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STX, Vol. 2: Faith That ‘Molly’s Game,’ ‘Valerian,’ and Filmmakers’ Visions Will Build A Major Studio

STX's motion picture chairman Adam Fogelson unveiled a "phase two" for the studio that he said will help the company compete with the majors.

Dane DeHaan in "Valerian."

Dane DeHaan in “Valerian.”

STX/Europa Corp

After two years, STX Entertainment has “Bad Moms,” “The Gift” … and more than a half-dozen other titles that range from near misses (“Desierto”) to outright flops (“The Bye Bye Man”). Never mind, said motion picture group chairman Adam Fogelson at his studio’s CinemaCon presentation Tuesday. He’s more than confident that his studio’s next chapter — or as he called it, “STX 2.0” — is filled with hitmakers.

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Fogelson began by pointing to his studio’s early wins including “Bad Moms.” Starring Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell, it took in $113 million domestic on its way to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of 2016. A sequel, “A Bad Moms Christmas,” goes into production next month with a November 3 release date.

Bad Moms

“Bad Moms”

STX

Fogelson noted that of the 10 movies STX has released in 19 months, five have starred or were directed by women. “We have a lot to be proud of,” he said.

However, STX originally set out to make between 12 and 15 original films per year. Instead, it’s produced just six in the past two years, plus several acquisitions. Other box office flops included “The Space Between Us,” released last month, and “Edge of Seventeen,” which received terrific reviews but couldn’t find an audience.

“Like anyone and everyone else in this business, we’ve had some misses,” Fogelson said. “We’ve learned lessons from that experience.”

The company also has seen a something of an executive exodus in the past year, losing top talent in its production, marketing, and distribution departments. Still, Fogelson confidently stated the company is in the process of turning the page.

“As we go forward, we’re now beginning to execute phase two of our plan, as we focus on commercial stars and signature-role movies that we were built to create and deliver.”

 

The first title in that plan, sci-fi-thriller “The Circle,” stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks and opens in theaters April 28. Based on the bestselling novel by Dave Eggers, the movie follows a young woman who lands a dream job at a giant tech company, only to discover a dangerous hidden agenda. The CinemaCon crowd had a strong response to an extended preview, which presents the company as a kind of nefarious Facebook.

Even more ambitious is the 3D title “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” Written and directed by Luc Besson and starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, it’s based on the French sci-fi comics series “Valérian and Laureline.”

The action-adventure film is intended as STX’s answer to franchises like “Star Wars” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and looks as visually stunning, if as familiar. The preview clip was filled with astonishing visuals that combined the dystopian desert sets of “Mad Max” with the underwater environments of “Avatar” and the galactic backdrops of “Star Wars.”

Fogelson noted that the original books, published in 1968, were sources of inspiration for the makers of “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Besson added that he had wanted to make “Valerian” two decades ago when he made “The Fifth Element,” but technology at that time wouldn’t have allowed him to realize his vision.

“It was not possible, because there are only two characters and 1,000 aliens,” Besson said. “James Cameron just made the technology possible in ‘Avatar,’ and thanks to him, imagination is the limit.”

“The Circle” and “Valerian” are two of four films from Besson’s Europa Corp that STX will distribute theatrically, part of a three-year partnership the two companies announced in January. The others to be released this year are Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest,” a romantic comedy-drama set in England during World War II that stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy; and “Renegades,” a heist-focused action-adventure film written by Besson and Richard Wenk and directed by Steven Quale. “Renegades” stars Ewen Bremner, Sullivan Stapleton, and J.K. Simmons.

Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain'The State of the Industry' presentation, Arrivals, CinemaCon, Las Vegas, USA - 28 Mar 2017

Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain, director and star of “Molly’s Game”

Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock

Stars that appeared during STX’s presentation included Jessica Chastain, the lead in “Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut based on the true story of a high-stakes, international poker game that became the target of an FBI investigation (and attracted players such as Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck). The sharp-looking movie co-stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera.

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg also took the stage briefly to discuss their reteaming in “Mile 22,” about a CIA field officer and an Indonesian police officer forced to work together to combat political corruption. Wahlberg praised Fogelson for giving him “a comedy career” (they worked together at Universal on films like “Ted”) and said that he and Berg were happy to be “following him to STX.”

Other future projects STX will distribute include the Jackie Chan action-thriller “The Foreigner,” due out in October, about a father vowing revenge against the IRA for the death of his daughter, and 2018’s “Den of Thieves,” a bank heist movie starring Lewis Tan and Gerard Butler.

There’s also the animated “Ugly Dolls,” to be directed by Robert Rodriguez. The film has a major product tie-in with a line of “Ugly Doll” plush toys that Fogelson said has generated “great excitement.”

At a follow-up cocktail party at Mr. Chow’s, where Chastain posed for photographers and Peggy Siegal touted “Molly’s Game” for its Oscar prospects, Fogelson relaxed with a much-needed cocktail. He wrote the presentation himself, he admitted, and said that much of the criticism leveled at his company’s performance was judging them on being a much older company than two years.

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With STX now embarking on its “phase two,” Fogelson said the company is ready to “compete and win like a major.” The studio’s early experiences as a theatrical distributor have generated positive outcomes even during times of disappointing box office performance, he said. “Even filmmakers whose films have underperformed have expressed their appreciation for that experience.”

Additional reporting by Anne Thompson.

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