Studios like to avoid Halloween weekend; audiences tend to prefer trick-or-treating to theaters. Even horror titles like to open the week before with “Zombieland: Double Tap” this year, “Halloween” last. So while three wide releases debut this weekend — “Countdown,” “Black and Blue,” and “A Current War” — none should gross much more than $10 million, or break into the top three.
However, this pre-Halloween weekend is being used to test a new paradigm: Musicians-turned-directors who use movies to promote their new albums. Bruce Springsteen co-directed “Western Stars,” in which he portrays a B-movie actor looking back on his career. Fathom Events will host showings October 23, followed by screenings in more than 500 theaters nationwide.
Kanye West, true to form, is pushing the envelope even further with “Jesus Is King.” Featuring music from his long-delayed new album, West filmed his famed Sunday service in a James Turrell outdoor installation in Painted Desert, Ariz. (Billed as “A Kanye West Film,” it’s directed by Nick Knight.)
Here’s the radical bit: “Jesus Is King” plays exclusively at IMAX theaters for one week, with tickets ranging from $10-$19.75, but runs only 35 minutes (including credits). Will audiences buy a Kanye West experience at $1.12 every two minutes? If this kind of specialization works, it could be a game changer for theaters seeking new avenues for revenue.
“Countdown,” a low-budget thriller from first-time writer-director Justin Dec, seems more prosaic — but he shot the film in April and has it in theaters six months later. That’s the kind of agility that marks distributor STX, which has suffered significant growing pains and financing partner challenges — but what matters for theaters is it provides a steady stream of original films.
This year,STX scored two $100 million hits with “The Upside,” which they salvaged from Weinstein, and “Hustlers.” That’s one more than Lionsgate this year, and two more than Paramount or 20th Century Fox. And with this, its eighth release of 2019, it has provided one more title than either Paramount or Fox. “Countdown” won’t be a major hit, but even that is more than welcome on weekends like this.
And then there’s the true outlier: “The Current War: Director’s Cut,” directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”). Once upon a time, this Tesla vs. Edison vs. Westinghouse biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon was earmarked as an Oscar contender for the Weinstein Co. However, it made its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to disastrous effect.
At that point, Harvey Weinstein took over editing — right before the New York Times filed its report on his alleged abuses, sparking the #MeToo movement. At that point, like other Weinstein films, “The Current War” fell into limbo. Two years later, Gomez-Rejon’s cut will move into theaters via new distributor 101 Studios, headed by ex-Weinstein Co. president David Glasser. Expectations are minimal; the success is that it’s being released at all.
The overall specialized pace slows a bit after four straight weeks of breakout titles, but Ira Sachs’ “Frankie” has the highest visibility of the new releases. The Cannes-competition film from the director of “Love Is Strange” is a Portugal-set family drama starring Isabelle Huppert. It opens in New York and Los Angeles
Finally, among all of these unusual releases there’s a classic: the Screen Gems low-budget genre pic. This one, “Black and Blue,” stars “Moonlight” acting nominee Naomie Harris and musician-turned-actor Tyrese Gibson. Directed by Deon Taylor, who also helmed “The Intruder” ($35 million gross on an $8 million budget), it is the sort of niche film theaters need on otherwise empty dates.