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When Sandra Bullock was first approached by Paramount about producing and starring in The Lost City, an action-adventure romantic comedy that’s an ode to a disappearing genre, she said thanks, but no thanks. However, she couldn’t stop thinking about the project and went back to the studio with a fix: Reverse the roles and make the leading lady more heroic and bold, and infuse the leading man’s character with feminine sensitivities. It was a move Channing Tatum would welcome when joining the movie about a romance author and her cover model who set out on an adventure.
“There weren’t any obstacles for the female character. And the male character we’ve seen before,” Bullock tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I like that I’m not 25,” Bullock, 57, continues. “And I love that there’s a man in it willing to be many aspects of himself that weren’t traditionally shown in films like this because they had to be the action hero. And Chan was so game. Let’s just do it.”
These days, Bullock and fellow producer Liza Chasin, along with the rest of the Lost City team, are celebrating the movie crossing $100 million domestically in a major feat after becoming the first film of the pandemic era to lure females back to theaters en masse, especially older females.
Looking back, Bullock, who runs Fortis Films, knew she would need a true producing partner if she were to proceed with Lost City and discovered it in Chasin, who founded 3dot Productions several years ago after leaving her longtime post at Working Title. Bullock has known the well-respected producer for years socially, but the two had never worked together.
“I just wanted a partner,” says Bullock, who herself has produced more than 20 films, including many of her own. “I was so tired of doing everything myself. [I thought], ‘Where are the producers who are listed on the call sheet?’”
The Paramount movie has exceeded all expectations since opening at the North American box office on March 23 and crossing the $100 million mark over Memorial Day weekend. It presently rests at roughly $105 million domestically and $187.7 million worldwide.
Other handy stats: Lost City is the second-highest-grossing comedy at the domestic box office since the pandemic started behind Free Guy ($121.6 million) and the third-highest-grossing film with a female lead behind A Quiet Place Part II ($160.1 million) and Black Widow ($183.7 million). It is also the top-grossing original IP pic of 2022.
Paramount senior executive vp and head of development Ashley Brucks, alongside former motion picture president Emma Watts, hired Aaron and Adam Nee to direct Lost City from a script they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, from a story conceived by Seth Gordon. Daniel Radcliffe co-stars, while Brad Pitt makes a cameo (just as Bullock makes a cameo in Pitt’s upcoming Bullet Train).
Bullock and Chasin insisted on a theatrical release despite the fact that Bullock made her last two films, Bird Box and The Unforgivable, for Netflix. (Those two films are on the streamer’s top 10 list of the all-time most watched English-language films in their first 28 days.)
“Yes, streaming was blossoming, but there was no doubt in our mind that this was theatrical. We were filming it for theatrical. It was all about scope and scale,” says Bullock. The movie was shot in 2021 on location in the Dominican Republic, upping the adventure factor. “When you’re finally able to get back to the movies, what greater gift than to go see the kind of movie you haven’t seen in a long time in a theater,” says Chasin in referring to the action-adventure romantic comedy genre.
A long time indeed. Romancing the Stone, starring Kathleen Turner — who also plays a romance writer — and Michael Douglas opened in theaters in 38 years ago. The genre slowly lost ground as superhero fare grew; one of the last major offerings was 2008’s Fool’s Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson.
The Lost City opened to a relatively modest $30.5 million, but kept building its audience (in the business, it’s known as “having legs”).
“Women of a certain age that aren’t 18 don’t go out on the first weekend. We have other shit to take care of … like families and careers. That’s why, if you’re lucky, you have a movie that sticks around. This movie made it worth the trip to the movie theater,” says Bullock.
Females made up 56 percent of all ticket buyers on opening weekend, followed by 59 percent the next — by far a pandemic record. “One of the significant accomplishments of this film was attracting this segment of the audience,” says Paramount domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. In its second weekend, the number of moviegoers between ages 35 and 44 jumped from 18 percent to 20 percent, while those over the age of 55 went from 13 percent to 14 percent. To be sure, younger female adults also turned up. On the first weekend, 23 percent of ticket buyers were between ages 18-24 and 24 percent between ages 25-34.
“The success of The Lost City is a testament to Sandy’s creative vision and instincts. It proves that a well-executed female-driven film appeals to all audiences and reminds us that people still want to laugh together. That is the gold that Sandy, Liza, Dana and the Nees have mined,” says Paramount Motion Picture Group co-president Daria Cercek.
Paramount’s marketing team, led by Marc Weinstock, premiered the film at the SXSW film festival in Austin, where Bullock has a home. Says the star: “I thought we might be a little bit ‘too’ studio to get in. I thought, ‘oh my god, if we don’t get in, I can’t walk the streets of Austin.’” Bullock had nothing to worry about. Lost City was a festival sensation. But publicity is her least favorite part of the business. “I shrivel up when it comes to press, when it comes to being in public and when it comes to doing a photo shoot,” says the star. “I just collapse. I’m not good at that, but what I love is working in tandem with people to create something.”
During interviews around the time of SXSW, Bullock revealed she was going to take a break from acting and producing to focus on her two children (she was working back-to-back on The Lost City and The Unforgivable). All told, the Oscar-winning actress has starred in 50 films.
“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone’s schedule other than my own,” Bullock says. “I’m so burnt out. I’m so tired, and I’m so not capable of making healthy, smart decisions and I know it.” She won’t say how long this break might last. “I really don’t know.”
Adds Bullock: “Work has always been steady for me, and I’ve been so lucky. I realized it possibly was becoming my crutch. It was like opening up a fridge all the time and looking for something that was never in the fridge. I said to myself, ‘Stop looking for it here because it doesn’t exist here. You already have it; establish it, find it and be OK not having work to validate you.’”
Bullock says producing The Lost City with Chasin was a fabulous experience, as was working with Paramount, which allowed her the kind of creative freedom and respect she hasn’t always experienced. “I love working with artists, and that’s why Liza and I were very well-matched,” Bullock says. “If I’m going out with a bang, I want to go out with the right person.”
Adds Chasin of their future, “Sandy and I are going to do something together. It might just be baking cookies. We don’t know what it is yet — it might be a movie — but it is going to be great.”
So where does that leave the possibility of a Lost City sequel? Paramount sources say they’d love to find more treasure with Bullock and Chasin.
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