This weekend there was a surprise upset at the box office as the new comedic drama, “The Upside,” starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, unseated “Aquaman” for the top-grossing film. The $20 million revenue the film earned was nearly double the projections.
As a remake of the 2011 French hit film “The Intouchables,” Cranston appears as a paralyzed billionaire, with Hart playing an ex-con hired as his personal assistant. Hart has been a controversial figure lately, losing his hosting duties for The Oscars due to old jokes deemed insensitive by liberal activists.
Cranston was also targeted by social scolds. The tired practice of complaining that roles for characters from specific sub-groups were not properly portrayed by performers from those same groups was applied here. Able-bodied thespians are not capable of playing the incapacitated, goes the argument. Cranston had to go to the ridiculous length of actually defending himself for acting in an acting role.
But more than the personal controversies, the movie itself had a tough hurdle to clear. It managed to successfully escape from the doomed clutches of Harvey Weinstein’s former film company.
Predating the Predator
“The Upside” is an older production but after it was completed it was tossed into questionable status due to being a property of the Weinstein Company. The production started in 2011 when TWC acquired the rights to remake “The Intouchables.” It went through a number of casting decisions, directors, and even was rewritten before filming began in January 2017.
Once completed, it was entered into the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that September. TIFF is considered a launching pad for many holiday releases and award-hopeful films. However just a few weeks later, as it was being readied for release, the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal erupted. This threw the fortunes of not just TWC as a company into question (and its Dimension Films division, run by Harvey’s brother, Bob Weinstein) but also the fate of numerous productions the studio held under its roof.
The company had to resolve what to do in the face of mounting debt. Also, a growing number of businesses, production companies, and performers rose and declared they would no longer do business with TWC. Hoping to cobble together funds to sustain itself, the studio could no longer wait for releases and the ensuing revenue, so it had to sell a number of film properties. (Warner Brothers quickly snapped up the critically adored “Paddington 2” that November, and it was released last January.)
It did not take long to realize the company was floundering and in need of a white knight to survive, as it held more than $500 million in debt. As 2018 continued, TWC failed to secure a number of takeover sales (one was set in March, but the holding company discovered an additional $65 million in unreported debt, and that deal fell through).
By summer all was lost and the company had to go into bankruptcy hearings. After some price haggling, TWC’s value lowered below $300 million as it was taken over by the private equity firm Lantern Capital. That company took ownership of the TWC catalog, as well as any remaining titles that were held in release purgatory. All remnants of TWC were expunged, much of the staff laid off, and the remaining entity rebranded as Lantern Entertainment.
The brand new offshoot now had to contend with managing intellectual property while enduring challenges of working in the industry and answering calls from creditors looking for owed money from the former studio. A number of celebrities––namely Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper, and others––are looking for owed money from royalties and back-end deals on past projects.
Entering the Tall Grass of Burbank
Lantern Entertainment looked over the completed film slate and decided “The Upside” was prime for a release date. LE entered into a distribution deal with the still relatively new STX Entertainment. The film carried challenges, such as the minor controversies with the stars, as well as some residual baggage from the Weinstein name. One possible benefit was snuffed out: a possible awards season play.
If the new partners hoped to get some nomination attention, that dream was dashed as the film was easily overshadowed by another picture featuring a black-white dynamic that had a far greater awards pedigree, the period drama “The Green Book” (which won a Golden Globe). It was decided “The Upside” would get released in the soft January release window, which is largely regarded as Hollywood’s dumping-ground segment of the calendar.
The intent was that it would be received as a rare jolt of quality in that month, a risk that actually paid off. STX invested heavily in promoting the film and as a result it became the first title for the distributor to open as the number one film of the week. This is a rare victory for a title in the stable of what used to be TWC. A number of other properties previously in its possession have seen mixed fortunes, with many escaping to seek out possibilities elsewhere. They include the following.
“The Six Billion Dollar Man”: Based on the hit TV series from the ‘70s, the Bionic Man is slated to be played by Mark Wahlberg. A long in-development property, it was sold to Warner Brothers ahead of the bankruptcy, with an expected release date sometime in 2020.
“The Heights”: Before his monstrous hit Broadway play “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Tony award for this musical. The film adaptation rights were acquired by TWC in 2016. Miranda was a vocal opponent to working with Weinstein following his scandal, and the rights to the film reverted back to the producers. In a new bidding, Warner won the rights and is expected to release the musical this summer.
“The Current War”: Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon star in the story about the electrical developments involving Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. An opulent period piece sent in the 1880s, Lantern has distribution set internationally, but has yet to strike a deal for a domestic release.
“Hotel Mumbai”: During the Lantern takeover, the producers fought in bankruptcy court to have their film removed as an asset of TWC, before the company was acquired. An agreement was reached with Lantern and the rights were returned to the producers. They struck a new deal with distributor Bleeker Street, and the film is slated for a March release.
“War With Grandpa”: A book adaptation of a family comedy starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, and Christopher Walken, it was supposed to come out February 2018. The rights have since been returned to the producers, and a new distribution deal needs to be reached.
“Mary Magdalene”: A biblical epic starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix, it was set to be released in March 2018 but was subsequently pulled from the schedule. TWC worked a deal with the producers to have the rights returned. They are currently seeking out a new deal for North American theaters.
“Scream” (TV series): The series based on the Wes Craven movies was originally renewed for a third season to show on MTV. First, Harvey Weinstein had his connections removed from the production, then the network pulled the series entirely. The program was showing on Netflix, which would soon involve the completed third year, but the streaming giant curtailed all contracts with TWC. A new agreement is said to be in the works, with Lantern to show the completed season.
“Polaroid”: A horror title from the TWC-Dimension vaults, it was initially slated for a Thanksgiving release in 2017, but it too fell victim to the scandal. Lantern has reached a deal with Netflix, selling the film to the company for streaming.