Discover more from The Bulwark
No Hollywood Movie Has Ever Made Money
Plus: 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' Reviewed!
It’s kind of surprising that Hollywood continues to spend billions of dollars on motion pictures, given that no movie has ever turned a profit.
Consider the plight of Dave Prowse, the guy in Darth Vader’s suit in the original Star Wars trilogy, who famously never saw a cent of profit participation on Return of the Jedi. Prowse, who died last year, got bubkes from Lucasfilm despite having some “net points” on the movie, which has grossed more than $475 million on a $32.5 million budget and earned untold millions more in home video sales via cable broadcasts and VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. A series of legal fictions help ensure that money is shuffled around enough times to enough entities that even the most popular films can be shown to take a loss.
It’s not just George Lucas and his accountants who have perfected the game of losing money to make money; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix “lost” some $167 million despite grossing nearly a billion. Edward Jay Epstein’s The Big Picture remains a must-read on this topic, even if it’s somewhat out of date given the decline in home video as a profit center. The shenanigans studios will go through to ensure that their movies are never shown to make money are legendary.
Which brings me to the latest example of this chicanery: The writer of Bohemian Rhapsody has filed suit against the producers claiming he is owed some form of profit participation on the film that grossed more than $900 million worldwide on its $51 million budget. The ins and outs of this suit are a little trickier than your standard Hollywood math—basically, the writer claims he had a deal directly with the producers and that deal should be honored despite the producers turning over their share of the film to 20th Century Fox and Disney—but the truth is that “net points” remain, as Eddie Murphy called them years ago in a suit over Coming to America’s profits, “monkey points.” If you’re not getting gross points, you’re not getting much of anything.
Because the studios will scrape every last cent out of their property. Hence Zombie Miramax threatening to sue Quentin Tarantino for selling NFTs of original pages of his Pulp Fiction script. It doesn’t matter that NFTs are fake and the whole business is a scam, as discussed on Across the Movie Aisle this week; what matters is that there’s money to be made on this scam, and the studio has no interest in letting the guy who actually handwrote the film make money on the scam if they can make money on the scam.
How else are they supposed to keep the studio lights on? After all, no movie has ever turned a profit.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Review
Whereas the original was, more or less, a workplace comedy about grownups trying to find their way in the world, this is a movie about kids trying to save the world. The original featured a gag about Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) getting blown by a succubus as he sleeps in the team’s fire station headquarters; this one features Phoebe (McKenna Grace) making a funny face when she’s told her teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is trying to bang her mom Callie (Carrie Coon). The point of reference here is less Ivan Reitman than Steven Spielberg. There are, weirdly, competing nostalgias struggling against each other. The emotional equivalent isn’t Ghostbusters 1984 so much as it is Special 8 or Tomorrowland.
Click here for the full review!
In addition to questioning the usefulness of NFTs, I and my cohosts at Across the Movie Aisle reviewed Belfast and discussed the movie-like Netflix original Red Notice. On another show, JVL noted that Red Notice is best understood as “content” rather than a “film,” and that distinction makes all difference in the world. As a sock-folding time filler, Red Notice is absolutely top notch, that’s true.
At The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood this week, I interviewed Wil Haygood about his new book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World. I’ll be honest: I don’t feel super-comfortable talking about race in America, for all the standard reasons. But I think Haygood has put together an entertaining and interesting pop-historical primer of Hollywood’s failures when it comes to matters of race and the independent pioneers who popped up through the decades to fill the void for black audiences.
Netflix’s The Harder They Fall isn’t the best movie I’ve seen this year but it does have the best opening quarter hour of any movie I’ve seen this year, and that should count for something. Also, it just looks amazing. Probably the best-looking movie I’ve yet streamed off of Netflix; you could practically feel the textures of the clothing.
And make sure you read JVL’s newsletter about the Chinese tennis star who has been brazenly disappeared by the authorities after accusing a higher-echelon CCP member of sexual assault. That we haven’t yet officially announced even a diplomatic boycott of the forthcoming winter games in China is, frankly, shameful.
Assigned Viewing: Italianamerican (Criterion Channel)
Martin Scorsese turned 79 this week and he celebrated by finding a party full of children wearing Iron Man masks and spitting in each and every one of their faces for liking comic book movies. (Kidding! Leave auteurs who don’t like comic book movies alone!)
You should celebrate his birthday by turning on his celebrated short film, Italianamerican. A loving portrait of his mother and father (whom dedicated Scorsese fans will recognize from their bit parts in a number of his films) released in 1974, the 50-minute short is a classic celebration of food and family.