Paramount Chief Brad Grey Bets on Crowded (and Risky) Year-End Slate, Including Brad Pitt's 'Allied'
The once-reclusive studio chief is now publicly fighting for Paramount's future.
Since landing the top job a decade ago, Paramount Pictures chairman-CEO Brad Grey generally let his former vice chairman Rob Moore be the public face of the studio.
No longer. Grey has fully emerged from the cloisters of his executive suite after Moore was ousted in late September. On Oct. 27, Grey hosted a footage presentation for press in New York City highlighting a crowded slate of five movies Paramount will release between now and Dec. 31, as well as teasing 2017 titles.
A similar event was held Nov. 2 on the Melrose lot in Los Angeles, where Grey again assured Paramount is in turnaround mode after a disastrous run at the box office, pronouncing that the new leadership at parent company Viacom, now led by Shari Redstone, has “invigorated” everyone at the studio. (Shari Redstone, Sumner Redstone's daughter, says she is a Grey supporter.)
It’s out of the ordinary to stage such a gathering for the media, save for CinemaCon and fan extravaganzas such as Comic-Con. “These are five very worthy movies and I wanted to acknowledge them, and be loud about it,” Grey told The Hollywood Reporter at the post-footage reception in L.A.
Marketing and releasing so many movies in such a short period has its challenges, even when accounting for an impressive roster of stars and directors. Only one of the five titles is a broad commercial play — ensemble comedy Office Christmas Party (Dec. 9). And while Paramount has limited financial exposure on many of the titles, it could use positive box-office headlines as Grey tries to cement his standing in the new world order at Viacom, which is mulling a merger with CBS.
On Nov. 11, Paramount launches Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi movie Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The movie, which made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, boasts a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Prerelease tracking suggests the film, which is being sold as a smart adult drama, will debut to $16 million domestically over the Nov. 11-13 weekend. Sci-fi is a tough genre, and the studio is counting on strong word of mouth to fuel a sustained run in theaters.
Paramount paid $20 million for North American rights to Arrival; the rest of the $50 million budget was financed independently.
Meanwhile, Grey’s studio and GK Films partnered on director Robert Zemeckis’ Allied, a World War II-related drama starring Brad Pitt — who has longtime ties to Grey — and Marion Cotillard. Early tracking suggests the movie will open to $20 million over Thanksgiving weekend.
“Zemeckis isn’t a money-in-the-bank director anymore, and the subject matter might skew old,” says MKM analyst Eric Handler, adding that Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce also could have an impact on the film. (It remains to be seen whether Pitt does full-court press for the movie.)
On Christmas Day, Paramount opens the Denzel Washington-directed Fences, based on the Broadway play of the same name. The studio is making a major awards push for the drama, which sees Washington and Viola Davis reprising their stage roles.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is likewise hoping for awards attention, as is Arrival. Silence remains a question mark, since the filmmaker is still working on a final cut. Paramount will open the historical drama in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 23. (Scorsese is another Grey ally.)
While Grey has always been a key player when it comes to talent relationships, he is now involved in the day-to-day running of Paramount in a way he hasn’t been before, since Moore oversaw marketing and distribution, along with other divisions. “What’s different for me is that I have eight more directs and am basically now running four or five divisions. I was delighted to take them on,” Grey told THR.
But Wall Street analysts aren’t entirely convinced all is squared away on the Paramount lot. “The studio needs new leadership. You can’t struggle for this long and not wipe the slate clean,” says Rich Greenfield of BTIG.
With a potential CBS and Viacom merger looming, sources say Grey hasn’t spoken with CBS chief Les Moonves about what would happen if the union was blessed, although the two have known each other for years.
Insiders add the old regime at Viacom made life tough for Paramount by slashing overhead and blocking Grey from making strategic acquisitions, such as buying Marvel Studios, which had a distribution deal with Paramount when Iron Man became a runaway box-office hit. When Grey's efforts were thwarted, Disney stepped in and bought Marvel, resulting in a superhero ending for Disney chief Bob Iger — not Grey.