As Warner Bros. distribution
veteran Dan Fellman leaves the fray after four decades, as planned, the studio has named Sue Kroll, a 21-year-studio veteran who currently runs worldwide marketing and international distribution, to run North American distribution as well. This secures Kroll’s position as an effective executive during a time when Warners has suffered at the box office, from femme comedy “Hot Pursuit” and HBO sequel “Entourage” to the sequel to “Magic Mike,” “XXL,” and the Wachowskis’ sci-fi epic “Jupiter Ascending.” Recent hits include Dwayne Johnson actioner “San Andreas” and comedy “Get Hard,” while George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” was a too-expensive success d’estime
beloved by critics that may show legs at Oscar time. Sequel “Vacation” is expected to perform this weekend.
In fact, it’s international distribution head Veronika Kwan Vandenberg who will assume Fellman’s job (now titled president of domestic and international distribution), with Kroll continuing as her boss. This underscores how valuable the overseas markets are to the studios today. Kroll and Vandenberg take over after the only other woman to run distribution at a studio, Nikki Rocco, was replaced by a man when she left Universal in 2014 after a 48-year run.
Fellman will leave at the end of the year to run a consulting firm and work closely with Clint Eastwood, who delivered one of the studio’s standout hits of 2014, Oscar contender “American Sniper.” “A great drama can be as great a draw as a tentpole film,” Fellman said at CinemaCon, where Warners showed a great range of upcoming titles (see below).
Fellman started at Warners in 1978, and like his predecessor Barry Reardon, knew how to handle the needs of an awards-worthy Eastwood film like “Million Dollar Baby” or Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” as well as massive tentpoles such as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series and Peter Jackson’s innovative 48 fps “The Hobbit” trilogy or the Harry Potter franchise. Fellman shepherded the studio’s transition to digital distribution and was a respected negotiator in the ongoing wars between the studios and their exhibition partners. Fellman told Variety
that he was asked to stay at the studio to help with transitions after the departure of Alan Horn in 2011 and Jeff Robinov in 2013. Fellman is also a governor of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and on the board of the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneer Foundation.
The 2016 slate played well at both Comic-Con and CinemaCon
. Most promising are DC’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (March 25, 2016) and “Suicide Squad” (August 5, 2016), Guy Ritchie’s new take on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (August 14) starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander, and Nancy Meyer’s “The Intern” starring Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro (September 25).
Taking the fall festival route is Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” with Johnny Depp as Boston criminal Whitey Bulger (September 18), while looking more expensively risky is Joe Wright’s “Pan” origin story which boasts stunning 3D visuals and stars Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily and Levi Miller as Peter Pan (October 9).
Buzz is building on “Creed” (“Fruitvale”‘s Ryan Coogler) which takes the original Apollo Creed/Rocky Balboa story and follows the son of Creed ( a ripped Michael B. Jordan) trying to make his way in Philly and turning to Balboa for help. “It’s not ‘Rocky 7,'” said Stallone at CinemaCon (November 25).
“In the Heart of the Sea” (Ron Howard) puts Chris Hemsworth on the ocean in the mast-breaking VFX-heavy origin tale behind the Moby Dick myth, man vs. giant whale. Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw costar. (December 11).
The “Point Break” remake directed by cinematographer Ericson Core (“Fast and Furious”) stars Aussie Luke Gracey as an extreme athlete and deploys real athletes in the pursuit not just of giant waves but winter sports and web-flying in formation through narrow canyons in the Swiss alps (December 25).