Death of D.W. Griffith on 7/23/1948
Weekend Box Office... 7/23-7/25
Black Widow Shows Theatrical Exclusivity is the Way Forward
HBO Max and HBO Gain 2.8 Million Subscribers in Q2, AT&T Raises Year-End Target for Streaming Service
Netflix confirms move into video games as its growth slows
Will the Cannes Film Festival Matter for the Oscars This Year?
Private Cinema Rentals are Trend of the Year
Release Calendar... Week of 7/30
Release Calendar... Week of 8/6
Death of D.W. Griffith on 7/23/1948
In a world where LeBron James can play basketball onscreen with cartoon characters, it’s hard to imagine a time when movie basics we now take for granted like close-ups, long shots, editing and lighting hadn’t yet been perfected.
Film historians credit the development of “film grammar” to pioneer Hollywood director D. W. Griffith, who died July 23, 1948 of a cerebral hemorrhage at 73. Griffith’s funeral brought over a thousand gawkers to Hollywood Boulevard, eager to see the 600+ stars, filmmakers and studio heads there to pay their last respects.
David Wark Griffith started out as an actor called Lawrence Griffith, touring in stage productions, one of which brought him to New York in 1907. Hoping to sell a silent movie scenario he’d written based on the opera LA TOSCA, Griffith rode the 3rd Avenue “L” train to the Edison studio in The Bronx. Edwin S. Porter, who directed the classic 1903 drama THE LIFE OF AN AMERICAN FIREMAN, didn’t buy the script, but as luck had it needed an actor right away for a new action film. Griffith didn’t look like a woodsman, but convinced Porter he could “pad up for it a bit” with the right costume. Griffith’s film career was underway. Before long, fate had him acting at Biograph’s East 14th Street studio in Manhattan. His good ideas on set caught the attention of a cameraman, who recommended him for a directing opportunity.
That’s how movie careers started in those days. By June 1909, Griffith was Biograph’s top director and was constantly besieged by actors looking for work. With that in mind,
16 year old Gladys Smith visited Biograph. As the receptionist delivered her usual speech about how busy Mr. Griffith was, she noticed the girl’s blonde curls and added, “but he might take the time to see you, my dear.” Fate intervened here, too, having Griffith walk by just then and stop to see who’d so impressed the tough-as-nails receptionist. He hired Gladys for a film already shooting. Before long, she was, herself, a movie star — now called Mary Pickford.
Ten years later, Griffith joined Pickford, her husband Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin to launch a new studio, United Artists, designed to let filmmakers control their movies’ distribution. By then, Griffith was famous for making big budget epics like the highly controversial post-Civil War drama THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) and the historical drama about social injustice INTOLERANCE (1916).
“The task I’m trying to achieve, above all, is to make you see.” – D.W. Griffith
Box Office Results
Weekend Box Office... 7/23-7/25
As predicted, the weekend was won by Old coming in at $16.5M, with Snake Eyes coming in second at $13.4. Neither title had a streaming outlet so exhibition had an exclusive window at opening. To be able to finish first with less than $17M is an indication of the softness on the market. To do so in July, historically one of the best months of the year, can only be considered a missed opportunity to re-invigorate movie going.
Unfortunately, for the second consecutive weekend, the number one title from the prior weekend dropped precipitously. Space Jam followed in the footsteps of Black Widow’s 67% drop from its first week with a 69% drop of its own. The inability of titles to sustain grosses beyond their opening is becoming quite problematic.
|Rank||Title (Distributor)||Week||# Theatres||Weekend $||Per Theatre Average $||Total $|
|1||Old (Universal Pictures)||1||3,355||$16,854,735||$5,024||$16,854,735|
|2||Snake Eyes (Paramount Pictures)||1||3,521||$13,367,853||$3,797||$13,367,853|
|3||Black Widow (Walt Disney Studios)||3||4,250||$11,618,898||$2,734||$117,832,706|
|4||Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros.)||2||4,002||$9,580,220||$2,394||$40,633,582|
|5||F9: The Fast Saga (Universal Pictures)||5||2,850||$4,820,075||$1,691||$116,982,600|
Black Widow Shows Theatrical Exclusivity is the Way Forward (NATO)
Last week, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) fired off a broadside to criticize studios for experimenting with “day & date” releasing for their major theatrical releases. The exhibitor trade group specifically called out Disney and the disappointing drop off in the box office for Black Widow, the latest offering featuring characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite being praised by critics and audiences, the box office returns dropped unusually quickly after a few strong days in theatres. What’s more, recent openers A Quiet Place 2 and F9: The Fast Saga did not experience the same degree of box office decline, and were offered to theatres under a 45-day exclusivity window. The NATO letter argues that Disney missed out on revenue opportunities as a result of its day & date release, in part because of rampant piracy from online channels, noting that Black Widow was the most pirated film over the Internet during its opening week.
The NATO letter was among its most direct and assertive statements during the pandemic era, arguing against the wisdom of day & date releasing from major studios. The Hollywood press corps had a mixed reaction, including IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann who discredited NATO’s argument as being incomplete and using cherry picked data to support its pre-determined conclusions.
See also: Blaming Disney+ for the ‘Black Widow’ Drop Was Not a Smart Argument (IndieWire)
HBO Max and HBO Gain 2.8 Million Subscribers in Q2, AT&T Raises Year-End Target for Streaming Service (Variety)
During its Q2 earnings call, WarnerMedia’s CEO Jason Kilar highlighted that the company’s HBO Max streaming service had added 2.8 million new subscribers during the quarter, pushing its number of subscribers to 47 million in the U.S. and 67 million globally. This growth exceeded analyst expectations, and supports WB’s argument that its day & date film releasing strategy during the pandemic has paid off. Kilar has argued that the combination of theatrical and streaming releasing heightens the profile of their titles while making them more widely available to consumers, who have more ways to enjoy them. In fact, Warner Bros.’ films have performed relatively well at the box office during the later stages of the pandemic. Godzilla vs. Kong was the first theatrical release during the pandemic to exceed $100 million in box office revenue. More recently, Space Jam: A New Legacy exceeded expectations in its opening last weekend, overtaking Black Widow in its second week to take the top spot on the box office charts. Kilar, who is widely expected to leave WarnerMedia once its merger with Discovery is completed, said that in 2022 the company will release at least 10 new films exclusively on HBO Max and settle into a 45-day exclusive theatrical window for major releases.
See also: Warner Bros. to Produce At Least 10 Movies Exclusively for HBO Max in 2022 (Variety)
Netflix confirms move into video games as its growth slows (Associated Press)
While Netflix sits atop the streaming world, its growth has leveled off while competitors such as Disney and WarnerMedia who entered the online entertainment market more recently have experienced faster growth in 2021. The slowdown has caused Netflix to explore additional areas for potential growth. Netflix has announced plans to provide its users with the ability to stream video games as part of their subscription. It is unclear when this service will debut and what types of games will be offered. But gaming is an enormous market that remains relatively untapped by the mainstream streaming services.
Netflix’s announcement coincides with the publication of a thought-provoking opinion piece by the LA Times’s Peter Labuza, arguing that the government should investigate Netflix for its unfair anti-competitive business practices. The article details many examples of Netflix buying out the rights to films that could draw audiences away from their streaming platform if they were to be developed and released theatrically. The $400 million purchase of Knives Out 2 is only the most visible example of what Labuza claims is Netflix’s “catch and kill” modus operandi. The momentum in Washington appears to be building towards more stringent oversight of large players in all markets, including Netflix and Amazon.
See also: Op-Ed: How the streaming wars are changing what you watch (LA Times)
Will the Cannes Film Festival Matter for the Oscars This Year? (Variety)
In 2019 Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a first jewel in a spectacular crown of awards success that culminated in an Best Picture Oscar. Last week, Julia Ducournau’s Titane was celebrated as the Palme d’Or winner at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Will the French feature translate into success at the Oscars? “Not so fast,” says Variety’s Clayton Davis, pointing out that Parasite’s journey to an Oscar was very much an aberration. Parasite was the first Palme d’Or winner since 1955 to go on to win the Best Picture Oscar, and the first since 2012 even to be nominated by the Academy. Some have said that the international flair and artistic leanings at Cannes can act as an opposite pole to the Hollywood sensibilities of most Academy Members. Given the nature of this particular French film, which tells the story of a serial killer who develops a romantic relationship with his car, Titane seems destined to appeal only to a niche audience.
Private Cinema Rentals are Trend of the Year (Boxoffice Pro)
During 2020, the pandemic ‘s disruptions forced studios to hold back on releasing their slate of new films to theatres. When the box office tanked – down in 2020 by a staggering 80% compared to 2019 – exhibitors that remained open scrambled to find additional sources of income to stay afloat. Many theatres found some success by promoting private group rentals, offering dedicated use of theatre auditoriums for a flat fee. While these rentals generated a small fraction of the income that traditional ticket sales would bring in, they did succeed in luring a certain number of customers back to the theatre during the pandemic.
Now that studios are once again releasing their premium films and attendance is beginning to rebound, most exhibitors are dialing back their efforts to promote private rentals. However, some exhibitors have begun to experiment with renting out their auditoriums for video game tournaments or live events, in addition to dedicated film screenings. These creative approaches provide options for exhibitors to lure customers to the theatre during the slow times in the middle of the week.
Studio Release Calendar