If The Facts Point To Z, Y Chase X?

I’ve been generally impressed with Donna Langley as both a creative executive and a leader, and I’ve yet to find anyone who truly knows her to refute that first impression.  And an interview she did yesterday that many Hollywood trade reporters, including THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster, only enhanced those favorable views:

Donna Langley knows there is a lot of uncertainty in Hollywood’s future, but she believes the answer for Universal is simply to embrace the change and to keep “meeting audiences where they are.”  The chairman and chief creative officer of NBCUniversal Studio Group sat down with veteran entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren at UCLA Law’s Entertainment Symposium on Friday to discuss the long-term vision for her studio, both with theatrical and its streaming service Peacock.

“Consumer behavior has shifted, and it is probably not coming back,” Langley noted. “One of the things we’ve focused on is that pre-pandemic, the majority of the moviegoing audience would see four or five films in theaters a year. That same number of people are now seeing one or two films.”

As for which one or two those might be, lately her studio’s track record has been pretty solid.  Fuster went on to spell out some specifics that point to her being more right than wrong:

Under Langley’s leadership, Universal led all studios at the domestic box office last year, piloted by Illumination’s $1.36 billion hit “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which, with $975 million, stands as the highest-grossing film to earn the Best Picture Oscar since “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” 20 years ago.  But another standout film on the slate was Blumhouse’s “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” a low-budget adaptation of the smash hit indie horror video game that grossed $291 million at the global box office despite being released simultaneously on Peacock. More than three-quarters of the film’s opening weekend audience was Gen Z.

And Langley underscored those numbers with some intriguing and clearly research-driven insights about that crucial and judgmental segment that is generally assumed to be addicted to the concept of Netflix (or insert your own parochial streaming service) and chill:

They will show up for ‘Oppenheimer’ or ‘Barbie,’ or another film that we did last year, ‘M3GAN.’ [Gen Z] is genre agnostic. They are platform agnostic. But there has to be a social energy. There has to be something they can interact with and talk to others about…”It’s not like the ’90s where teens go to the mall and just see whatever movie is in theaters. It is appointment viewing.

Clearly, the competition that trailed her at the box office have reached different conclusions.  Within the last week, three projects that yet again dip into the knee-jerk, turn-key approach of IP resurrection have been announced with internal fanfare and external eye-rolling:


Miles Teller is heading back to the armed forces.

The actor, who flew alongside Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick, has enlisted to star in Paramount’s update of its 1982 romantic drama, An Officer and a Gentleman.

— Per DEADLINE’s Mike Fleming, Jr (an EXCLUSIVE no less!):

Andrew McCarthy’s Hulu documentary Brats has brought back memories of the coming of age film where The Brat Pack was coined. Deadline can reveal that Sony is exploring the possibility of making a new version of St. Elmo’s Fire. This version would hinge on reuniting original cast members McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Mare Winningham.

— And per Kit’s colleagues Ryan Gajewski and Aaron Couch:

The Schwartz is with Amazon MGM Studios, where a sequel to the 1980s parody film Spaceballs is in early development, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Josh Gad and Mel Brooks are producing the project that has Gad attached to star. Josh Greenbaum is helming the film from a script by Gad, Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez.

Nothing against the talents of those involved both in front of and behind the screens, and far it for me to pass judgment on something sight unseen.   But there is a collective disconnect with these three projects that would leave any objective observer to ask the question–Did any actual research back up these greenlights?

Drawing from 1980s IP that is at best casually familiar to even the most passionate Gen Z is risky enough.  In particular, a Mel Brooks comedy–indeed, one of his less successful ones–that parodies the classic STAR WARS trilogy seems more than a little out-of-touch.  Especially in light of the critical reaction to a good deal of the Disney + spin-offs that have been tossed out in recent years that themselves have been seen as parodies of a sort, and with a lot less Borscht belt humor.

And with all due respect to how Teller was received in TOP GUN: MAVERICK, he’s yet to prove he’s at the level that Tom Cruise was in the day to make people want to go to theatres.   It’s debatable that in a world more splintered and generationally isolated as ever that any current star could be up to that task.

And as Fuster reminds, one need go no further than Langley’s slate to have such concerns, and she’s about to put her competitors’ theories to the test again herself:

Recently, Universal’s theatrical momentum hit a speed bump when the well-reviewed action romcom “The Fall Guy” kicked off the summer season with a flop, grossing just $170 million at the global box office against a $125 million-plus production budget before marketing costs.  The studio is taking a bigger roll of the dice with “Twisters,” a revival of the ’90s Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt blockbuster that Universal is sending in with the hopes that a PG-13 disaster film led by “Anyone But You” breakout star Glen Powell will be able to stand out against major competition from the Marvel behemoth “Deadpool & Wolverine.”

If Ryan Gosling, whose star shone far brighter than did Teller’s in his attachment to a megahit, couldn’t bring people out to 80s IP at a historically advantageous time, can Teller?  And if Powell, who is apparently Gen Z’s heartthrob du jour based on the demographics of ANYONE BUT YOU, doesn’t drive TWISTERS to at least a respectable fraction of traffic next month, will that not be a grim reminder that as so many have attempted to say, the successes of late–including ANYONE BUT YOU–were based upon ORIGINAL ideas?!?!?

And Sony?!?!  You just went out and bought a theatre chain you think is uber cool and talked about how you were going to use the likes of anime releases to bring those high disposal income folks out of their living rooms, and the first thing that comes out of your camp is catching up with a bunch of entitled Washingtonians now in their 60s??

I’m not the biggest fan of the Snark Tank that makes up the ANKLER’s weekly podcast, but the irrepressible Richard Rushfeld was spot on with his observation that dropped yesterday:

What’s the one common trait across every studio executive with greenlight power? They’re all old enough to remember the launch of the first Mac. And what they give the go-aheads to on their film slates shows it (shows).

Perhaps those that set the Snark Tank off might think about pivoting those “bold” ideas to streaming?  You know, to the audience that actually is still staying at home and not running out to the theatres to see stars they haven’t heard of try and live up to the expectations they themselves have from the original versions?

Just chum for the waters…

Until next time…


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