Toby Emmerich on Warners Bros.' 'Crazy Rich' Year: "We All Feel Like We've Turned a Corner Now"

Emily Berl
"It's not necessarily the quantity of the time, it's the quality," says Toby Emmerich of working with filmmakers. "You can't phone it in."

Ahead of Saturday's PGA Awards, the film chief discusses why he's OK with Disney being No. 1, what 'Aquaman's' success means for the DC Universe and why 'Paddington 2' didn't break out in North America.

One year after Toby Emmerich ascended to chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group and consolidated his power, his team's 2018 slate of films has gone a long way in restoring the studio to stability. The success follows a difficult era with big misses like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Pan (2015) punctuated by a win here and there, such as 2017's Wonder Woman, It and Dunkirk (Emmerich was president and chief content officer at the time after jumping from New Line to Warners in late 2016).

On Jan. 19, Emmerich, 55, will be feted with the Producers Guild of America's Milestone Award on the heels of awards frontrunner A Star Is Born ($398.4 million), the groundbreaking Crazy Rich Asians ($238.2 million) and the superhero extravaganza Aquaman, set to be the first Warners tentpole in six years to cross $1 billion at the global box office.

Ahead of the PGA ceremony, Emmerich spoke with THR about why he's OK with Disney being No. 1, the revival of DC and why he believes Paddington 2 underperformed in North America.

What are your goals for 2019?

They remain the same: to produce, market and distribute the most diverse slate we can and not play the Disney-Fox game. Disney-Fox will clearly remain the No. 1 studio. We're highly focused on DC, on ramping up animation and on movies that contribute to the social conversation. We have a footprint in horror, and we don't believe comedies are dead. We want to continue hitting all those genre buckets as well as nurture and birth new franchises.

How big of a risk was A Star Is Born?

Since we made the movie for under $40 million, it was a managed risk. The movie was 100 percent execution-dependent. If Bradley Cooper, a first-time director, had only hit the outer rings, you wouldn't have had much. It really was a bet on him, and on Lady Gaga as a first-time feature film actor. They both hit the bull's-eye.

And Crazy Rich Asians?

That was a riskier movie, which is why some of the other studios crunched the numbers and passed. The financials didn't work on paper. You really have to give a lot of credit to [CEO] Kevin Tsujihara. He really believed in it. It was a great call. At the same time, I don't think you can say, "Let's just do an all fill-in-the-blank cast or ethnicity." Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy. It is a fantastic genre that mostly isn't working in theaters right now. I don't know why. Crazy Rich Asians was a fresh spin. It gave everyone a marketing hook, and there was also awareness because of the book.

Crazy Rich Asians bombed in China. Are you worried about the sequel, since it is set there?

We're not counting on any box office from China. Maybe we can crack it, and maybe they will come to the party. I'm not giving up, but we're assuming the second movie will do the same as the first in China [$1.7 million].

What does the success of Aquaman mean for the DC Universe?

We all feel like we've turned a corner now. We're playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook. We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity. If you had to say one thing about us, it's that it always has to be about the directors.

What was the toughest moment on the job last year?

Paddington 2. It did very well in every territory except our own. I loved the movie, and it had a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. We bought it and had to release it two months later. It shows you how important it is to have the time to market a film properly.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.