Who said prestige film-making was dead in Hollywood? After The King’s Speech and Black Swan, studios are racing back into the business of serious stories and ambitious talent. Thank heavens.
So classy prestige films do make money. That was the conclusion of the Hollywood establishment after the awards season 2010 in which The King’s Speech, Black Swan and The Social Network between them grossed close to $1bn at the worldwide box office. Paramount to the success of these films was their characterization as critical favourites and awards frontrunners and, after a few years in which several studios had closed, sold or reduced their specialty labels, the appetite for small, smart movies which made a huge ROI was brewing up again in the merry-go-round of decision-makers’ heads.
Why didn’t we have Black Swan or The King’s Speech is an ironic question which reactive studio heads have been angrily asking their staff this year, even though most of them passed on those films themselves.
So is challenging drama back on the studio agenda?
Not quite just yet, but it’s a matter of time before they are all fighting over the next must-have specialty item. Indeed what studio chief can resist battling it out with Harvey Weinstein, who once again proved this year that a reasonably budgeted period drama can crack open the mainstream box office and win the best picture Oscar?
Let’s hope that this time around on the specialized bandwagon the prices paid and budgets required remain on a rather more measured level than when (as recently as 2007/8) the average price of producing and marketing them was in the $75m region.
So what’s the story in the meantime, before the studios all start piling back in again? Harvey has lined up an enviable 2011 slate including The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep, which at the very least should win Streep her 14th best actress Oscar nomination. The Weinstein Company is also touting My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes’ well-received Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus, Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place starring Sean Penn and, if it’s up to scratch, Madonna’s ambitious W.E.
But this is also the year of some high-pedigree studio-backed prestige titles including Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar (Warner Bros) starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, George Clooney’s The Ides Of March (Sony) in which Clooney also stars alongside Ryan Gosling and Paul Giamatti and another Clooney outing The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) in which he merely acts for Oscar winner Alexander Payne.
Martin Scorsese’s lavish 3D debut Hugo Cabret vies with Steven Spielberg’s lavish 3D animated The Adventures Of Tintin (Paramount/Sony); Cameron Crowe is back for Fox with We Bought A Zoo starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson; Damon is also in Warner’s high-octane action thriller Contagion directed by Steven Soderbergh and co-starring Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Warner Bros is also releasing Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and directed by Stephen Daldry, who has won three directing Oscar nominations for his first three films. That film is produced by Oscar regular Scott Rudin, who also has a major commercial title at Sony in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo directed by David Fincher. That may, or may not be, an awards title. With Fincher at the helm, what’s the betting it will get a look in.
Jason Reitman has a new movie at Paramount called Young Adult starring Charlize Theron and written by his Juno writer Diablo Cody; Focus Features is releasing Universal pickup Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a high prestige Working Title production directed by Tomas Alfredson and starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth; while Sony has uplifting baseball drama Moneyball from director Bennett Miller and star Brad Pitt.
Meanwhile DreamWorks Pictures is looking powerful with The Help, the movie of the bestseller which is getting strong buzz and features a to-die-for cast led by Emma Stone and Viola Davis. And Spielberg’s film of novel and play War Horse will gallop out of the gates on December 28 with a dazzling pedigree that will be hard to beat.
Then there are some unknowns: Angelina Jolie has directed a Bosnia-set movie In The Land Of Blood And Honey which FilmDistrict has dated in December; Roland Emmerich wants to prove he can do period intrigue with Anonymous for Sony and there is even a hint that Fox Searchlight will finally release Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret which shot in 2004.
Drama, it appears, isn’t dead yet, and the studios which appeared so ready to abandon quality storytelling in hard times are re-evaluating their strategies. Audiences, hot off Speech and Swan, should follow.