In a year in which fledgling nine-year-old studio Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy, at least three new movie distributors dared to break into the business.
STX Entertainment is positioned to be the industry’s biggest new player since DreamWorks SKG launched in 1994. Broad Green Pictures is mid-sized film production, financing and distribution firm focusing on festival acquisitions and projects costing up to $25 million.
And New York-based Bleecker Street has more modest art-house ambitions despite drawing headlines for handling the theatrical release of Netflix’s acclaimed drama “Beasts of No Nation.”
Here’s a look at how they did this year and what’s ahead in 2016.
STX Goes 1 for 2
The Burbank-based STX Entertainment, founded by film producer Robert Simonds and TPG managing partner Bill McGlashan, connected for a box-office hit in August with its first release. Writer-director Joel Edgerton‘s low-budget horror film “The Gift,” co-financed and produced by Blumhouse, grossed $59 million globally on a $5 million budget.
But STX’s second release, the thriller “Secret in Their Eyes” starring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor, missed the mark in November. The $19 million production, a remake of the 2009 Argentine movie that won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, topped out at just $20 million domestically.
The company’s strategy is to produce films in the $20 million to $80 million budget range with big-name actors, something the major studios have backed away from recently. With funding from China’s Huayi Brothers and others, STX plans to roll out 12-15 movies annually in 2017 and beyond.
“We feel it’s a perfect time to be doing what we’re doing,” CEO Simonds told TheWrap earlier this year. “The reason the major studios stopped making these movies isn’t because they aren’t profitable; it’s because if you have millions in overhead, it makes sense to shift your business plan to franchise movies. They’ve created a vacuum in this space.”
Five projects are slated to go into production by June, and plans call for spending more than $1 billion to build the business next year, and up to $1.5 billion in 2017.
While STX is new on the scene, its leadership is well-established. Former Universal Pictures honcho Adam Fogelson is chairman of the motion picture group and heads a team that includes group president Oren Aviv, a Fox and Disney veteran, and his former Universal colleague Kevin Grayson as distribution chief.
Their message of mid-range might wasn’t just aimed at moviegoers. “What we found is that people want to work — talented directors and movie stars,” Simonds said, and the company’s star-laden 2016 slate reflects that.
The company has seven films slated so far for 2016, starting with the horror film “The Boy” (Jan. 22) and the Gael Garcia Bernal thriller “Desierto” (March 4).
On May 13, Matthew McConaughey will star in “The Free State of Jones,” a Civil War drama based on the true story of anti-slavery Confederate deserters in Jones County, Mississippi. Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) writes and directs with Scott Stuber producing.
STX will follow with the Gary Oldman sci-fi space thriller “The Space Between Us” (July 29), an untitled comedy with Christina Applegate, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis (August 19), the Hailee Steinfeld coming-of-age comedy “Besties” (September 30) and the horror film “The Bye Bye Man” (Oct. 14).
Broad Green’s Tricky Walk in the Woods
“A Walk in the Woods” became the first wide release for Broad Green Pictures, a film production, financing and distribution firm founded by billionaire mutual fund executives Gabriel and Daniel Hammond, brothers who serve as CEO and chief creative officer.
But that wasn’t the original plan. The L.A.-based firm had been prepping a limited platform release for the comedy-drama starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as two crusty seniors trekking the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail.
But the buzz built for the adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best-selling travel memoir directed by Ken Kwapis.
“We realized that we had a shot at a much bigger audience than we originally thought,” distribution chief Travis Reid told TheWrap. The comedy made for about $8 million grossed nearly $30 million domestically.
Broad Green’s other releases made less of a dent at the box office. The Patricia Clarkson-Ben Kingsley comedy “Learning to Drive” was the grossed $3.4 million domestically, while the indie drama “99 Homes” managed only $1.4 million despite rolling out to twice as many screens. (Still, the film has generated awards talk for supporting actor Michael Shannon.)
The company’s four other releases were limited to less than 30 screens — and made little impact at the box office as a result. The L.A.-based firm’s focus is festival acquisitions and projects that cost as much as $25 million and as little as $2 million.
Broad Green has six films slated for 2016, including Terrence Malick‘s “Knight of Cups” starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman (March 4); “The Dark Horse,” a biopic of a bipolar New Zealand chess player (April 1); “Last Days in the Desert,” a Biblical tale starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus (May 13); the fact-based crime drama “The Infiltrator” with Bryan Cranston as a U.S. Customs agent taking on Pablo Escobar (Aug. 31); and the Billy Bob Thornton dark-comedy sequel “Bad Santa 2” (Nov. 23).
Bleecker Street Goes for the Gold
Bleecker Street, founded by former Focus Features CEO Andrew Karpen with backing from 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava, released its first five films in 2015 and scored some modest box office successes — as well as some awards attention.
The New York-based company’s top performer (so far) was the Blythe Danner-Sam Elliott romantic drama “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which grossed a robust $7.4 million.
The Hollywood screenwriter biopic “Trumbo” has grossed $6.7 million to date — though the film is likely to increase that total as it heads into the awards season, with Golden Globe nominations already earned by co-stars Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren.
Another awards contender for Bleecker Street isn’t technically one of its own. But the company got plenty of attention, along with some criticism, by partnering with online giant Netflix for the theatrical release of “Beasts of No Nation.”
Arriving in theaters on the same October day it became available for streaming, director Cary Fukunaga‘s gritty war drama bombed in its theatrical debut with just $51,003 from 31 theaters, after several major exhibition chains boycotted the release.
It played poorly the next week too, but no one minded because the run qualified the critically acclaimed war drama for the Oscars, and it was likely seen by millions from their couches (Netflix doesn’t divulge viewership numbers). And Idris Elba scored a Golden Globe nomination for his supporting role in the film.
Bleecker Street also snagged a Golden Globe nomination for star Al Pacino in its first release, the comedic drama “Danny Collins.” That movie managed to bring in $5.6 million, while the Tobey Maguire chess drama “Pawn Sacrifice” mustered only $2.4 million.
Bleecker Street has scheduled just one film officially slated for next year so far, but it’s a good one. “Eye in the Sky,” a thriller starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman that generated buzz at its Toronto Film Festival premiere this past fall, will roll out on March 11.