Just over two years since it first launched, STXfilms is still finding its footing as it aims to fill a void in the industry. The company has released 10 films (half of which were directed by women) thus far, including some mid-sized hits (The Gift, The Boy) and the critical darling The Edge of Seventeen, and while STX had its first major breakout hit last year with Bad Moms, the real test comes this summer with the release of Luc Besson’s big-budget tentpole Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
For months I’ve thought STX was crazy to open to Valerian against Christopher Nolan’s WWII movie Dunkirk, but after seeing the latest trailer at CinemaCon, I’m not so sure. The trailer was presented in 3D and I didn’t even have special glasses on, yet I could still see that STX appears to have something special on its hands.
STXfilms chairman Adam Fogelson welcomed Besson and his leading lady Cara Delevingne to the stage, and the Valerian duo couldn’t have looked any different, with Besson wearing a rumpled black t-shirt and Delevingne dressed to the nines in a stunning red dress, replete with plunging neckline.
Fogelson credited Besson with building the careers of Natalie Portman, Milla Jovovich and Scarlett Johansson, suggesting that Delevingne is in for a major career boost following Valerian, which Besson discovered as a 10-year-old boy. Every Wednesday, his father would give him two more pages from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres’ sci-fi saga, and Besson said he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The director admitted he’s stubborn that way.
At a price tag of approximately $180 million before P&A, STX and EuropaCorp have a lot riding on Valerian, which doesn’t seem to skimp on spectacle. Fogelson said the graphic novel series paved the way for Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy, but it remains to be seen whether it will follow in the footsteps of those films at the global box office.
Aside from Valerian, STX introduced a variety of action movies, family films and some adult-skewing dramas that could help the company find its way into the awards race later this year.
Up first is James Ponsoldt’s The Circle, written by Dave Eggers and starring Emma Watson, John Boyega, Tom Hanks and the late Bill Paxton. We were treated to a new trailer as well as an extended scene of Nate Corddry interviewing Watson for a position at the mysterious tech company. Watson is riding high off the success of Beauty and the Beast, and this film could be the beneficiary, though it remains unclear just how dark this paranoia-infused tale will be.
What looked even better, in my estimation, was the first footage from Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain as poker princess Molly Bloom. Bloom ran underground, high-stakes poker games that led to her getting mixed up with both the FBI and the Russian mob. Like most of Chastain’s movies (think Zero Dark Thirty and Miss Sloane), this one is envisioned as an underdog tale of female empowerment, though Sorkin seemed more concerned with telling the story behind the tabloid stories about Bloom.
Idris Elba plays her lawyer, and their back-and-forth looked solid thanks to Sorkin’s always impressive dialogue. Expect awards buzz for Chastain (even though she said she’ll never be as good a Molly as Sorkin himself was while acting out parts of the script for her) and possibly Elba and his fellow supporting actor Kevin Costner, though I personally can’t wait to see what Michael Cera does in this film. He plays one of the celebrity poker players and he appears to be relishing the chance to star in a film that falls outside his comedic comfort zone.
Elsewhere, STX trumpeted its action films Renegades and The Foreigner, the latter of which stars Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Chan’s films perform incredibly well in China, and The Foreigner appears to be more of an international play, though there’s always the chance it could break out stateside. It’ll hit theaters on Oct. 13 — two weeks after it debuts in China.
Renegades looks like it’ll stand a better chance with domestic audiences, as it follows five Navy SEALs who aim to recover $300 million in gold bars from the bottom of a lake. The trailer is set to Led Zeppelin and it certainly looked like a high-octane action movie — one that I’d take over another Transporter sequel any day.
Outshining both of those titles was a brief glimpse at Den of Thieves, starring Gerard Butler and a bulked-up Pablo Schreiber, as well as O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Due in theaters on Jan. 19, 2018, the macho action movie centers around an attempt to break into the LA Federal Reserve, where no one pays much attention to $120 million in old bills that have been deemed too damaged to stay in circulation.
Still, STX’s best shot at success in the action genre will no doubt be Mile 22, which once again pairs Mark Wahlberg with director Peter Berg following their collaborations on Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. Fogelson has a history with the duo, having previously worked with them on The Kingdom, Contraband and Ted, for which Wahlberg thanked the executive for giving him a comedy career.
Berg said he planned to make an intelligent, adult action film, while Wahlberg insisted they’ll keep it grounded. Though Mile 22 hasn’t started shooting yet, Wahlberg revealed that it’s nonetheless envisioned as a trilogy, which came as music to theater owners’ ears — not to mention Fogelson’s. STX would love to have a male-driven franchise to tout alongside its Bad Moms movies — which we’ll get to shortly.
Fogelson went on to introduce STXfamily’s upcoming offerings, and this is where the studio made some news, announcing that Elton John, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are teaming on an animated version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Additionally, STX revealed it has set Eddie Murphy to star in the animated film Bo the Bull, and while it’s certainly good to be in business with the voice of Donkey from the Shrek series, the plot (whatever it was) left much to be desired.
Meanwhile, Robert Rodriguez was unveiled as the director of STX’s animated Ugly Dolls movie, though I missed the presentation (along with one other trade reporter) to discuss CinemaCon’s arcane laptop policy with security, which appeared to be favoring two reporters from the blog Deadline.com over the rest of the press section. So I have nothing to add regarding that title.
Fogelson then confirmed reports that Shailene Woodley would star in Baltasar Kormakur’s Adrift and that STX would be teaming with Amazon Studios to distribute Nash Edgerton’s new action comedy (formerly titled American Express) starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Joel Edgerton.
Finally, STX closed its presentation by teasing A Bad Moms Christmas, which doesn’t start shooting for another few weeks. Mila Kunis took the stage to introduce a filmed piece explaining how Christmas is like the Super Bowl for moms, whatever that means. The video incorporated all your favorite Christmas traditions, like cancelled flights, crying kids, mall riots, sledding accidents and wrapping mishaps. While Fogelson could not contain his excitement surrounding the Bad Moms franchise (the original posted the best multiple of any movie last year), someone should let him know that Bad Moms was not a very good movie, and the sequel needs to up its game to avoid a sophomore slump at the box office. It’s opening at a much more competitive time around the holidays, and while I love seeing female-led films succeed, I have my reservations that the company will be able to catch lightning in a bottle this time around.
Valerian – A-
Molly’s Game – A-
The Circle – B+
Den of Thieves – B
Renegades – B-
The Foreigner – C+
Ugly Dolls – N/A
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief