Back in late June, filmmaker Edgar Wright returned to theaters with his first movie in four years. Unlike his “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” he didn’t have Simon Pegg and Nick Frost helping him, nor was it based on an existing IP like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
In fact, Baby Driver would be Wright’s first movie set in the United States, using big-name Oscar-winning actors like Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey and Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm. It was a giant risk for everyone involved, but Wright made the movie for a fairly low budget of $35 million, shooting in Atlanta, Georgia (where the film takes place) with a refund that would help alleviate any worries its financiers may have had about recouping their investment.
As of this writing, the film has grossed $94 million in North America alone and another $47 million in foreign markets, with $14 million of that coming from the UK, where Wright’s films have generally played well. Being such a profitable film without being based on existing IP is definitely going to turn heads in Hollywood, and one can expect residual benefits for many of the actors and others involved.
(In case you haven’t seen Baby Driver yet and you plan to, we will include a Spoiler Warning here just for some general discussion of certain moments in the film.)
Obviously, the 43-year-old writer/director of Baby Driver is in very good shape right now, because he basically took an original idea he’s had in his head for over 20 years, realized it as close to his original vision as possible, and made a profitable film. Wright had been working with DreamWorks Animation on a long-in-development animated feature called Shadows that seems to have fallen by the wayside due to the changes there. He has a half-dozen movies listed on IMDBPro including a movie in development with J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot called Collider, a reworking of the Oliver Twist story called Dodge and Twist (written by Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy), an adaptation of Andrew Smith’s novel Grasshopper Jungle, and the interestingly titled Fortunately, the Milk from a story by Neil Gaiman. There’s also a movie based on the popular horror TV show The Night Stalker, which could be the best bet with the right script. (Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity writer D.V. DeVincentis had been developing one.)
Wright has been circling the globe promoting Baby Driver, so he may have another month or so before he needs to sit down and make some decisions, but clearly the producers who are already developing projects with Wright will be happy about Baby Driver’s success too.
Tom Rothman and Tristar Pictures
An even bigger coup for Baby Driver is that it finally broke two and half year jinx that seems to have surrounded Sony Pictures since it was hacked at the end of 2014. The damage done was far greater than just to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview, because the Emails leaked did serious damage to then Chairperson Amy Pascal’s credibility. She was then let go and replaced by Tom Rothman, who had already taken over the TriStar Pictures imprint for his own productions.
Jonathan Demme’s final film Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep, didn’t fare very well, and Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk bombed with just $10.1 million, but no one could have seen Rothman’s reunion with Ang Lee for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk would become one of the biggest bombs in Sony history. Earlier this year, Danny Boyle’s long-awaited T2 (Trainspotting 2) opened without making much of a mark in the States either.
Because Rothman was smart enough to get Wright away from his long-time home at Universal and Focus/Rogue Pictures, the studio migh give him the option to pursue more filmmakers about making dream projects.
You can also read columnist Neil Turitz’s recent thoughts on Sony’s future at franchises under Rothman.
Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm
While Wright’s entire cast will likely be able to put Baby Driver as a notch on their belt when booking new gigs. Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx are already considered solid stars on which projects can be hung
Lilly James already had success with Disney’s Cinderella and Downton Abbey under her belt, so Baby Driver will only help solidify her status. Similarly, Ansel Elgort already proved he could be a leading man that young ladies love with The Fault in Our Stars and as part of the ensemble of Divergent and its sequels. His role in Baby Driver shows that he can do other types of roles.
Upcoming for Elgort is Billionaire Boys Club with director James Fox (Wonderland) and the producers of Dallas Buyers Club and the Sundance film, Mudbound.
Hamm, while an accomplished and esteemed television actor with a number of awards and nominations, hadn’t really made his mark in movies as much. That changed big time with Baby Driver and his character Buddy, who was charming but also menacing.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamm be taken more seriously, not only among producers but also among moviegoers, as he branches out into different types of movies.
Hamm’s last big studio release, Keeping Up with the Joneses, wasn’t received very well, although it was still profitable, and Hamm’s recent festival fare, Marjorie Prime and Aardvark, may both be too strange for mainstream audiences. On the other hand, Hamm has Brad Anderson and Toy Gilroy’s High Wire Act, which was just picked up by Bleecker Street for theatrical release, and the ensemble comedy Tag for New Line. Hamm’s best bet right now is to continue doing comedies while people see him doing well in less dramatic roles.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
There’s no question the 30-song soundtrack Wright assembled for his movie has been getting a lot of attention, but probably no song more than “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The song from the band’s 1994 album Orange, not only kicks off the movie, but it was one of the songs that inspired Wright to make a car chase movie in the first place.
It’s not known whether Spencer and the band are working on a new album or if they’re even signed to a label right now. (These days, bands can make and release records without having the money of a big time record label.) Their last two albums, including 2015’s Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015, was released in the U.S. by New York indie Mom + Pop Music, and one presumes they’ll release any new material from the band. Until then, expect fans of the movie’s kick-off song, “Bellbottoms,” to start digging through the band’s back catalogue and there’s be more in whatever Spencer does next.
Another one of the movie’s memorable moments is when Lily James’ waitress Debora shows up for the first time—actually the second time for anyone paying close attention during the opening credits—singing “B… A… B… Y…. Baby,” the name of the film’s hero, who has gone into the diner for a post-heist breakfast.
The 1966 hit by Stax Records artist Carla Thomas, the “Queen of Memphis Soul” who featured in the 2003 Antoine Fuqua documentary Only the Strong Survive, may be one of the biggest discoveries for the movie’s younger audience. At 74 years old, Thomas doesn’t tour much, but interest in the song might increase interest in the artist and for her to perform the song and possibly work on new music
The Commodores, Lionel Ritchie and Sky Ferreira
Lionel Ritchie is probably already rich beyond his means from the success he had with the Commodores and his solo career in the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the point where he barely performs live, although he did play a show at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this week. Wright’s use of the Commodores’ early hit “Easy” to represent Baby’s dead mother offers some of the movie’s most emotional moments, which might help Ritchie find a younger fanbase.
The movie also features a version of the song sung by hot up and comer Sky Ferreira and that version should help generate more interest in this burgeoning young recording artist who also appears in the movie as Baby’s mother. She’s also appeared in Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno and on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, so she definitely has some options ahead of her, whether she wants to do more acting or get going on a follow-up to her 2013 album, “Night Time, My Time.”
Vintage Apple iPods
It’s unlikely Apple will be bringing back the early versions of the music player that helped start the company back on the road to being profitable, but Baby’s old school iPods play such a big part in the movie that one could see a boost in the secondary market sales of the things, on eBay and such. (Hopefully, they’ll come with a warning that those old iPods won’t hold more than a few songs, although they’re built like mini-tanks.)
The SXSW Film Festival
What started out as the country’s biggest music festival added Film in 1994 and twenty years later, it’s almost as big and as important a part for bringing people to Austin, Texas. Baby Driver had its World Premiere at this year’s festival and then went onto box office success, and it’s not the first movie to do so. Movies that have premiered at the festival include Bridesmaids, Neighbors, The Evil Dead remake, Duncan Jones’ Source Code and others, including Sausage Party last year. The buzz created from those previews in March have led to serious hits even late in the summer, and Baby Driver is another veteran of a festival that should be in the marketing conversation as much as Sundance, Cannes and Toronto.
Bank Robbery and Heist Movies
While the Fast and Furious movies have already done a great job bringing this genre back, beginning with Fast 5, Baby Driver could help push studios to try their hands at more inexpensive bank robbery and chase movies. Even last year’s Hell and High Water showed that there’s an audience for these kinds of movies that are fairly few and far between.
There are many older films that influenced Baby Driver that could theoretically be remade and updated to huge success, as well. One such remake, the 2003 update on The Italian Job grossed $100 million over that summer with a similar slow build as Baby Driver. While two of the cast — Charlize Theron and Jason Statham — appeared in the recent The Fate of the Furious and Mark Wahlberg has gone on to have a very successful career, a planned sequel set in Brazil was in development for many years before falling by the wayside.
That sequel will probably never happen because the cost to get the cast back would be cost-prohibitive, but there’s certainly enough interest in the genre that screenwriters might want to think in those terms when developing new projects.
A good example is the Safdie brothers’ indie movie Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson. Out this Friday via A24, it falls into the genre, so it will be interesting to see how well that does.
Either way, Baby Driver is likely to be seen as one of the bigger success stories of the summer, and we’re likely to see the residual effects of that success in the years to come.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor