As holidays near, Hollywood plays movie musical chairs
05:00 AM, Nov 10, 2013
LOS ANGELES You know Hollywood’s holiday buffet is brimming when George Clooney and Jack Ryan can’t get a seat at the table.
Yet both the star and the planned franchise reboot will be getting lumps of coal this season: delayed release dates in the barren months of 2014.
Such are the musical chairs studios play during the lucrative holiday season, the year’s most competitive period, when popcorn fare vies with awards bait for moviegoing dollars.
And while studio executives insist that shelved movies are simply being tweaked to turn them into must-see events, analysts say the practice underscores how frenetic and fluid the Hollywood calendar can be.
“People think (the dates) are etched in stone, and studios do try to stake out weekends years in advance,” says Jeff Bock, chief analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “But it’s like any business. There are big projects, issues that come up, and not every one is going to meet the deadlines.”
Indeed, some tent-pole films meant to anchor the 2013 holiday season will be left in the cold:
They join other residents on the island of misfit movies: Nicole Kidman’s Grace of Monaco jumped from late November to an unspecified spring 2014 opening, and Joaquin Phoenix’s drama The Immigrant, which debuted at Cannes and was to be an awards contender, now has an unspecified 2014 release.
Jordan Smith of Hollywood.com says that the holidays have become much like the first three months of summer: overrun with movies that, ultimately, cannibalize each other.
“While this may seem like a big bag of presents for film lovers, it’s hell on studios,” Smith says, noting that the release slate is so packed that “movies are strewn across December like Christmas garlands.”
Not all movies suffer from a shuffle. American Hustle, David O. Russell’s political corruption drama, moved up to Dec. 18 from Dec. 27, an indication that Sony sees box office potential. And the Leonardo DiCaprio drama The Wolf of Wall Street moves from November to a Christmas Day opening, an indication of director Martin Scorsese’s clout.
“If Martin Scorsese says his movie isn’t ready yet, there isn’t a studio that is going to tell him to hurry up,” Bock says.
And while delayed opening dates can be a red flag for moviegoers, Bock says push-backs aren’t necessarily fatal. Brad Pitt’s zombie thriller World War Z was to feast on a 2012 holiday release. But director Marc Forster re-shot the final third of the movie, forcing a June release. Still, the movie managed to earn $202 million.
“No one wants to have their movie shelved, but if it happens, that’s become the new model for studios,” Bock says. “If you’re willing to make changes to make the movie better and spend the same time and money marketing it you originally would you can still have a hit. It just takes more work.”