What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:26 AM 12/29/2017

by Ray Rahman

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

What's news: The latest Star Wars movies have made Disney's money back. Plus: Netflix's Bright could be a hit with viewers, a new exposé ignites controversy for Dr. Phil and a look at the women poised to dominate the big screen in 2018. — Ray Rahman

  • Billion-Dollar 'Jedi'

    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Disney's rebooted Star Wars franchise has crossed an important milestone, Pamela McClintock notes: 

    From the get-go, Wall Street analysts lauded The Walt Disney Co.'s decision in 2012 to buy Lucasfilm — home of George Lucas' Star Wars franchise — despite a high price tag of $4.06 billion.

    They weren't wrong in their enthusiasm for Disney chairman/CEO Bob Iger's empire building: Combined, Disney and Lucasfilm's The Last Jedi, Rogue One and The Force Awakens have surpassed $4.06 billion in ticket sales at the worldwide box office, covering the cost of the acquisition. The feat comes as The Last Jedi nears $940 million at the worldwide box office. Full story.

    Elsewhere in film...

    Bright spot: Nielsen is reporting that 11 million people watched the poorly reviewed Will Smith movie Bright over its first three days on Netflix. That's a big number, but the real figure is probably higher (Netflix doesn't report its data) since Nielsen only measures people watching on actual TVs. 

    + The demos: 7 million of the viewers were adults 18-49, and 56 percent of the total audience were male. (The numbers only count U.S. viewers.)

    + So was it a hit? More or less. As Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw puts it, those numbers add up to "a $99 million debut at the box office — roughly what Universal's The Fate of the Furious did in April." But, of course, there's no way of knowing whether all those people would've actually gone to a theater to pay for Bright.

    + Worth noting: The movie's numbers are still smaller than Stranger Things 2, which pulled in 15.8 million by Nielsen's measure. We also don't have a CinemaScore to gauge if viewers actually liked it, although the Rotten Tomatoes audience score is a high 88 percent (against a critical score of 29 percent). 

    + A win for Will? Bright might be the hit Will Smith needed, writes The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry, pointing out his recent box-office troubles. Still, there has been no official word that he's returning for a sequel (Brighter Things, anyone?). 

    China's film strategy: Hire the guy behind Die Hard 2. From a new Wall Street Journal feature: "Best known as the director of big-budget B-movies like Cliffhanger and Cutthroat Island, Renny Harlin moved to the country in 2014 to direct a Jackie Chan movie after his U.S. career stalled."

    + The Renny Harlin school of directing: “Can I tell that they’re saying the right words? No. I am just judging their performance on the universal scale of emotions. So far in three movies I’ve never felt a problem.”

    + The takeaway: “Chinese producers are paying a premium for Hollywood experience they think can get their domestic movies up to Western standards.”

    ^The Commuter, reviewed. "Thoroughly enjoyable to watch if totally forgettable once you leave the theater, The Commuter feels like one of those films they simply don’t make anymore, at least in Hollywood,” Jordan Mintzer writes. “It's a certified B-movie without superheroes or interplanetary travel.” Full review.

    Golden Globes presenters: The HFPA has announced the first batch of presenters which includes Gal Gadot, Hugh Grant, Ricky Martin, Isabelle Huppert, J.K. Simmons, Amy Poehler and many more.

    UTA chief sends agency-wide memo on gender eqality and diversity: “What kind of world are my girls growing up in?” CEO Jeremy Zimmer wrote in an email sent to UTA’s nearly-1,000 employees worldwide. “The horror of Harvey and other creeps of his ilk will leave a scar, but will also build a muscle. The muscle will help eliminate some of the ideas that have deluded men, women and organizations.” Read the full memo.

  • 'Dr. Phil' Guests Speak Out

    Getty Images

    In a new investigation, guests of the syndicated talk show went on the record accusing staffers of aiding in substance abuse. Chris Gardner writes:

    When Survivor winner Todd Herzog appeared on Dr. Phil in 2013, he was so intoxicated that he slurred his words and needed help from two people just to make it to his seat. A breathalyzer showed his alcohol level to be a shocking .263, and host Phil McGraw said that he had "never talked to a guest who was closer to death."

    Herzog, now sober, has just come forward in a joint investigation by the Boston Globe and STAT alleging that part of the reason he was in such bad shape that day was because of vodka and Xanax supplied to him by the show. His experience, the investigation claims, is indicative of a troubling behind-the-scenes culture at Dr. Phil which is said to value ratings over the health of guests struggling with substance abuse. Full story.

    + Others quoted allege that relatives were encouraged by Dr. Phil staffers to go to L.A.'s Skid Row in order to buy heroin.

    + Dr. Phil’s spokesperson is disputing the nature of the story, saying it "does not fairly or accurately describe the methods of Dr. Phil, the TV show, or its mission to educate millions of viewers about drug and alcohol addiction."

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Trump, unstaffed: The president took a break from attacking Anna Wintour and Vanity Fair to offer his thoughts on the media more generally (among other things) in an off-the-cuff chat with the New York Times.

    + Long story short: CNN is treating him "unfairly and very dishonestly" — but despite that, Trump will still win in 2020 "because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. ... they basically have to let me win."

    There's a new structure outside Fox News HQ. A 35-feet tall wind-powered kinetic work titled "Annual Eclipse" was installed outside the Manhattan building this month. New York Magazine has the backstory.

    NFL's down year: The numbers are in for NBC's Sunday Night Football, which fell 13 percent in 2017 yet remains No. 1 in broadcast with 18.2 average weekly viewers. Thursday Night Football fared worse, while ESPN's Monday Night actually stayed pretty steady.

    + Then again: Younger, cord-cutting fans are finding new ways to watch games, including free illegal streams on Reddit, Sports Illustrated reports. In other words, the NFL's product might still be popular, even if TV subscriptions aren't.

    Trouble at Miss America: The pageant organization's attempt to smooth over its email controversy by letting former Miss Americas join the search for new leaders isn't satisfying the actual former Miss Americas, who call the strategy "laughable." Their counter: The entire board should step down.

     Tim Cook is rich: The Apple CEO's annual pay jumped to $12.8 million for the latest fiscal year, a 47 percent increase from the previous year. 

     So is Reed Hastings: The Netflix CEO's annual pay will spike to $29.4 million in 2018, up from $22 million this year. Content chief Ted Sarandos, meanwhile, will take in $12 million next year.

    + WSJ notes: "The streaming giant cited the recent passage of the U.S. federal tax overhaul as the reason for the change."

    ^The X-Files, reviewed: “Generally, Duchovny and Anderson are more at-ease in the last five episodes,” Daniel Fienberg writes of the show's upcoming 10-episode 11th season. “There's more banter and more flirting, should that be the thing you watch The X-Files for. Mitch Pileggi's Skinner is also better utilized, though not for flirting.” Full review.

    Black Mirror is out today. The show's fourth season dropped this morning, and critics are already breaking down each episode. The Ringer declares "USS Callister" the best of the bunch, calling it this season's "San Junipero." The Daily Beast, however, favors "Hang the DJ", saying it's "season 4's best episode." Vox, meanwhile, took the other angle: "'Metalhead' is what people who hate Black Mirror hate about Black Mirror."

    Critic's notebook: Fienberg's next ten. From Netflix's Big Mouth to ABC's Speechless, here's his list of the second best ten shows of the year. (The first ten, if you missed it, are here.)

    Rose Marie, wisecracking star of The Dick Van Dyke Show, dies at 94. The beloved actress, known to many as the wisecracking comedy writer Sally Rogers on the The Dick Van Dyke Show, passed away Thursday at her home in Van Nuys, California.

    + Earlier this month, Rose Marie wrote a guest column about how a moment of standing up to a producer's sexual harassment impacted her career.

  • 2018 Preview: Women Kicking Ass

    From left to right: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures

    While we have to wait until 2019 for a new Wonder Woman, there will be plenty of ladies soaking up screen time in big tentpoles worth looking forward to next year. Katie Kilkenny and Mia Galuppo write:

    Proud Mary Hidden Figures star Taraji P. Henson shifts into anithero action-star gear — and wears some cool disguises — in the Babak  Najafi-directed thriller, which sees Henson's Mary working as an assassin for an organized crime family in Boston. (Jan. 12)

    Tomb Raider Alicia Vikander is stepping in to Angelina Jolie's well-treaded combat boots for the 2018 reboot of the video game adaptation, which finds Lara Croft heading to an island where he adventurer father (Dominic West) disappeared. (March 16) See the full list.

    What else we're reading...

    — "How grief led Diane Kruger to the bravest performance of her career." Jada Yuan writes: "In the space of eight months, she lost her grandmother and her stepfather, plus ended her ten-year relationship with Joshua Jackson, all while going into deep immersion in the toughest role of her career — as a woman whose Turkish husband and son are killed in a neo-Nazi terrorist attack in the German-language thriller In the Fade." [New York Magazine]

    — "Beyond the peach sex: The remarkable year in LGBT film." Kevin Fallon takes stock of a good year that included Call Me By Your Name, BPM and more. [The Daily Beast]

    — "How Snapchat's dancing hot dog taught the internet to love AR." Arielle Pardes writes: "Over all, the dancing hot dog - one of Snapchat's World Lenses, which superimpose digital 3-D objects over the real-life surroundings - has sprung to life more than 2 billion times on the platform." [Wired]

    — "What statement are men making by wearing black to the Golden Globes?" Hilary Weaver writes: "Hollywood men are reportedly wearing black in solidarity with women protesting sexual misconduct - but many critics are puzzled about how their attire will differ from what they’ve always worn." [Vanity Fair]

    — "December's romance novels probe questions of identity." Maureen Lee Lenker reviews the month in romance novels, just in time for any more holiday travel you might have planned. [EW]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Clive Davis: Interview." "I take home, every week, new songs that reach the charts to make sure I don't go over the hill," Clive Davis deadpans in his interview with Scott Feinberg. [Awards Chatter / THR]

    + "Lesley Manville and Jamie Bell, in conversation." Richard Lawson interviews the actors from Phantom Thread and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. [Little Gold Men / Vanity Fair]

    + "Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin of Belle and Sebastian." Sam Sanders chats with the leaders of everyone's favorite Scottish indie band. [It's Been a Minute / NPR]

    Today's Birthdays: Dylan Minnette, 21, Jane Levy, 28, Alison Brie, 35, Diego Luna, 38, Danny McBride, 41, Mekhi Phifer, 43, Jude Law, 45, Patrick Fischler, 48, Lilly Wachowski, 50, Patricia Clarkson, 58, Paul Rudnick, 60, Ted Danson, 70, Jon Voight, 79.