The Weinstein Company’s Struggles Continue, But Is There a Way Out?

the weinstein co bannerThe Weinstein Company

Exactly a year ago, when we took a look at The Weinstein Company during this Studio Series, we talked about the fact that the company was in the midst of a terrible year, and was strapped for cash. There were issues with movies on its schedule, such as whether or not the company would even be able to afford to release them when they were originally set. Generally speaking, things looked fairly bleak.

Three hundred and sixty-five days later, little has changed. Grosses continue to be low, films continue to be shuffled around the schedule, there was even a moment earlier in the year when the rights to this week’s big release, Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, were briefly surrendered by the company before they were recovered and the film was reinstated on the company’s slate.

It’s one thing to get Harvey and Bob Weinstein down, it’s another to keep them there, and every time over the last four decades that the pair has faced adversity they have emerged stronger than they were before. This time, though, it feels a bit different, simply because so little has changed in a year’s time.

When the issues that plagued a company a year prior are still the same issues plaguing the company now, it means trouble. Lots of it. The kind that even the very best titans of industry might not be able to overcome. Which means that, now, at the tender age of 65, the question has to genuinely be asked, is Harvey Weinstein on his way out?

Well, if so, it’s going to be a long, slow, gradual exit, because there’s no way he and his brother are going to leave this business on any terms but their own. Over the years, every time there’s been trouble, they’ve figured a way out of it. Last year, for instance, they had a choice to make for their big Oscar push. Would it be Lion or The Founder? There weren’t the resources for both, so they had to put all their eggs in a single basket. In the end, Lion rewarded them with six Oscar nominations. Would the Michael Keaton-led Founder have been as successful if it had been the choice? Doubtful, and so Lion roared to $51 million domestic and just shy of $140 million worldwide, a triumph by any definition.

Dev Patel stars in LIONThe Weinstein Company

Unfortunately, that left the under marketed Founder with just a $12.7 million domestic and $23.3 million take, which cannot be seen as any kind of win, despite terrific performances from Keaton and, as the McDonalds brothers, John Carrol Lynch and Nick Offerman. Another January release, the Matthew McConaughey based-on-a-true-story adventure movie Gold, also faltered at the box office, failing to clear even $8 million, all-in. Throw in the disappointing May release of the transgender drama, 3 Generations, which didn’t even make $69,000, and you’ve got three releases thus far this year, for a grand total just north of $20 million domestic, and roughly another $11 worldwide. That’s not going to break any records.

The fact that 2016 was the worst year the company has had since 2008 says a lot. The fact that this year is shaping up to be even worse says even more, and while hopes are high that Wind River will be a success, it’s got to be worrisome that each movie the company releases seem to be a must-win situation. When one after another doesn’t fulfill that need, things get ever more dire, and quickly.

If you’re looking for a perfect example of the kind of issues with which the company has been dealing, look no further than the historical drama Tulip Fever, starring Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, and Dane DeHaan. The movie was originally scheduled for release two years ago, and was, at the time, considered to be a potential awards contender. But then it was moved off the original 2015 release date and pushed several times, including this past February, before finally settling on August 25th, square in the midst of the deepest of the August doldrums.

tulip fever twcThe Weinstein Company

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that no movie released the week before Labor Day has any real shot at getting any kind of awards talk attached to it.

The same day, TWC is releasing two other movies. There is Leap!, a foreign language animated film that, in fact, might get some awards love, but any expectations for box office success would be accordingly limited, and the horror movie Polaroid, which was just last week moved up from December. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you’ve got three different movies coming out on the same day, all at the tail end of the summer movie season, you’re all but dumping them on what will surely be an indifferent viewing public. Never mind that Polaroid is technically a Dimension film (Dimension, remember, is company’s genre label). What’s important here is the choice of date, which might as well have a sign attached to it that reads, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter.”

After that, in October, comes another Dimension joint, the family comedy War With Grandpa, starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Uma Thurman, followed in November by one of the two films which will certainly be the company’s focus when it comes to end of the year prizes.

First up is Mary Magdalene, from Lion director Garth Davis and starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix, and then, in December, comes The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, and Katherine Waterston, in the true story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse’s competition to create a sustainable electricity system and market it to the American people.

Both projects all but scream to the heavens for awards notice, but that same question as last year arises: Can the Weinstein Company afford to push both? While it’s certainly not out of the question, it does seem doubtful, which then forces us to ask which film will get the nod. True, the company does owe a little something to Magdalene director Davis, but Harvey Weinstein is actually listed as a producer on Current War, which probably tells you all you need to know.

the current war twcThe Weinstein Company

Awards love generally means more box office — a lesson we have learned repeatedly in this series — and that has always been the Weinsteins’ modus operandi. Harvey especially loves Oscar gold and has built his entire career around chasing it. If he doesn’t get it, then there’s hell to pay, even more so when the grosses aren’t measuring up, and, as noted, right now they are not. Not even close.

The year can be saved, of course, just as Lion brought some solace to 2016. If Wind River draws an audience, and if families want to see De Niro at war with his grandson, and if the same kind of audience that showed up in droves to see The Passion of the Christ does the same for Mary Magdalene, and if The Current War becomes 2017’s version of The Imitation Game, then what has been one of the worst years in the company’s history could turn into one of its best. But that depends on a lot of “ifs,” and no strong corporate strategy can rely on such things.

There are a couple of films on the horizon, but the slate is pretty slim once we get to 2018 and beyond. Yes, there is Paddington 2 in January. The first movie did over $76 million domestic and over $268 million worldwide, so even if the sequel does numbers two-thirds as good, that’s a pretty big win. There’s also The Upside, a remake of the French comedy The Intouchables, starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, which hits screens in March. Beyond that, nothing set or solid. There is the speculation that Quentin Tarantino — long a Weinstein stalwart — will make his Manson Family movie and release it in 2019, but that’s not confirmed.

Really, after The Upside, nothing is, and that’s sort of a big problem. There will be pickups at the various film festivals that Harvey and his team will attend, and that will add a few movies to the slate, but it’s increasingly hard to corral hot films when other companies are beating you at your own game and doing a better job of getting projects into theaters. How can TWC compete if filmmakers aren’t confident that the company will be able to properly market the movie and give it the publicity push it would need?

The problem is, at the moment, there is no way to properly answer that question. For Harvey and Bob Weinstein, that is becoming a problem of increasingly desperate proportion.

Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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