Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Universal Pictures’s Reversal of Fortune: A Record First Half Followed by Real World Problems


Universal Pictures is human after all. Their second half of the year is abysmal after setting records during the first eight months of 2015. They have seven films that made more than $100 million in 2015.

Remember “Jurassic World”? It’s made more than $1.6 billion around the world. Universal scored hit after hit from January through August with movies like “Fast and Furious 7” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” They set a record for a major studio.

But the fall has brought…a fall. It’s not terrible but it’s certainly a come down. Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” is at the center of the talk. This is a great movie by a wonderful director with a seriously terrific script by Aaron Sorkin. All the performances are spot on, starting with Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet.

So interesting: when “Steve Jobs” first started screening, the buzz was through the roof. Early reviews were raves. Suddenly everyone you met in the business loved “Steve Jobs.”

But then it opened wide. And no one was going. They were buying iPhones but didn’t seem interested in the man who made them. Hmmmm…What happened? Suddenly people who’d previously “loved” the film turned against it. No one likes to stick around for a stinker. Rats desert a ship in Hollywood very quickly. Now it was “Sorkin’s fault.” This was after his screenplay had been praised.

Last week, “Steve Jobs” was downsized from over 2000 screens to around 400. This Friday it will shrink again. Universal will keep it in theaters, however. All the idiotic pieces I’ve read about the Boyle film–it’s not a Sorkin film– being pulled from theaters totally are ridiculous. “Steve Jobs” will rise again in awards season. It’s good a film not to.

Universal has a real turkey in “Jem and the Holograms.” To this minute I have no idea what this movie was, or what it was supposed to be. It had no marketing and no recognition. One day it will appear on an airplane and I’ll try it. Is it Josie and the Pussycats? Who knows?

This week, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt face the buzzsaw with “By the Sea.” So far it has a 40 on Rotten Tomatoes, but that will drop considerably by Friday. It’s just that it was kept from sight for as long as possible. My guess about “By the Sea” (I haven’t seen it) is that it should have been an art house release with little publicity, maybe through Universal’s Focus division. It should have been released in March as a curiosity without so much fanfare.

Universal’s lull is almost over, by the way. They’ve got “Sisters,” “Krampus,” and “Legend” imminently, with the Coen Bros.’ “Hail Caesar” in February. And “Steve Jobs” will have its day, trust me.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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