2015's box office is on course to be the highest-grossing ever with 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' not even striking yet. And it’s these 16 leaders who’ve kept the big-screen biz humming.
Belson, who spent a decade at DreamWorks Animation and produced the company's hit The Croods, calls her first year at Sony "transitional." Among her goals was to ramp up production at SPA: "We are increasing that output meaningfully, and we've been opening up the doors to talent," she says, citing Hotel Transylvania 2, which has grossed $437 million worldwide, and a planned 2017 Smurfs reboot. The faith-based The Lamb and an animated Spider-Man, written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are to follow.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "Nobody really knows what is going to work. The audience is more open than you think."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "Is getting up at 4:30 quirky?"
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "I was a reader at CAA, back when it was at 1888 Century Park East — a far cry from their digs today. It was a great first job. And I met my best friend and my husband there."
THE MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "I seem to never feed myself. Other people provide my meals."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I spent the first 11 years of my life living all over the world with my Swedish hippie mother."
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "A difficult place for original stories. It's why I migrated to animation, where big original movies are still made."
J.J. Abrams was her neighbor for a decade, but Brandis never spoke to the director until visiting the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Brandis, 62, has negotiated all of the above-the-line deals for the franchise. While she's largely dealing with sequels to Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel movies — "there's so many of them; we have twos and threes and fours everywhere," says the married mother of three — she also works with filmmakers looking to reboot Disney classics. "I got two calls yesterday on two properties I never heard of," she says.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "It's a really small world with a short-term memory."
THE MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "Watching screeners instead of going out to the movies."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I'm an open book."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT Ca Del Sole
HOW I SAVE TIME "Doing errands while brushing my teeth."
THE ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC "My daughter suggests Kris Jenner."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Reading minds — resulting in negotiating leverage."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT George Clooney
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "I have it."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Cell phones in meetings."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "Someone calls me 'sweetheart' (I'm not one!)."
"It felt impossible," says Colligan of Paramount's January decision to move Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation from December to July. But it worked; the film grossed $682 million globally, almost matching the record $694.7 million earned by Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. This fall, Colligan found herself at the center of a firestorm when teaming with giant theater chains AMC Entertainment and Cineplex to make Paranormal: The Ghost Dimension and Scouts Guide to to the Zombie Apocalypse available earlier than usual on VOD. A majority of cinemas wouldn't carry the two films, resulting in subdued grosses (it's too early to say how much will be made up by the early digital release). "I'm really proud we did it. The fact of the matter is that smaller and medium-sized movies are under intense pressure," she says. Colligan, a savvy awards player, now is readying The Big Short and Anomalisa. Paramount also releases Daddy's Home, starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, on Christmas Day.
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "The ability to become Oprah."
HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET Andy Cohen
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Real Housewives, Girls, Mad Men
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "How silly leaving word all day is, only to be in a meeting and have all those calls returned, and then leaving word again."
After a disappointing 2014, DWA scaled back to release only one movie in 2015 — Home, a solid performer that grossed $386 million worldwide. Changes were afoot behind the scenes as CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg named veteran producers Arnold (How to Train Your Dragon), 59, and Soria (Madagascar), 60, to replace Bill Damaschke under Daly, 59. The company is aiming to bounce back in 2016 with Kung Fu Panda 3 and Trolls.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD
Daly: "Marketing for the 'new media' of its time, home video."
Soria: "Assistant at ABC."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE Daly: "I gave up my Porsche for a Tesla."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD
Daly: "To bend time. I want more of it each day."
Arnold: "Ability to teleport myself to Glendale."
Soria: "Reading minds while flying."
HOW I SAVE TIME
Arnold: "Audible app."
Soria: "I knit while I watch the NBA."
The teen drama Paper Towns didn't hit as big as 2014's The Fault in Our Stars, but the $12 million film still earned $86 million worldwide. Rounding out Gabler's busy 2015 were The Longest Ride ($63 million) and the DreamWorks-produced Bridge of Spies ($97.4 million to date). Still ahead are The Road Chip, the fourth entry in the billion-dollar-plus Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, and the Jennifer Lawrence-starring Joy, which Gabler calls the highlight of 2015. "We shot in Boston during the worst winter on record, and our stage room caved in [because of snow], but it such was an incredible experience," she says. "To put that cast together was incredibly exciting." Up next in 2016, Gabler is putting Ted Melfi's Hidden Figures into production with a March start. Also on the horizon is Hany Abu-Assad's The Mountain Between Us, which will shoot somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere in early summer. Another high priority is the thriller Scarpetta, based on Patricia Cornwell's medical examiner protagonist of her best-selling novels. "We've been working on it a really long time," Gabler adds. "I'm bound and determined to make it this year."
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Working as Jim Wyatt's assistant at ICM."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "That I would stay in Hollywood. When I came, it felt like it was interim. I would have taken a more creative path than spending four years at an agency."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "That I work on a real studio lot and am surrounded by wonderful creative forces."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "The commissary at Fox. A lot of the waiters have been there since I started at Fox 26 years ago."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Multitasking."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Meryl Streep. "She's a goddess to me."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD To fly. "I could make a faster trip to work every day."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "No one. I like mine."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Downton Abbey
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "When people aren't honest about their availability. It happens all the time."
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "Global."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "A man uses foul language and then apologizes to me — like I haven't heard it before."
"Obviously, we've had a bumpy ride," says Kroll, whose studio — often an industry leader — has seen its fortunes slip over the past two years. Big misses in 2015 included Pan and Our Brand Is Crisis. Bright spots were Mad Max: Fury Road ($375.8 million worldwide) and Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, which nabbed a best picture nomination and became the top-grossing war film ever ($547.4 million). Kroll, now overseeing global distribution upon the retirement of domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman, is looking forward to a 2016 lineup that includes Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "In the late '80s, when the Soviet Union was still the Soviet Union, I went there to work on a rock concert for Showtime, and I brought Levi's jeans and bandanas and chewing gum, and I traded them for a Russian army uniform that I still have today."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Being Wonder Woman would be super cool, especially having those bracelets. I could deflect bullets both real and symbolic."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) "I'm obsessed with Game of Thrones. I have been so since the very first show. A close second is Steven Soderbergh's The Knick."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "So many women doing phenomenal work in this industry is still considered an anomaly."
With the departure of Dan Fellman, Kwan Vandenberg now is in charge of domestic distribution after running Warners’ international operation for years (she reports to Sue Kroll). Highlights of 2015 include American Sniper (which earned $197.3 million offshore), San Andreas ($318.5 million internationally compared with a domestic cume of $155.2 million) and Mad Max: Fury Road ($222 million overseas).
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I STARTED OUT "How important Mandarin would be."
THE ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Sandra Bullock
I’M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Bill Clinton
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Flying."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Working 24/7."
The 20-year vet oversaw Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, which swept the Oscars with four wins, including best picture. She also shepherded the company's first sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which earned $86 million worldwide. Coming up: She's overseeing Marc Webb's Gifted, starring Chris Evans; the tennis comedy Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone and the drama My Cousin Rachel with Rachel Weisz.
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "Mr C."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Julia Louis-Dreyfus
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) "It's a smackdown between Veep and Silicon Valley."
Though she will oversee fewer films in her new role (in August, she moved from president of production at Columbia Pictures, where she shepherded such films as Goosebumps and Concussion), the U.K.-born Minghella, daughter of late director Anthony Minghella, says TriStar's projects dovetail with her sensibilities. The first movie to go into production on her watch is Edgar Wright's Baby Driver in February (Lily James will star). Also on the horizon is Trainspotting 2, which she brought into the TriStar fold, reuniting the film's original cast to boot.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD Assistant in the development department at Miramax. "That was my film school."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "To value the things about yourself that will be an asset to others."
THE MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "Getting ready for things like the Governors Awards and getting my hair and makeup done while feeding my baby. It was a hilarious working-mom-in-Hollywood moment."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I trained as a dancer at the London Contemporary Dance School from the age of 3 until I was 18."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "Akasha in Culver City."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Multitasking."
THE ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Rachel Weisz
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Angelina Jolie and Oprah
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "To freeze time."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Girls
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Screenplays with typos."
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "[Aware] that the movies we make and the people who make those movies need to better reflect the audiences we are making them for."
Morrison spent two years convincing the Hollywood-shy heirs of Charles M. Schulz that Fox Animation would do right by them. It was a courtship that paid off in November when The Peanuts Movie opened to $44 million and crossed the $100 million mark about two weeks later. "To go up there and see the desk he worked on and know that we were going to continue that legacy was awesome," says the Northern California native. Next up for her is Ice Age: Collision Course in July. Then Carlos Saldanha will try to do for Spain what he did for Brazil with his adaptation of The Story of Ferdinand, out in 2017.
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I play the violin."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "The ability to code."
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Whoopi Goldberg's talk show"
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "I often take a walk around the lot at the end of the day."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "A career like that of Oprah Winfrey. She has done and continues to do so many pioneering, brave things throughout the course of her career."
When Sony announced in February, in the wake of the cyberhack that put Pascal in the hot seat, that it would not be renewing her contract as co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and head of its motion picture unit, she was hardly out on the street: Her four-year deal at the studio is said to be valued at as much as $40 million. Pascal, 57, became one of the producers of the next Spider-Man movie, due in 2017, as well as the new femme-centric Ghostbusters, which will hit theaters July 15.
Press' outfit released two films in 2015 via its distribution partnership with Lionsgate. The first, teen comedy The DUFF, earned $34 million against an $8.5 million budget. In theaters is the holiday comedy Love the Coopers. Upcoming films include the heist drama Comancheria, starring Chris Pine, and The Sense of an Ending. Press' team also is plotting Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, the film adaptation of James Patterson's bestselling book series.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD “There is a difference between loving movies and loving the movie business.”
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Eve Arden
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY "Julie Andrews. During Shrek, I could barely speak around her."
HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET Kathleen Kennedy
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Questionnaires that ask about pet peeves."
The doyenne of specialty film saw Searchlight walk away with the Oscar for best picture for the second straight year, this time for Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, which also impressed at the U.S. box office ($42.3 million). Wild ($37.9 million) also was an awards darling, garnering Reese Witherspoon a best actress Oscar nomination. Utley has three films vying for major awards attention this year: Brooklyn, off to a strong start in select theaters; Youth, which began its limited run Dec. 4; and Davis Guggenheim's Oscar-shortlisted doc He Named Me Malala, which has grossed a solid $2.6 million.
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "I'm in a meeting and a man (occasionally even a woman!) looks right past me and only addresses my male business partner, Steve Gilula. Grr."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Like many people, I do several things at a time. It may not be healthy but it keeps me from being bored and really helps get things done."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "I really wish I could fall asleep whenever I want to. I am a poor sleeper and always have a million thoughts racing in my brain."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) "I'm obsessed with Chef's Table on Netflix and am anxiously awaiting season two."
Big wins for Watts in 2015 include Ridley Scott's The Martian — it has grossed north of $573 million worldwide to date — and Kingsman: The Secret Service, which launched a new franchise after earning $414.4 million. Watts' penchant for fresh talent pays off more often that not, though Josh Trank's Fantastic Four proved a bomb. "You have to take a chance on new directors," she says. Major swings in 2016 include X-Men: Apocalypse and Independence Day: Resurgence. And Scott begins shooting Alien: The Convenant in February.
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "Having regular conversations with Ridley Scott."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I was born in England."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "I eat Cheerios after every preview."
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Lauren Bacall