What's news: After Valerian's flop stateside, which financial backers are most on the hook for the Luc Besson sci-fi film's losses? Plus: China has ordered theaters to give heavy play to a propaganda film, Quincy Jones gets awarded $9.4M over a Michael Jackson royalty dispute and activists speak out against HBO's planned modern day slavery drama Confederate. — Matthew Belloni, Erik Hayden and Jennifer Konerman
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As Luc Besson's sci-fi epic stumbles badly in the U.S., the film's many backers — which include investors from France, Qatar and China — will now be pinning their hopes on a late summer bow in the Middle Kingdom, Rhonda Richford reports:
The most expensive indie film ever made, ringing up a $180M price tag, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has flopped at the U.S. box office with a dismal $17M opening weekend. Since its release July 21, the film has taken in a total of just $18.8M.
The backers: Outside of pre-sales, cash to fund Valerian came from literally all over the world. A number of French companies chipped in, according to sources, including telecom giant Orange. In its product placement deal, Lexus threw in another $11.6M and also ran a massive international PR campaign. French channel TF1, longtime producing partner of EuropaCorp, signed on as a co-producer and paid $3.7M for first broadcast rights.
The biggest international investor was clearly China’s Fundamental Films, which, in addition to buying a 28 percent stake, worth $67M, in EuropaCorp (making it the second-largest shareholder behind Besson), also invested $50M to $60M in the film. More details.
Elsewhere in film...
► Imax says moviegoers have "clear preference" for 2D. The company posted a loss of $1.7M on overall revenues at $87.8M compared to a year-earlier earnings at $6M on overall revenue at $91.7M. The exhibitor plans on screening more tentpoles in 2D.
► NBCUniversal earnings rise driven by film unit. The company recorded EBITDA improvements in all divisions, with particularly strong gains in its film and parks units, which grew 407 percent and 17.3 percent. Quarterly revenue rose 17.3 percent to $8.3 billion. Full report.
► Regal Cinemas posts falling financial results. The theater chain reported revenues down over $20M from the same quarter last year despite higher ticket prices. Revenue came in at $764M, compared to $786M last year.
► Chinese cinemas ordered to play state propaganda film. Beijing regulators have ordered cinemas to give 45 percent screen share to the Friday opening of a lavish propaganda film celebrating the People’s Liberation Army.
^Venice Film Fest unveils competition lineup. Yes, that's Matt Damon above in George Clooney's Suburbicon, which will be hitting the festival along with a slate of potential Oscar contenders from top directors.
+ That includes Darren Aronofsky (Mother!), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), Paul Schrader (First Reformed), Abdellatif Kechiche (Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno) and Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Full Venice list.
► Paul Feig's new thriller casts Crazy Rich Asians star. Henry Golding is set to star opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in Lionsgate's A Simple Favor directed by Feig. The film is slated to begin shooting Aug. 14 in Toronto.
► Han Solo movie adds Warwick Davis, composer John Powell. The composer is largely known for work on animated movies, including Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Director Ron Howard also revealed that fan favorite Davis will appear in the film as an unspecified character.
► Amy Schumer reacts to Anne Hathaway Barbie casting. The actress, who was originally attached to the film, says that Hathaway would make a "perfect" Barbie. In a post, Schumer gave her blessing to Hathaway, who is the frontrunner for the role but has not negotiated a deal.
► R.I.P., June Foray. The legendary voiceover star played hundreds of characters, including Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Tweety’s owner Granny, Cindy Lou Who, Nell Fenwick and Wheezy Weasel. She was 99. Full obit.
► Surprise! This summer's indie box office hit. Alex Ritman writes: The Mandy Moore-starring shark thriller 47 Meters Down was initially slated for a DVD release, but an 11th hour rescue mission involving a Weinstein, a title change, an indie distributor and a rising U.K. producer would alter its course.
With record-breaking ratings and 111 Emmy nominations, HBO's Casey Bloys was due a bit of a victory lap during his meeting with reporters yesterday — but, as he seemed keenly aware, there was also going to be a bit of a reckoning, Michael O'Connell writes:
The HBO programming president was speaking publicly for the first time since news broke that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were next doing a series that imagines slavery in the contemporary U.S. and the public outcry that ensued.
But Bloys was pressed on what his subscriber base will be seeing more of (a wider variety of dramas and new cycle of True Detective) and the projects still on the back burner (don't celebrate that Deadwood movie just yet — or hold your breath for more The Night Of). He also deftly avoided confirming or denying the planned rollout of Game of Thrones' eighth and final season. "Scripts are written and they're boarding it all out," Bloys offered. "They're trying to get a sense of how long it's going to take to shoot this."
+ Jon Stewart plans his first standup special in 21 years: The former Daily Show host is set for two specials at the cabler, where he has a four-year production deal. "I can finally use up the last of the Saddam Hussein jokes left over from my first special."
+ Curb Your Enthusiasm teases new guest stars: Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Jimmy Kimmel, Ed Begley, Jr., Carrie Brownstein, Lauren Graham and Nick Offerman are among those set to appear in the new season.
+ Five-part Chernobyl miniseries a go: Mad Men's Jared Harris is attached to star in the project that dramatizes the 1986 catastrophe in Ukraine. The limited series is described as "a tale of lies and cowardice, of courage and conviction, of human failure and human nobility."
Elsewhere in TV...
► Discovery takes command in bid for Scripps. The quest to hammer out a merger agreement leaves Viacom out of the equation, for now. Discovery could agree as early as next week to pay more than $12 billion for the home to HGTV, Food Network and the Travel Channel.
► Verizon loses 15,000 pay TV subs. The telecom giant reported that its FiOS video service lost 15,000 net pay TV subscribers in the second quarter, compared with 41,000 losses in the year-ago period and a 13,000 subscriber drop in the first quarter.
► Charter loses 90,000 pay TV subs. The cable firm, led by chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge, reported that it lost 90,000 net residential pay TV subscribers in the second quarter, compared with a loss of 152,000 in the year-ago period, or 100,000 on a pro forma basis.
► Sky to boost spending on originals by 25 percent. The European pay TV giant reported that it returned to earnings growth in the final quarter of its fiscal year, which recorded lower earnings amid higher sports programming expenses.
► Meanwhile, Facebook claims 2B users. As it eyes original programming, Facebook had a strong second quarter, reporting revenue of $9.32 billion, showing that it still does a big advertising business even as revenue growth in that area is slowing.
^Column: "TV's fabulously fake summer." Critic Inkoo Kang's latest: "Television has long been obsessed with authenticity, but this summer's most vital shows are defined by artifice, embellishment and make-believe." Full story.
► ABC's American Idol reboot finding judges. With Katy Perry already set, sources say that the network and producers FremantleMedia and Core Media are narrowing the field to Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Charlie Puth to join Perry on the judges' panel.
► OWN renews Queen Sugar for season three. The always-in-demand Ava DuVernay is staying put at OWN with a renewal for the drama timed to a new deal with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films. The show regularly ranks among the top five most-watched series on cable.
► ABC's Grey's Anatomy spinoff enlists Jaina Lee Ortiz. The Rosewood alum has booked what is believed to be the starring role in the firefighter-focused spinoff of the Shondaland medical drama. The first episode will air as a planted episode of Grey's.
► Marvel's New Warriors recruits Keith David. Freeform's comedy is staging an Enlisted reunion, adding David for a recurring role on the upcoming series, which also stars Milana Vayntrub (This Is Us) and Derek Theler (Baby Daddy).
► BBC animated sitcom Sticky adds Tom Hardy. The Dunkirk actor will lend his voice to one of four best friends who attend a college in a fictitious London borough where the internet suddenly disappears.
In THR, Esq: Quincy Jones awarded $9.4M in Michael Jackson trial. "Iconic composer and music mogul Quincy Jones, who produced Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, was calm and cool on Wednesday as a Los Angeles courtroom jury awarded him $9.4 million in the trial against Jackson's estate," Billboard's Justino Aguila notes. Details.
The swift backlash to HBO’s Confederate, the upcoming drama from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss that imagines a modern-day nation with legal slavery, illustrates the profound perils of making entertainment about America’s original sin, Rebecca Sun reports:
In the week since HBO’s July 19 announcement, concern – led by black activists, writers and other thought leaders – has mounted over the project’s premise and the pedigrees of its creators.
“What makes the premise fundamentally problematic is that it threatens to erase the actual history,” says activist and artist Bree Newsome, who made headlines in 2015 when she was arrested for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.
At the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday, HBO programming president Casey Bloys expressed hope that viewers would “judge the actual material versus what it might be.” But while many of the industry’s screenwriters and critics have been hesitant to (publicly) weigh in based on the high concept alone, the nascent series already is facing a number of challenging issues.
What else we're reading...
— "Angelina Jolie solo." Evgenia Peretz's cover story: "At her new L.A. mansion, Jolie reveals the tension between the two Angelinas and the reason her life will never be normal." [Vanity Fair]
— "Why Hollywood is trying to turn everything into movies." Alex French writes: "Hollywood is aggressively adapting material that doesn’t have a narrative or even any characters. But not all intellectual property is created equal." [The New York Times mag]
— "Politicon is the perfect media racket for the Trump era." Ahead of the weekend, Clio Chang notes: "Rarely has an event made the connection between politics and entertainment so explicit." [The New Republic]
— "VR fantasy was everywhere at Comic-Con - with a catch." Peter Rubin writes: "Virtual reality grabbed plenty of attention at Comic-Con this year, but only rarely did it live up to its promise." [Wired]
— "A John Wick 'expanded universe' – Hollywood's most idiotic idea yet?" Stuart Heritage writes: "Keanu Reeves’ ultraviolent action series offered B-movie thrills, but spinning it into a multi-stranded franchise underlines the industry’s creative bankruptcy." [The Guardian]
What else we're seeing...
+ "James Corden sings for transgender troops." [Late Late Show]
+ "John Boyega probably appeared in your college brochure." [Tonight Show]
+ "Stephen helps 'The Mooch' Scaramucci find 'The Leaks.'" [Late Show]
Today's Birthdays: Taylor Schilling, 33, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, 40, Maya Rudolph, 45, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, 47, Donnie Yen, 54, Norman Lear, 95.