After enjoying a better run this summer, movie theaters are about to brace for a cool down because moviegoers will turn their eyeballs to streaming to watch much-anticipated shows, including the first $1 billion series. Kim Masters discusses these developments with this week’s Banter guest host Lucas Shaw.
Theaters hit summer wall
Kim: The theaters have been enjoying a bit of a run. “Top Gun Maverick” has pulled in over a billion dollars and is still going. It's been a pretty nice summer for the theaters after the absolute horror of dealing with COVID. But because of various factors that are not unrelated, there is going to be a trough of movies now, until well into the fall.
Lucas: The last really huge movie to come out in theaters was the “Thor” sequel, unless you want to consider Jordan Peels’ “Nope.” The next movie that anyone would consider a blockbuster is “Black Adam,” the DC Dwayne Johnson movie coming out in October. Everything in between there, for the most part, is either horror, or a small comedy, or drama. There's one or two family movies. There's a Brad Pitt Sony movie called “Bullet Train” that I'm excited about.
But I don't think it's going to be quite at the level of some of these other projects. That's pretty scary for these theaters, who are already making do with grosses at 30% to 40% below what they were. Now you're going to see that drop down a lot more, and these companies that are still carrying a lot of debt and still have uncertain futures through the pandemic.
Audiences will turn to streaming
Kim: Where [theaters] are facing shortage, TV is going to have a bunch of stuff coming up for people's eyeballs: HBO will be rolling out its “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon,” in the middle of August. Amazon is going to roll out the “Lord of the Rings” series.
The first $1 billion series
Kim: [“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”] has been a very high-stakes gamble, something that is very, very expensive, and there's a lot riding on it.
Lucas: It's Jeff Bezos’ pet project. He's a huge fan of JRR Tolkien, and was a driving force behind their decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get the rights to make the show, and hundreds and millions of dollars more to make the show, and hundreds of millions of dollars more to market the show. I think that the total budget could be seen at as much as $1 billion dollars – really the first billion-dollar TV show.
I think the question is, “How much people still love ‘Lord of the Rings,’ right?” Amazon is obviously banking that there's still a ton of interest in this world.
Amazon tries to prevent “preemptive online backlash”
Kim: They were clever to get Stephen Colbert onboard [with “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”]. I think he introduced it at Comic Con.
Lucas: They've done a bunch of outreach to fans and experts to make sure that there's not some preemptive online backlash that they have violated the sacred texts of JRR Tolkien.
Kim: I'm curious to see if they nailed that one because I'm sure people will argue about anything on the internet.
John Lasseter is back…
Kim: “Luck” is the first animated project from Skydance. David Ellison, whose company's Skydance is, took the step of hiring John Lasseter, who had been the head of Pixar and then Disney Animation, running both at a certain time.
I broke the story when John Lasseter was put on… initially a temporary leave that became permanent because there were allegations about his conduct. At that point, [it would be] hard for a public company to hire him. But David Ellison doesn't run a public company.
Lucas: No, he runs a private company that is bankrolled by all of the money that he inherited from his very wealthy father, Larry Ellison, who ran Oracle. [Larry] was very close with Steve Jobs, so David Ellison had a relationship with Jobs and with Pixar, which Jobs co-founded, where John Lasseter worked for so long. So, I think he has an admiration for John Lasseter in connection with him. That's perhaps greater than your average media executive.
Kim: They've gone to some lengths to say that there is no sign of settlements at Disney. I think Disney was aware of the conduct, which is why he was instantly put on leave when we were about to release that story.
The thing that's striking to me is, [Lasseter] has never addressed this. He has given an interview just recently, where he declines to talk about it. It just kind of hangs out there that there's a certain amount of blowback still in the animation community.
[“Luck”], as the debut film, I don't think was John Lasseter’s choice. It was sort of in the works when he got there. [It] was… in all sorts of trouble. They scrapped millions of dollars that had already been put into it and tried to remake it. I don't think they succeeded fully. So that maybe [was] not the launch that David Ellison and John Lasseter had had hoped for.