises to challenging, awards-y dramas, and the same should be true for Black Panther‘s actors. Consider that while Nyong’o has had standout motion-capture and voice-over roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book, Black Panther is only the second live-action movie she’s made since winning an Academy Award four years ago for 12 Years a Slave.
Black Panther has also proven to be a fabulous showcase for costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison, all of whom should now be so high in demand that they’ll have to turn down work — probably so they can make whatever Black Panther‘s director, Ryan Coogler, wants to do next. Marvel has a trickier track record launching filmmakers outside its walls; even major successes like Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn have elected to keep making Marvel movies rather than branch beyond the studio. But the arc of Coogler’s career — the acclaimed Sundance darling Fruitvale Station, the acclaimed Rocky spinoff Creed, and now the acclaimed Black Panther — have burnished his bona fides both as an artist and as someone who can successfully navigate the tricky demands of high-budget filmmaking. He should be able to make whatever he wants at any studio he wants, and his agents should be making absolutely sure his payment is commensurate with his abilities and box office performance.
Black Panther should dismantle the myth that movies with black stars never play well outside of the US.
It would be foolish to pretend that racism and prejudice don’t affect how well movies about minorities play in any part of the world. And it is true that some of the biggest movies with black stars in recent years — Get Out,Hidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton, and Ride Along — had significantly lower grosses internationally than in the US and Canada, whereas typically the opposite is true.
Black Panther, however, opened in 48 foreign territories over the past week, with the full weight of Disney’s global promotional machine in support. With three major markets — Russia, Japan, and China — still to come, the movie has already earned more internationally in six days than any of those aforementioned films earned in their entire foreign theatrical runs. Granted, none of those films enjoyed anything close to the global procession Black Panther has received. At its widest worldwide release, Get Out played in 40 territories, and it slowly built up to that number after it had been in domestic theaters for almost three months. Hidden Figures and Straight Outta Compton had even smaller international rollouts, maxing out at just 19 territories. Ride Along never played in more than 10.
A sprawling network of distributors made these decisions, supposedly attuned to the specific cultural nuances of their respective territories. A movie about black women working at NASA, or a rap group born from south central Los Angeles, were thought to be too niche for much of the rest of the world, and trying to market them for a more thorough global release would just be a waste of money.
But the Fast and Furious franchise, which almost compulsively references its roots in Los Angeles and boasts a widely diverse cast, has consistently churned out the biggest hit movies in the world. Disney has recently enjoyed enormous global success with culturally specific animated features Coco and Moana. And then there’s the fact that movies with black casts have played incredibly well internationally for decades, including comedies (1996’s The Nutty Professor, 2006’s Big Momma’s House 2), crime thrillers (2006’s Inside Man, 2007’s American Gangster), action comedies (1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II), romantic comedies (2005’s Hitch), period action comedy thrillers (2012’s Django Unchained), and prestige dramas (2013’s Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave, which more that doubled its domestic gross internationally).
If these films and others like them couldn’t convince foreign distribution executives that it’s worth investing in a major global release for films with black actors — films they know will be hits in the US — it’s unclear whether Black Panther will either. But it’s also more unmistakable than ever that those executives also risk letting giant piles of money rot away in the pit of antiquated prejudices.
Black Panther should boost studio support for upcoming movies starring people of color.
Fortunately, Black Panther is far from the only major feature film that will showcase people of color in 2018. A sampling: Disney will release the fantasy epic A Wrinkle in Time with Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and Michael Peña on March 9. Universal will release the monster movie epic Pacific Rim Uprising with John Boyega on March 23, and the home invasion thriller Breaking In with Gabrielle Union on May 11. Warner Bros. has the romantic dramedy Crazy Rich Asians with Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh on Aug. 17. Twentieth Century Fox has the YA sci-fi adventure film The Darkest Minds with Amandla Stenberg on Aug. 3, and the crime thriller Widows with Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez on Nov. 16. And Sony Pictures has the vigilante thriller The Equalizer 2 with Denzel Washington on July 20, and the animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with Shameik Moore (Dope) voicing Miles Morales on Dec. 14.
All of these studios should spend this week reevaluating the scope and ambition of their promotional and international distribution plans for these films, and perhaps add a zero to the marketing budgets. There is an immense population ravenous for the stories these movies are telling; treating them as niche projects would be a disservice to the films and their potential audience.
Black Panther should lead to more major franchise movies — and more movies in general — starring and made by people of color.
After Black Panther, Marvel Studios will release Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, Ant-Man and the Wasp on July 6, Captain Marvel on March 8, 2019, the untitled fourth Avengers film on May 3, 2019, and (with Sony Pictures) the untitled Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel on July 5, 2019. Two of those movies feature female heroes in the title, and each of them boast wonderfully diverse casts. But none of them have people of color at their center.
That may change soon. Marvel Studios’ chief Kevin Feige has remained tight-lipped about the company’s plans beyond 2019. We know a third Guardians of the Galaxy is in the works, and Marvel’s commissioned a script for a Black Widow movie with Johansson, but beyond that, there’s just been mere speculation, including the tantalizing possibility of an all-female team-up film, and the plainly obvious inevitability of many sequels to Black Panther.
But what about a spin-off movie about Black Panther‘s phalanx of formidable female warriors, the Dora Milaje? Or a movie about Tessa Thompson’s character Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok? Or movies based on Ms. Marvel (aka Kamala Khan, the company’s first Muslim hero in an ongoing series), or Miss America (aka America Chavez, Marvel’s first Latinx LGBT character)? If Marvel Studios can make a movie featuring a talking raccoon and monosyllabic tree-person into a worldwide blockbuster, certainly there could be room for these characters, too.
Beyond Marvel, Lucasfilm could give a serious look at a standalone Lando Calrissian movie with Donald Glover after Solo: A Star Wars Story opens May 25, and once Disney’s merger with 20th Century Fox is complete, why not a solo movie about Storm? Warner Bros. has been awfully quiet about its solo movie for Cyborg (Ray Fisher) since announcing it in 2014.
Then there are all the possible movies featuring people of color that we never hear about, ones not based on established intellectual property, ones that live only in the notebooks and laptops and daydreams of filmmakers who never bothered to pitch them to the overwhelmingly white, straight, male studio executive ranks because they thought they’d just fall on deaf ears — or be shown the door. But now that the secret of Wakanda has been revealed to the world, each of those filmmakers should feel inspired to write and pitch and pitch again, the stories they thought could never get made. The iron is hot, hotter than it’s ever been. Now is the time to strike.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Since October, the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo movement, and the Time’s Up initiative have radically altered the national conversation around heeding the stories of victims of sexual assault. They have also made Gloria Allred very busy.
“More and more individuals who allege that they are victims of rich, powerful, famous men — whether it’s in the entertainment world, the business world, the sports world, the political world, the education world — are reaching out to me wanting to know what they can do legally to win justice against high-profile men,” Allred recently told BuzzFeed News, in an interview about the new Netflix feature documentary Seeing Allred. “And not only against some names which are already in the news, but also against some which are not in the news.”
Allred sees the sudden surge of victims keen on coming forward as a “very positive” development. And given her history representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, the exes of Scott Peterson, Charlie Sheen, and Tiger Woods, and many of the women who have alleged abuse and misconduct by Bill Cosby and Donald Trump — let alone the decades she advocated for women and abuse victims’ rights — she is quick to note that the movement “didn’t just start with Weinstein.”
Still, the act of going public — seen for so long as a potentially life-destroying risk for victims, with little guarantee of success — has caused dozens of alleged perpetrators to lose their careers and reputations over the past few months and, in a few high-profile cases such as Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, forced criminal investigations.
When asked if that shift had changed Allred’s outlook on the risks to victims coming forward, however, the sometimes controversial attorney famous for standing at press conferences shoulder-to-shoulder with victims tearfully telling their stories, balked at the question.
“Does it change my analysis of risk?” she said. “I mean, if 40 people have come forward with any accusation against a rich, powerful, famous man, it’s less risk [that] the 39th person who had come forward out of the 40 will be sued, than the first, second, or third.”
As for whether the events of the last four months have made it safer for even that first, second, or third person to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against a high-profile man, Allred is not so sure.
“I can’t say that it’s safe or not safe,” she said. “I’m not going to make a blanket statement that it’s safer now than it was then, because I don’t know who else is going to be accused. I get contacted by many people who receive cease-and-desist letters and take-down-your-post letters from attorneys who represent celebrities. Then people want to know, ‘Well, what can I do now? Because I’m afraid I’m going to be sued.’”
“This is something that’s happening,” she continued. “So am I going to say now, ‘Yes, everybody can go and talk to the press about everything and accuse people of crimes and not worry’? That’s not what I’m going to say.”
As Seeing Allred explores in detail, Allred’s caution is born from a lifetime of experience advocating for victims in the face of often unrelenting opposition, and even outright scorn. She explained that the “many, many factors” her firm weighs before taking on a case include assessing the credibility of the alleged victim, weighing the evidence they provide, determining whether the case falls within the statute of limitations, gauging the client’s stamina to weather a lengthy litigation process, and determining the probability for success.
And sometimes, she turns cases down. Before speaking on the record for the story last October that Spacey made a sexual advance toward him when he was 14 — leading to the sudden disintegration of Spacey’s acting career — Anthony Rapp recently told BuzzFeed News that he had approached Allred’s office seeking advice as to whether he should come forward. According to the actor, Allred listened to the outline of his experience, and then suggested that it was too risky to go public with his allegation given that Spacey was so rich, famous, and powerful.
Allred declined to address Rapp’s claim directly.
“I never say who contacts me, and I never say what advice, if any, I give to anyone who contacts me,” she said. “That’s always attorney-client privileged, confidential information.”
But, she added, “I will say it is not my general practice or policy to tell people to do something or not do something. What I do do is advise individuals who are seeking my legal advice of the benefits and risks of any choice that they make. But then it’s up to them to decide which option, if any, they wish to pursue. Adults are entitled to make their own decision, and I don’t tell people what to do.”
And as public a figure as Allred has become, she often resolves clients’ cases quietly, a point that Seeing Allred’s filmmakers use as a rejoinder to critics who contend she is only interested in generating publicity. Those resolutions, however, are commonly made through financial settlements and nondisclosure agreements, which have proven to be controversial over the past few months. But Allred is unapologetic about their use.
“There are many people who … think that women should have to choose between their principles and being compensated for the harm that’s been done to them,” said Allred. “I will always be strong in the defense of victims who do not wish to have the world know what they suffered, but who do wish to be compensated for the wrong that they have suffered — and are still suffering, in many cases.”
Allred argued that even though almost all financial settlements are shielded from the public, they can work as a disincentive for the person forced to pay them.
“When it hits them in their wallet, it really is a wake-up call that this is not the kind of conduct [they] can engage in in the future,” she said.
“I often have victims of the same predator,” she said. “I have one situation right now — very high-profile figure, and I’m about to be contacting him again through his attorney: ‘Hi, I’m back, and here’s what you’ve done to this particular new victim.'” (Allred declined to elaborate further on this case.)
“There’s no right answer to this,” Allred added with a small shrug. “All we can do is do what we can do.”
Feb. 10, 2018, at 03:29 AM
Anthony Rapp was 14 when he says Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him. An earlier version of this story misstated the age.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
On Monday, the cast and filmmakers of Marvel Studios’ Black Pantherdebuted their film at a lavish red carpet premiere in Los Angeles, while preview audiences in LA and New York got the first look at one of the buzziest movies of 2018. The response has been nothing short of ecstatic, elevating what was already one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year to a level of breathlessness enjoyed only by movies with Star and Wars in their titles.
How breathless? On Wednesday, Fandango announced that advanced ticket sales for Black Panther are currently outpacing every other superhero movie on record. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the film was site’s top seller, two weeks in advance of its Feb. 16 debut.
And BuzzFeed News has learned that early box office projections for Black Panther‘s debut over Presidents Day weekend have the film earning anywhere between $100 million and $140 million over the four-day holiday. (A spokesperson for Disney declined to comment on the record about the projections, but did say that the studio is “incredibly excited about the early reactions” to Black Panther.)
To better understand what is causing such exhilaration — and why it represents a watershed moment for Hollywood — it would be worth playing the following game: Take a look at the list of the all-time highest-grossing movies at the domestic box office, and try to find a movie with a predominantly black cast — not one with a single black star, or even two black leads, but a movie, like Black Panther, where the vast majority of the cast is populated with black people.
You will, of course, run into a tidal wave of disparate movies populated almost exclusively with white people, including (but not nearly limited to) Titanic (No. 3), Jurassic World (No. 4), The Avengers (No. 6), The Dark Knight (No. 7), The Dark Knight Rises (No. 14), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (No. 16), Spider-Man (No. 25), Jurassic Park (No. 26), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (No. 30), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (No. 33), Spider-Man 2 (No. 34), and Spider-Man 3 (No. 48).
But it won’t be until you reach No. 296 on the list — past Night at the Museum (No. 112), Ted (No. 154), Batman Forever (No. 219), and Big Daddy (No. 286) — that you will find a blockbuster movie that stars predominantly black people: Straight Outta Compton, which earned $161.2 million domestically in 2015.
To be sure, there have been several films headlined by black stars (OK, mostly Will Smith and Eddie Murphy) that have made more. But when a black actor ends up at the center of a major movie — like with Independence Day, Hitch, Beverly Hills Cop, and Doctor Dolittle — they usually end up surrounded by a whole lot of white people. Even hit movies that are pointedly about issues that black people have faced in America, like Hidden Figures, The Help, Django Unchained, and Get Out, must by the necessity of their storylines include major roles for several white people.
It’s what makes Black Panther — an expensive, effects-driven superhero movie set in a (fictional) African nation, and featuring a profusion of many of the most acclaimed black actors working in Hollywood — such a singular event. There really hasn’t been another movie like it, so predicting just what box office records it could break is almost a fool’s errand. But let’s try anyway!
Let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a “black-themed movie.” But it is a depressing fact how little audiences have flocked to any movies cast largely with black actors. Even if Black Panther falls short of its projections, it should easily set a new high bar for what Hollywood can expect to make from a movie with a poster almost wholly made up of black actors.
Should Black Panther exceed $100 million over its first three days in the US and Canada, it would give its director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) the record for the best domestic opening weekend for a black director, surpassing F. Gary Gray’s $98.8 million record for 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. (Gray’s record for the top opening weekend worldwide of $541.9 million, thanks to the massive international popularity of the Fast and Furious franchise, likely remains safe for now.)
Adjusting for domestic ticket price inflation, Coogler still has a steep hill to climb if he wants to claim the domestic record for the top-grossing film from a black director. That record is still held by acting royalty Sidney Poitier, for helming the 1980 Richard Pryor–Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy.
The chances are slim that Black Panther could break the opening weekend record for Marvel Studios, which is still held by its 2012 mega-franchise film The Avengers (at $207.4 million). But Black Panther could easily claim the opening weekend record for a superhero’s inaugural film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by leaping past the $117 million debut of 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Granted, the MCU version of both characters first appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but this is complicated enough as it is.
Ironically, this could be the hardest box office barrier for Black Panther to breach. For decades, Hollywood treated the first three months of the year as a place to dump movies that weren’t working and were expected to flop. But by the mid-2000s, studios began to reinvest in the first quarter of the year, culminating in the one-two-three February punch of 2014’s The LEGO Movie ($69 million debut), 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey ($85.2 million debut), and finally the current record-holder, 2016’s Deadpool, with a $132.4 million debut.
Over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Deadpool made $152.2 million, which is outside of Black Panther’s most optimistic projections. But keep in mind that early estimates for Wonder Woman had that film opening with $65 million domestically, and then the movie actually debuted with a record-setting $103.3 million. Word-of-mouth ultimately drove Wonder Woman to become one of the highest-grossing superhero movies of all time, with $412.5 million domestically.
Like Wonder Woman, Black Panther currently has no cinematic peers, so its ultimate box office fate remains a tantalizing mystery. But should Black Panther enjoy Wonder Woman–level box office prosperity, one would expect Hollywood to seek to repeat that success — early, and often.
Filmmaker Debra Granik has an eye for actors. Her 2004 debut, Down to the Bone, served as a breakthrough for lead Vera Farmiga, who’d acted in film and TV before but had never gotten a chance to show her talents like she did as a mother of two trying to hide a drug addiction. Her 2010 Winter’s Bone showed the world what Jennifer Lawrence, as a tough Ozark teen, could do, and was an essential step to Lawrence’s current stardom. So it really needn’t be said that the young lead of her new film, father-daughter drama Leave No Trace, is one to watch. But let’s go ahead and say it: New Zealander teenager Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie doesn’t just hold her own against Ben Foster in this film about a family of two who’ve been living in the Oregon wilderness. She quietly becomes the heart of the film, a wise-beyond-her-years young woman who comes to understand the difficulty her PTSD-stricken father has with living in society, but also begins to wonder if she’s willing to continue accompanying him in his off-the-grid existence. —A.W.
Warning: The following story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the Jan. 28 episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
Last September, the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery assembled together on a dark and smoldering Toronto soundstage to do something no previous Trek TV series had ever done before: Say goodbye to its captain. The previous episode had ended with the shocking reveal that Gabriel Lorca, the mysterious commanding officer of the titular starship the USS Discovery, is actually from an alternate universe, known to Trek fans as the Mirror Universe, in which Earth is the center of a humans-only galactic empire. And after playing Lorca for 11 episodes, Jason Isaacs had just shot his (seemingly) final scene on the show, in which his soldiers attempted a coup against the despotic Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Spoiler alert for the episode, which is currently available to stream in the US on CBS All Access (and on Netflix just about everywhere else): Lorca’s coup fails, and Georgiou literally stabs him in the back before incinerating his body in space. On the set, the farewell for Isaacs was considerably more heartfelt, with the dozens of assembled actors, producers, writers, and other crew members showering Isaacs in applause. One of those castmates, Anthony Rapp, even broke into a cheer: “Best worst captain! Best worst captain!”
The moment was the result of nearly a year’s worth of careful collaboration between Isaacs and Discovery‘s writers to craft Lorca’s arc on the show from the very first time his character appeared in Episode 3. It also required Isaacs to spend almost as long hiding his character’s true nature.
“It’s been embarrassing/awkward/torturous lying to so many people, including close friends and family members, but particularly to the press, and indirectly to the public,” Isaacs told BuzzFeed News last week in a phone interview. “But Star Trek fans particularly are incredibly smart and highly attuned to every nuance in the story. So you just couldn’t give them a clue.”
Months earlier on the set, when asked about why he wanted to go through all this subterfuge, Isaacs was blunt. “I wanted to say something about Trump,” he said. “They’ve done Star Trek brilliantly. The only reason to do it again was to tell a story that has some modern resonance. It’s such a horribly, unbelievably decisive time — to be part of a story that explores that makes it a very unusual experience.”
Unlike the egalitarian ideals of the United Federation of Planets at the heart of the main Star Trek universe, the Terran Empire within the Mirror Universe treats all other alien species as inferior and subservient to humankind. “The Terrans [are] authoritarian, xenophobic,” said executive producer Aaron Harberts. “You get ahead by stabbing people in the back. Relationships are all about what you get out of them and nothing more. It has everything to do with, I think, where a certain faction of our country is right now.”
Harberts explained that the writers knew from the start, when creator Bryan Fuller was first planning out the show’s serialized storyline, that the inaugural season of Discovery would end up in the Mirror Universe. (Fuller eventually left the show due to creative differences with CBS, elevating Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg to showrunner status.) But at first, the writers planned for Lorca to be a hawkish captain given a chance to shine thanks to the Federation’s war with the Klingon Empire. It was only after the writers began discussing why Lorca would be so skilled with warfare that they hit upon the idea that he’d secretly be from the militaristic world of the Mirror Universe.
Typically, showrunners keep their actors in the dark about any major twists in store for their characters — it helps contain the surprise, and saves the actors from having to actively lie about the role. But given that Lorca would have his own secret agenda throughout the season, Harberts and Berg realized they had to tell Isaacs about their plan for the character from the start.
“At first, they weren’t quite sure how he was going to get back [to the Mirror Universe],” said Isaacs. So, the actor said he insisted they all come up with a clear blueprint for the character. “That’s the only way I can usefully play the thing,” he said. “I can’t just play a notional secret, I have to play an actual secret and a plan. So we bashed out a plan together, and the scripts ended up sticking to it. So yeah, I had the whole season in my head before we started.”
Isaacs balked, however, when asked about his declaration on set in September that one of his main reasons for taking the part was the opportunity to comment on the president of the United States.
“Oh, did I really say one of the main reasons is because I could say something about Trump? Surely not,” he said. “If I did, I take it back. I mean, I did the role because it’s a fantastically layered story, and it’s got twists and surprises. … I didn’t take it because of anything political at all. I’d retract that.”
Lorca’s words in his final episode — declaring that “Terrans need a leader who will preserve our way of life, our race,” and that “every species, every choice, every opinion is not equal, no matter how much they want it to be” — do sound awfully familiar.
But presently, to Isaacs, Lorca’s bigoted and parochial worldview was more about evoking a nationalist and isolationist ideology that transcends today’s headlines. “[Lorca’s] a liar and a manipulator, and obviously thinks that might is right, and he thinks that he can get anyone to do what he wants,” he said. “He’s also a racial purist. He’s all about … [that] everybody has a place, and there’s a natural hierarchy that needs to be respected. Those views unfortunately are heard on the stump all over the country, and all over the world quite often. … One of the great joys of sci-fi is you can examine the world that you live in [through] a fantasy prism, but only so that it allows you to distance yourself from the kind of nonsense of partisan politics.”
Another popular sci-fi trope often embraced by Star Trek is the ability to transcend death, a plot development that’s already cropped up once on Discovery’s first season. So while Lorca’s body is now well and gone, could he possibly return in some other form?
“If you’re asking if I come back at all,” Isaacs said with a chuckle, “you’ll have to get in line behind my wife and kids, who I won’t tell either.”
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
It’s tough to give an overview of the midnight movie that scared the collective pants off the festival this year. Director Ari Aster’s feature debut sidles so slyly up to its nightmarish premise that for long stretches all you know is that something is going slowly and terribly wrong for the family at its center — a family grieving for, or at least making gestures toward grieving for, its difficult, late matriarch. Annie Graham (Toni Collette), an artist, tries to hide herself in her work, while husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) attempts to be supportive, son Peter (Alex Wolff) just wants to be a normal teenager, and dreamy daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) seems stuck between worlds. Before it all goes to hell, Hereditary works just as well as a drama about people trying to pretend the growing fractures between them aren’t there, and trying to will their dark history into the past. Every year, if we’re lucky, some title comes along that spans both the horror and arthouse genres, and Hereditary is set to be 2018’s answer to The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch, combining awesomely disturbing imagery with unsettlingly thoughtful filmmaking. —A.W.
Distribution:Hereditary will open in theaters in wide release on June 8, from A24.
For most of 2017, the awards season field was unusually — and blissfully — wide open, with no one film, nor even two or three films, staking claims as The Ones To Beat (as had been the case in previous years with La La Land, The Revenant, Boyhood, and Birdman). Then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri began winning some major awards, especially the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama, and the SAG Award for Best Ensemble, making it a putative frontrunner. But the film’s director, Martin McDonagh, didn’t earn a Best Director nomination, commonly thought as a prerequisite for a Best Picture win (although 2012’s Argo managed it without a nod for director Ben Affleck).
Meanwhile, The Shape of Water, which won the Producers Guild award for Best Picture, is the biggest nominee this year, with 13 nods. For a long time, that was a good indicator of a films chances for Best Picture, but The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, and Moonlight all managed to win Best Picture over their respective year’s top nominated films. Which still gives films like Get Out, Lady Bird, and even Dunkirk a real fighting chance at winning the top prize. Once more, we get to enjoy not knowing who is going to win! Bliss! —A.B.V.
Warning: This story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the Jan. 7 episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
When Wilson Cruz first learned about what was going to happen to his character Dr. Hugh Culber on Sunday’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, he cried.
Playing the recurring role of Dr. Culber had been “a perfect fit” for Cruz, he said, in part because he got to make TV history as one half of the first major same-sex love story on a Star Trek series, along with fellow out actor Anthony Rapp, who is part of the main cast as the persnickety scientist Lt. Paul Stamets. The previous episode had ended on a major cliffhanger — and marked a midseason hiatus for the series, which streams in the US on CBS All Access — and Cruz was eager to learn what was next in store for his character.
Then showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg broke the news to Cruz: Culber was going to die.
“It was hard,” Cruz told BuzzFeed News. “There were tears.”
He’s likely not the only one. Culber’s death may appear to be the latest in a long and unhappy trend of TV shows killing off their LGBT characters — a creative tic that approached epidemic levels in 2016, popularizing the trope “bury your gays” and sparking major fan outcry.
“I understand why people are upset,” said Cruz, who spent two years working as a GLAAD spokesperson. “I am familiar with the problematic tendencies of television shows to do away with their LGBT characters, especially people of color.”
But Cruz, Harberts, and Berg all insisted to BuzzFeed News that Culber’s death in Discovery will not be another “bury your gays” moment.
“I give you my word that this is not what that is,” said Cruz. “What’s being planned is something we haven’t really had an opportunity to see LGBT characters experience. I’m really excited about it.”
According to the showrunners, Culber’s death will not terminate the character’s narrative arc on the show, nor will it be the last time Cruz appears. “This is a beginning, rather than an ending,” said Harberts. “We’re more than happy to put our gay couple front and center and let them guide the audience on a story of love and loss and redemption and heroism and grief and life and all of those things.”
“There is a timelessness and endlessness to how we envision Hugh and Stamets,” added Berg. “They’re the couple with the epic love story. We knew in order to have an epic love story, you have to have big things happen and have really high stakes.”
“We knew in order to have an epic love story, you have to have big things happen and have really high stakes.”
The words “epic love story” have scarcely (if ever) been used in reference to previous iterations of Star Trek, where the strongest emotional bonds have largely been platonic and collegial among fellow officers, most famously between Kirk and Spock. Soon after the premiere of StarTrek in 1966, however, fans seized on the Kirk/Spock relationship in speculative fiction — popularly known as slash fiction — that imagines the characters in at times wildly creative sexual encounters with each other. But while fans were eager to picture the characters through an LGBT lens, for over 50 years the franchise, so popular for its embrace of egalitarian values, rarely explored same-sex intimacy and never included a main character on a Trek TV series who was definitively queer.
So when the creators of Discovery chose to make Stamets and Culber the franchise’s first long-term same-sex couple, the representational pressures on the characters — and the openly gay actors playing them — were enormous.
“Anthony and I were obviously aware of the fact … that fans were clamoring for it,” said Cruz. “So we felt really proud and excited that we get to give that gift to the audience and be those people that they had been looking forward to, and that we were looking forward to seeing.”
The fan response “has been really overwhelming,” Cruz said with a laugh. “They’re thanking me as if I wrote it!”
Given the outpouring of fan enthusiasm for Stamets and Culber — and the uproar over the deaths of LGBT characters on other popular genre shows like The 100, The Walking Dead, and Person of Interest — why didn’t the Discovery writers simply avoid controversy altogether by keeping Culber alive?
For Harberts and Berg, that is simply the wrong question to be asking.
“You have to ask yourself, are you worried about an initial reaction, or are you worried about a macro experience?” said Harberts, who is openly gay. “We knew that our side of the street is clean. And we know that our actors understand what this journey is all about. We have faith that if our audience is so enraged and thinks that we would actually lean into a [bury your gays] trope, then they don’t really understand what we’re about as storytellers.”
Understanding the tricky factors at play with their decision, the producers did run it by GLAAD — and received the organization’s blessing. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, spokesperson Nick Adams said that GLAAD is “mourning … the death of a beloved groundbreaking character,” but went on to note that “death is not always final in the Star Trek universe, and we know the producers plan to continue exploring and telling Stamets and Culber’s epic love story.”
For Harberts and Berg, the wide open narrative possibilities presented by Star Trek — a sci-fi show predicted on boldly going where no one’s gone before — greatly outweigh any fear of immediate fan backlash, especially on a show with a serialized storyline that still has five episodes left in the season.
“Why would we limit an opportunity to allow our gay characters to show the audience something truly profound?”
“Why would we limit ourselves?” said Harberts. “Why would we limit the audience’s experience, and why would we limit an opportunity to allow our gay characters to show the audience something truly profound?”
Exactly how that story will play out is something that Harberts and Berg were unwilling to spoil. Similarly, they declined to comment on whether how Culber died — at the hands of Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), after Culber discovered he had been somehow surgically altered at the hands of the Klingons — confirms a popular fan theory that Tyler is actually the Klingon character Voq, who played a crucial role in the first three episodes of the season and then mysteriously disappeared.
It’s clear, though, that Harberts and Berg have high ambitions for where they want to take Stamets and Culber’s relationship on Discovery. “After this journey is all done, the hope is that their romance will be, if not the most iconic gay romance [on TV], you know, in the top five,” said Harberts.
Similarly, Cruz offered this enthusiastic teaser: “My favorite experience on camera in my entire career is still yet to be seen in this series.”
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
At the end of this year, three movies with female leads — Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, and Wonder Woman — will be the top grossing movies of 2017 domestically, accounting for over $1.34 billion in revenue (and $2.93 billion worldwide). It’s an unprecedented statement of audience enthusiasm for stories led by women, and about as apt an exclamation point for 2017 as one could imagine in an industry that has been upended by a stream of accusations against powerful men that they had committed sexual misconduct, assault, and rape. It is also highly instructive of what worked this year for audiences — and what did not.
In the first three months of 2017, a diverse slate of films geared to a wide spectrum of audiences pulled in record high revenues at the domestic box office. These were movies starring women and people of color, in genres like period dramas and social thrillers and movie musicals, and people streamed to theaters to see them. And then summer hit, and a dreadful glut of desperately familiar sequels and wannabe franchise debuts seemed to actively repel audiences, dragging down box office to calamitously historic lows. That trend, with a few punctuated exceptions, persisted until November, when people started going to the movies again — including popular films showcasing women and people of color.
Amid the ceaseless discord and fury of 2017, the concepts of diversity and representation in pop culture — i.e. showcasing stories by, about, and for people who aren’t just one specific plurality of the population — have become a polarizing social media flashpoint. But audiences have also made clear they are great business for Hollywood. It’s simple: When you make more kinds of movies for more kinds of people, you’re bound to make more money.
It’s foolish to try to ascribe a single, unifying theme to an industry as sprawling and unwieldy as the movie business. But when surveying the people, projects, and studios that fared the best and worst from the year (including BuzzFeed News’ mid-year assessment), it’s impossible not to notice how often diversity and representation — demographically, artistically, commercially — played some kind of factor in their success or failure, even in the continued box office dominance of the Minions from the Despicable Me franchise.
WINNERS: Diverse perspectives behind the camera
Until The Last Jedi likely overtakes them all, the top three grossing films of the year worldwide in 2017 were Beauty and the Beast from director Bill Condon, The Fate of the Furious from director F. Gary Gray, and Despicable Me 3, codirected by Pierre Coffin.
None of those directors are straight white men.
To address the angry comments already auto-populating below, the reason this matters is that straight white men — and their innate artistic perspectives and prejudices — have dominated the top echelons of filmmaking since the invention of the art form. Beauty and the Beast, meanwhile, is the top grossing film ever directed by an openly gay man; The Fate of the Furious broke the same record for a black filmmaker; and Coffin, whose mother is Indonesian novelist Nh. Dini, already holds the record for an Asian director of an animated feature, with 2015’s Minions.
The success of those filmmakers this year — along with Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins, the highest grossing female director ever; Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi, the highest grossing Maori director ever; and the smash hits directed by Jordan Peele (Get Out), M. Night Shyamalan (Split), and Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) — accounted for over $2.15 billion in domestic box office returns, and $5.87 billion worldwide.
More of this, please!
What’s next? Condon is developing a remake of Bride of Frankenstein. Jenkins is directing Wonder Woman 2. Waititi is codirecting the animated feature Bubbles, about the life of Michael Jackson from the perspective of his pet chimp. Peele will write and direct a social thriller due in 2019. Shyamalan is directing a sequel to Split for 2019. Lee is directing the comedy Night School with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. Coffin and Gray have not yet announced their next projects.
LOSERS: Men in the movie business accused of sexual misconduct
Harvey Weinstein lost his company, was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and witnessed his name become synonymous in the national consciousness with grotesque sexual predation.
Kevin Spacey’s agent and publicist dropped him, then Netflix fired him from his series House of Cards and cut ties with his Gore Vidal biopic Gore, and then he was literally erased from his major role in All the Money in the World. (His last-minute replacement, 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, is getting serious Oscar buzz.)
Louis C.K. had to buy back his wildly misguided feature film I Love You, Daddy after losing just about every major professional relationship he’s ever had.
Brett Ratner was forced to abandon the Warner Bros. lot and was banished from the Wonder Woman 2 credits (though he likely wasn’t invited in the first place). Dustin Hoffman’s 50-year career is in tatters, Roy Price was axed from running Amazon Studios, and James Toback has transitioned from allegedly having to tell every woman he wants to harass that he made a few movies once, to having everyone know him as the guy who somehow managed to sexually harass over 200 women, at least.
Of the many, many remarkable things about the Reckoning — catalyzed by the New York Times and the New Yorker’s blockbuster stories on Weinstein in early October — one of the most astonishing has been the ruin that has befallen virtually every man who’s weathered allegations of unwanted sexual advances, from badgering, groping, and kissing, to assault and rape. This behavior was abetted by an industry that allowed these men to see themselves as indispensable within their own personal fiefdoms. So, to witness that same industry make so unambiguously clear that these men can and will be dispensed with sends a powerful — and, one hopes, lasting — message.
There is one lingering and significant asterisk, however. In late November, John Lasseter preemptively announced he was taking a six-month leave of absence from running Pixar and Disney’s animation studios in anticipation of threeseparatestories about him engaging in unwanted intimate physical contact with multiple female employees. For over a decade, Lasseter has been the single most powerful creative force in feature animation (and, arguably, the entire movie business): Since 1995, the films he’s overseen have earned a staggering $17 billion at the worldwide box office, to say nothing of the fortune they’ve raked in from merchandising, theme park attractions, and post-theatrical sales and rentals. How the Walt Disney Company chooses to handle Lasseter’s return — if it chooses to allow him to return at all — will speak volumes to how much Lasseter’s prodigious success and influence outweighs the allegations against him, and serve as the biggest test yet of the lasting strength of this extraordinary cultural moment.
What’s next? For some, obscurity, police investigations, and/or an inevitable attempt at redemption. For all, a stain on their professional and personal reputations that will never wash out.
WINNER: Tiffany Haddish
Haddish’s outrageously funny performance in the hit summer comedy Girls Trip — and her equally delightful promotional press tour — rocketed her from a rising presence in stand-up comedy to one of the biggest stars of the year. Haddish made such a powerful impression that she earned the Best Supporting Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle — and her subsequent lack of a nomination from the Golden Globes became a viral Twitter moment after her costar Jada Pinkett Smith scolded the Hollywood Foreign Press for ignoring their film.
What’s next? She’ll next star opposite Kevin Hart in Night School in 2018, and she’s starring and executive producing the satire The Oath, the directorial debut of actor Ike Barinholtz.
LOSER: Matt Damon
It is bad enough that all three of Damon’s films this year — February’s The Great Wall, October’s Suburbicon, and December’s Downsizing — used the fact that Damon was the star as their main selling point, and then all bombed at the box office. But Damon also strode boldly into the fray of the Reckoning and the #MeToo movement and managed to keep saying the wrong thing every single time. He evoked his four daughters to defend himself against the allegation that he tried to pressure a reporter to drop a negative story about Weinstein (as if having a daughter was a requirement for a man’s outrage about sexual assault). He admitted he knew Gwyneth Paltrow had been harassed by Weinstein (but had never actually discussed it with her). He complained that we weren’t talking enough about the “whole shitload of guys” who aren’t sexual predators (and then added he’d judge working with people facing allegations of sexual misconduct on a “case-by-case” basis).
And in an astonishing trainwreck of an interview with Peter Travers at ABC News, he proclaimed “we can work with” Louis C.K. because of his apology (even though Damon said he doesn’t know “all the details” about the allegations against C.K.); he cast himself in a hypothetical scenario in which someone made (apparently untrue) allegations against him (“I would be scorched earth. I’d go, ‘I don’t care if it costs $10 million to fight this in court with you for 10 years, you are not taking my name from me’”); and he wanted to make sure it’s clear that “there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation” — which earned a stiff, viral rebuke from Minnie Driver, his ex from 20 years ago.
What’s next? Damon will appear in Ocean’s 8 in June (although there’s an online petition to have him removed), and he’s executive producing the Boston crime drama pilot City on a Hill with Ben Affleck for Showtime.
Horror had a very good 2017 in general, between Get Out, Split, Annabelle: Creation, Happy Death Day, and the daily news. But nothing came close to the box office phenomenon that was this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Earning $327.5 million domestically and $698.1 million worldwide, It obliterated the record for the highest grossing film in September, and stands as the highest grossing horror movie of all time (not adjusting for ticket price inflation). Director Andy Muschietti appeared to tap into an elemental need to exorcise the existential dread that has lurked within the headlines all year, and the film transformed Bill Skarsgård (aka Pennywise, the child-eating clown) into a highly problematic thirst trap. In other words, maybe the most 2017 movie of 2017.
What’s next?Chapter Two for 2019.
LOSER: The Weinstein Company
Even before the Harvey Weinstein stories first broke, it had been a grim year for the company that bears his name. The family drama 3 Generations (total domestic gross: $68,852) and the costume romance Tulip Fever (total domestic gross: $2.4 million) became the latest casualties of the company’s fetish for sitting on a film for years while killing it with a thousand cuts in the editing room. The latter especially becameanobjectofridicule for Film Twitter, which was onlycompounded after Weinstein wrote a bizarre column in late August for Deadline damning the film with the faintest praise. A choice line: “Alicia Vikander also reached out to tell me that her mom’s friend gave her a rare call just to tell her how much she enjoyed it.”
Whatever dull luster formed around the modest success of the crime thriller Wind River and the animated feature Leap!, meanwhile, was instantly extinguished by the stories that have rendered Harvey a monster and devastated his company beyond repair. The (dubious) awards contender The Current War (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon) was pushed to 2018; the release of the horror flick Amityville: The Awakening earned — and this isn’t a typo — $742 domestically; and the future of ostensible 2018 releases The Upside (with Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman), and Mary Magdalene (with Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix) remains in question.
What’s next? The company is attempting to sell itself, but the chances that it will exist in any recognizable form in 2018 remain precariously slim.
From June 16 to Nov. 3, Disney didn’t release a single film, but it did have to deal with several PR headaches. First, Lucasfilm fired the directors of two Star Wars movies: Episode IX’s Colin Trevorrow — replaced by J.J. Abrams — and Solo: A Star Wars Story’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — replaced, after months of production on the film had already concluded, by Ron Howard. Then the studio blacklisted the Los Angeles Times in response to the newspaper’s coverage of its connection with businesses in Anaheim, California. (The studio reversed its decision after just a few days following outcry and a counterboycott from critics groups and media outlets.)
And yet, despite those bumps in the road and its nearly six-month sabbatical from releasing movies, Disney still dominated at the box office for the second year in a row. Five of 2017’s top 10 grossing films worldwide — Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and (yes, it’s true) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — came from the studio, totaling more than $4.61 billion in global gross alone. All in, Disney earned over $6 billion worldwide for the second year in a row — the only studio to achieve that milestone.
And that gargantuan figure stands to grow significantly larger in the years ahead, after the Walt Disney Company announced on Dec. 14 that it is acquiring the majority of 21st Century Fox — including the film studio 20th Century Fox — for $52.4 billion in stock. Should it pass muster with federal regulators, the repercussions of the deal are likely to be felt for years, if not decades, as Disney further fortifies its position as the dominant company in the entertainment industry.
What’s next? Hold on to your mouse ears: Marvel Studios will release Black Panther on Feb. 16 and Avengers: Infinity War on May 4; Disney will release Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine, on March 9;; Lucasfilm will release Solo: A Star Wars Story on May 25; and Pixar will release The Incredibles 2 on June 15. Phew.
LOSER: 20th Century Fox
In an industry increasingly dependent on home runs, all Fox could muster this year was a triple with Logan (which took in $616.8 million worldwide), and doubles with War for the Planet of the Apes ($490.6 million worldwide) and Murder on the Orient Express ($311.9 million worldwide). Otherwise, the sequels Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Alien: Covenant vastly underperformed, while Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Snatched, The Mountain Between Us, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Ferdinand, and A Cure for Wellness all bombed.
And then Mickey Mouse killed Fox as an independent movie studio. The deal for Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox won’t close for many more months, so what this means for Fox’s employees, not to mention its future slate, remains up in the air. But with Disney CEO Robert Iger promising $2 billion in “savings,” it’s probably not great!
What’s next? Assuming for the moment that nothing changes for Fox until at least June: the final Maze Runner movie The Death Cure on Jan. 26, the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller Red Sparrow on March 2, the gay coming-of-age drama Love, Simon on March 16, the horror-inflected X-Men spinoff TheNew Mutants on April 13, and the Deadpool sequel on June 1.
WINNERS: Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright
In an industry addicted to established franchises, known properties, and familiar filmmaking tropes, both of these directors got major studios to bankroll films that were original stories and involved innovative creative approaches — and audiences were thrilled.
With Dunkirk, Nolan made a war movie about the most famous retreat in World War II without a central protagonist, and fractured the storytelling into three separate timescapes. It earned some of the best reviews of Nolan’s career, considerable Oscar buzz, and $525.6 million worldwide.
With Baby Driver, Wright fused a crime thriller with a tightly choreographed musical of pop hits, and made $226.9 million worldwide — by far the best box office of his career — on a reported $34 million budget. (If the film’s sparkle retroactively dimmed due to the presence of Kevin Spacey, that isn’t Wright’s fault.)
Nolan and Wright’s creative risks not only paid off, they did so during a summer in which all the things studios thought were fail-safe projects — you know, established franchises, known properties, and familiar filmmaking tropes — became reliable failures. One only hopes Hollywood is paying attention.
What’s next? Neither have announced their next projects.
LOSERS: Luc Besson and Dane DeHaan
Besson spentyears banging the drum for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — his adaptation of the French sci-fi comic Valérian and Laureline — playing up its visual extravagance and the $180 million budget he raised outside the studio system. Anticipation seemed to be high, especially for those with a special fondness for Besson’s 1997 sci-fi adventure The Fifth Element. It was a go-for-broke gamble for Besson, and, alas, he almost did: Valerian sank like a stone, earning just $41.2 million domestically and $184.7 million internationally, not nearly enough to cover the film’s budget (although foreign distribution sales did help defray some of those costs).
The outcome was especially harsh for DeHaan (Chronicle, Kill Your Darlings), a promising up-and-coming actor who was judged to be wildly miscast as the supposedly dashing and rakish Valerian. (Let us never forget Kyle Buchanan’s description of DeHaan as a “murder twink.”) It was also the second of three box office duds DeHaan headlined in 2017, along with February’s psychological thriller A Cure for Wellness and September’s epically delayed period drama Tulip Fever.
Fortunately, both Besson and DeHaan’s next projects appear to be more of a return to form.
What’s next? For Besson, the crime thriller Anna, with Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, and Helen Mirren. For DeHaan, as infamous outlaw Billy the Kid in the Western The Kid, directed by Vincent D’Onofrio in his feature directing debut.
WINNER: Ridley Scott
When BuzzFeed News published actor Anthony Rapp’s allegation that Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him when he was 14, it was clear that the most immediate professional fallout was the fate of Spacey’s next film, the fact-based thriller All the Money in the World, about the kidnapping of one of the grandsons of extravagantly wealthy oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Sony Pictures had been emphasizing Spacey’s performance as Getty in its marketing plan. But in the wake of the mounting allegations against the actor, the film was pulled from its debut at the AFI Film Festival in November, and the expectation was that it would quietly fizzle into a sad, half-forgotten Hollywood anecdote.
Instead, its director Ridley Scott refused to let his film be collateral damage of Spacey’s career implosion. The 80-year-old recast Getty with Christopher Plummer, and somehow managed to reshoot 22 scenes in the finished film in just nine days in late November, in time to make a Dec. 25 release date — a feat virtually everyone in Hollywood would have deemed impossible before Scott pulled it off. Somehow, the film managed to earn three Golden Globe nominations, for Scott, Plummer, and Michelle Williams, and while box office returns have so far been mild ($4.4 million over two days domestically), the sheer fact that Scott rescued this movie at all is something of a Hollywood miracle. It all happened at such a breakneck speed that the box office misfire that was Scott’s Alien: Covenant has become but a distant memory.
What’s next? The sequel to Alien: Covenant, and probably 23 other movies, in 2019.
LOSERS: Kate Winslet and Idris Elba
This one is just so sad: Together and separately, these impossibly talented and beautiful actors made some terrible choices in 2017.
First, let’s deal with the unfortunate film that featured Winslet and Elba together: The Mountain Between Us, about two strangers who end up stranded on a frigid mountain peak after a plane crash. The film had the potential to be a bracing showcase for both actors’ celebrated talents. Instead, it featured some of the least appealing work from either of them in a story that unfolded with escalating absurdities. Audiences shrugged, critics scoffed, and the film limped to a global gross of $61.1 million.
For Elba, it was the second box office letdown of the year. The Dark Tower, an adaptation of the beloved Stephen King sci-fi adventure book series, was supposed to launch the actor into his obscenely delayed perch as an A-list movie star. Instead, the movie pleased no one en route to earning a droopy $111.8 million worldwide.
At least Elba could lean on his acclaimed supporting role in Molly’s Game, and contractually obligated supporting role in Thor: Ragnarok. Winslet, by contrast, found herself stumping for the Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel, and even before the Reckoning was upon us, she struggled to figure out how to talk about Allen, whose daughter Dylan has accused him of molesting her as a child. Post-Reckoning, Winslet’s efforts didn’t getmuch better. The film, by the way, has earned just $3 million worldwide, one of the absolute worst box office performances of Allen’s — and Winslet’s — careers.
What’s next? Elba’s feature directing debut, the Jamaican-set crime drama Yardie, will debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Winslet’s most immediate next project isn’t clear, but she will appear in the sequel to Avatar, due (at this point) in 2020.
WINNER: The Big Sick
Indie film has had a rough go of it for several years now, as financing and traditional distribution have dried up, and Netflix and Amazon have disrupted an already fragile ecosystem. So it was deeply gratifying to see an independent film like The Big Sick resonate so well with audiences over the summer, let alone a film as thoughtfully crafted and executed as this one. Directed by Michael Showalter from a script by its star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the film tracked the story of Nanjiani and Gordon’s early courtship, which was suddenly turned upside down by a mysterious illness that put Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) into a medically induced coma. The film resonated as an unconventional romantic comedy, and as a portrait of Nanjiani’s specific struggles as a Pakistani immigrant turned stand-up comic, earning $55.3 million worldwide and considerable awards buzz. It also sparkedcriticism of its portrayal of South Asian women, and defense of its critique of the practice of arranged marriage — which Nanjiani has used as an opportunity to push for “more stories” about South Asian people.
What’s next? Showalter, Nanjiani, and Gordon haven’t announced their next feature projects.
LOSER: Tom Cruise
While the days when a Tom Cruise movie was a guaranteed hit have long since past, the 55-year-old actor hasn’t ever quite faced down a year as bad as this one. The fact that The Mummy was an embarrassing flop perhaps should not have been all that surprising, given its dubious provenance as the inaugural film in a monster movie cinematic universe no one asked for — and has now apparently been all but abandoned.
American Made, however, looked like a return to the kind of old-school Cruise vehicle that had made him into a paragon of movie stardom in the first place: It was a non-franchise, fact-based drama that utilized Cruise’s legendary charm — rather than his ability to execute a stunt — to transform a story about cocaine smuggling in the 1980s into an enjoyable seriocomic romp. But it earned just $51.3 million domestically, the worst box office performance for a wide-release movie sold on Cruise’s name alone since All the Right Moves in 1983.
In both cases, Cruise’s international appeal helped to rescue these films from total failure. The Mummy in particular earned $329 million outside the US and Canada, in large part due to its popularity in China. But after a botched stunt on Mission: Impossible 6broke Cruise’s ankle and forced lengthy production delay, it’s likely Cruise really is just like the rest of us, and just desperately wants 2017 to be over.
What’s next? The sixth Mission: Impossible movie, still due to open July 27.
WINNER: The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Based on ticket sales, it was the worst August at the domestic box office in at least 35 years — which left this action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson at No. 1 for three straight weekends, an exceedingly rare event for either actor in a non-franchise film. That still only resulted in a $75.5 million domestic return (and $176.6 million globally), but sometimes you win by winning, and sometimes you win because everybody else loses.
What’s next? Reynolds will star in the Deadpool sequel on June 1 and Jackson will reprise his role as the voice of Frozone in Incredibles 2.
LOSER: Steven Soderbergh
After his so-called retirement in 2013, Soderbergh returned to feature filmmaking to direct the sublime blue-collar heist picture Logan Lucky, with Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. In advance of its release, he did a series of interviews touting his efforts to avoid the studio system by independently raising both the production and marketing budgets ($29 million and $20 million, respectively), which allowed him to oversee promoting the film himself. The hope was to quietly revolutionize movie financing in a framework much more friendly to filmmakers. Instead, Logan Lucky earned just $28.8 million domestically, and $47.3 million worldwide, nowhere near the targets Soderbergh had hoped, and needed, to hit. Soderbergh was right in that Hollywood spends an outrageous amount of money on movie marketing, but his solution ultimately buried one of the most commercial movies of his career.
What’s next?Unsane, a psychological thriller reportedly shot on iPhones, with Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, and Juno Temple, on March 23.
With almost no fanfare, this heartwarming adaptation of the best-selling book — about how Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy with significant facial scarring from years of life-saving surgery, navigates his first year in public school — has become one of the surprise hits of the fall, grossing over $174 million worldwide. It’s the biggest live-action hit in years for costars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson (who play Auggie’s concerned parents), and another triumph for director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), who’s also one of the credited screenwriters for this year’s Beauty and the Beast.
What’s next? Chbosky is developing the script for Disney’s live-action Prince Charming, and may possibly direct it. Tremblay will appear in The Predator on Aug. 3. Roberts will star opposite Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges in the thriller Ben Is Back, directed by Hedges’ father Peter (Dan in Real Life). Wilson hasn’t announced his next project.
WINNER: Illumination Entertainment
Domestically, Despicable Me 3 earned $264.6 million, just over $100 million less than its 2013 predecessor. In fact, there’s a decent chance you didn’t see it, don’t know anyone who did, and have been left to wonder why it’s on this list in the first place.
So when I tell you that this movie made over $1 billion worldwide, please understand that there are forces in the universe that we will never fully comprehend, like the enduring appeal of yellow pill–shaped nonsense creatures who have become horrifically sexualized memes. (I’m not providing links for that — you’ll have to find them on your own.)
More to the point, though, Despicable Me 3 continues the ascendancy of its animation studio Illumination Entertainment as possibly the most lucrative creative endeavor in modern Hollywood. Frankly, nothing comes close.
What’s next?Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, with Benedict Cumberbatch, which will make all of the money when it opens Nov. 9.
LOSERS: Feature animation that isn’t from Illumination Entertainment
Animated films, like horror, were thought to be something akin to box office perennials, certain to syphon money from parents keen for a two-hour weekend distraction. Then came 2017, and a plethora of films — Ferdinand, The Star, My Little Pony: The Movie, The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Leap!, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, The Emoji Movie, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Rock Dog — that failed to connect with practically any audience at all. Consider that these 10 films have made less worldwide combined (roughly $1.02 billion as of Dec. 26) than Despicable Me 3 alone ($1.03 billion).
Even Coco, Cars 3, The Boss Baby, and The LEGO Batman Movie were just modest hits. The first two of those films, in fact, are among the lowest domestic grossers in Pixar history. Oversaturation, the rise in ticket prices, a perceived decline in quality — it’s not entirely clear why audiences have cooled so quickly on animated fare that doesn’t feature yellow pill–shaped nonsense creatures. But they have.
What’s next?Early Man, the latest from Wallace and Gromit director Nick Park of Aardman Animation, on Feb. 16; Sherlock Gnomes, with Johnny Depp voicing the titular sleuthing gnome, on March 23; Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s return to stop-motion animation after 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, also on March 23; and Incredibles 2, Pixar’s long-awaited sequel to its 2004 sensation, on June 15.
LOSER: Annapurna Pictures
Megan Ellison has been one of the most important film producers of the 2010s, backing acclaimed films like The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Her, American Hustle, Foxcatcher, Sausage Party, and 20th Century Women through her company Annapurna Pictures. This year, she relaunched Annapurna as a bona fide mini studio, independently distributing three films: the gritty docudrama Detroit, the Ben Stiller mid-life mini-crisis dramedy Brad’s Status, and the unconventional period romance Professor Marston & the Wonder Women. All three were well received by critics, and all three were box office failures of considerable magnitude. This is the kind of company making the kinds of movies that people who care deeply about movies want desperately to succeed, so one can only hope that Ellison and her team surmount their considerable learning curve quickly.
What’s next? Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, with Cate Blanchett, on May 11. The company is also set to release Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic Backseat, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell; If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel; and The Sister Brothers, a Western starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Riz Ahmed.
DRAW: Warner Bros. Pictures
On the one hand, Wonder Woman and It were those rarest of movies: word-of-mouth blockbusters, bringing in over $1.5 billion worldwide between them due more to genuine audience enthusiasm than sheer marketing muscle (though that helped too). Along with Dunkirk, Kong: Skull Island, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Annabelle: Creation, they lifted Warner Bros. Pictures to its biggest year at the domestic box office since 2009. Especially crucial for the studio: Diana Prince single-handedly rescued its ungainly efforts to launch its DC Films unit as a commercial and creative rival to Marvel Studios.
On the other hand, broad comedies CHiPs, The House, and Fist Fight all flatlined, while woefully expensive event movies Geostorm and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword were catastrophic box office bombs, earning just $72.6 million domestically combined. And what should have been its crown jewel release this year — the omnibus superhero spectacular Justice League — will be the lowest grossing film yet in the misbegotten DC cinematic universe. Meanwhile, the next film in the studio’s other major franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, isn’t even opening for another year, and yet the production still managed to dismay many among its fanbase with how director David Yates, producer David Heyman, and J.K. Rowling herself have handled the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp’s continued portrayal of the titular Big Bad.
What’s next? Take a deep breath: The family comedy Paddington 2 (rescued from original distributor the Weinstein Company) on Jan. 12; the Afghanistan war thriller 12 Strong with Chris Hemsworth on Jan. 19; The 15:17 to Paris, Clint Eastwood’s docudrama about the men who thwarted the terrorist attack on a French train in 2015, on Feb. 9; the action comedy Game Night, with Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, on Feb. 23; the reboot of Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander, on March 16; Steven Spielberg’s 1980s nostalgia bomb Ready Player One on March 30; the I-can’t-believe-this-is-a-movie videogame adaptation Rampage, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, on April 20; the back-to-school comedy Life of the Party, with Melissa McCarthy, on May 11; the I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-wait-for-this-movie heist caper Ocean’s 8 on June 8; and the I-really-can’t-believe-this-is-a-movie Tag, about five friends who’ve played an epic game of tag their whole lives, on June 16. PHEW.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.