“The Woman in the Window” is many things. But this star-studded, twisty Hitchcockian thriller was never intended to debut on May 14 on Netflix with a 40 Metascore. That was hardly the original plan for this handsome, well-appointed New York whodunit, cast with Oscar perennials like Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, and Julianne Moore, which was targeted for primetime October 4, 2019 release.
In many ways, “The Woman in the Window” is a revealing glimpse of studio filmmaking for smart adults that is vanishing into the rearview. Here’s what we know about what was then — and what is now.
Then: Fox 2000 picked up book rights.
Elizabeth Gabler, who ran the prestige label Fox 2000 from 2000-2019, is known for chasing top commercial literary properties such as Oscar-winning global hits “The Devil Wears Prada” ($326 million) and “The Life of Pi” ($609 million). She closed a deal with publisher William Morrow in September 2016 for screen rights to “The Woman in the Window,” the manuscript of a not-yet published novel by the pseudonymous A.J. Finn (Dan Mallory), just before a scheduled rights auction, scooping it off the market.
Now: The Fox 2000 label is defunct.
Disney finally retired Fox 2000 on May 14, 2021, the day it released “The Woman in the Window,” the final movie from that label. After it gobbled up the Fox studio in March 2019, Disney announced it would close the label, but all the other Fox 2000 films came out before this troubled production.
Gabler moved on to an overall deal at Sony, where she launched her new label 3000 Pictures in partnership with the studio and publisher HarperCollins books. In a sign of the times, Gabler added television to her usual film slate. She’s already in production on Olivia Newman’s coming-of-age mystery “Where the Crawdads Sing” with “Normal People” star Daisy Edgar-Jones, and developing Nobel author Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Klara and the Sun” with “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman’s Heyday Films. In effect, Gabler filled a gap left by Sony studio head-turned-producer Amy Pascal after she moved to a first-look deal at Universal Pictures.
Then: Fox 2000 partnered with A-list producer Scott Rudin.
Gabler, knowing that Hollywood and Broadway producer Rudin was also chasing the book, offered to partner with him on “The Woman in the Window” movie. At the time, this partnership of two prestige moviemakers was considered a prime move. Gabler wanted access to Rudin’s talent relationships, casting acumen, and development skills. Among Rudin’s many lauded features are 10 Oscar nominees, including Best Picture contenders like the Coens’ “No Country for Old Men” (which won) and “True Grit,” Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” and Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” as well as Anderson’s Animated Feature “Isle of Dogs.”
Now: Rudin is disgraced amid a hail of workplace abuse accusations. He has pulled back from active participation in movies and Broadway shows.
Then: Rudin brought in one of his theater world cronies, hard-to-get playwright/actor/screenwriter Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”) to adapt the Finn novel. The script hews close to the book, focused on unreliable narrator Dr. Anna Scott, a disturbed pediatric psychotherapist who self-medicates with drugs and alcohol and has difficulty discerning what is real and not real. She thinks she witnesses the murder of a woman who visits her (Julianne Moore), but the police can’t line up the facts to match her story.
Now: Letts plays a small role as a therapist in the movie; his star as an actor-writer continues to rise.
Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix Inc.
Then: Amy Adams signed up for a juicy leading role.
With six Oscar nominations to date, Adams has her pick of the juiciest women’s roles from television (“Sharp Objects”) to film; she’s a marquee movie star who can do comedies (“American Hustle”), dramas (“Arrival”), or musicals (“Enchanted”). Adams was the first choice, partly because Mallory had her in mind when he wrote the book. A seventh Oscar nod was a possibility when she took on this daunting, stripped-down role as a fragile, lonely, agoraphobic woman in self-imposed lockdown in her Manhattan brownstone who gets into conflict with not only her pugnacious neighbors across the street, who accuse her (with some truth) of spying on them, but her basement tenant (Wyatt Russell), who also doesn’t like her nosing into his affairs. Adams’ hope was to score a seventh Oscar nomination and possible first win.
Now: Reshoots tainted the movie.
As soon as word hit the street that Disney previews had led to hiring Hollywood fixer Tony Gilroy (“Star Wars: Rogue One”) to write new scenes for reshoots (when Letts wasn’t available) that would push back the release to 2020, any Oscar hopes were out the door. The cast survived the film’s scathing reviews, which were mostly aimed at the director.
Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix Inc.
Then: The Hitchcock homage was written by rookie novelist Dan Mallory.
Mallory, working under the pseudonym A.J. Finn, wrote the pageturner, which debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list in 2018.
Now: Dan Mallory was not only accused of being derivative, but also of plagiarism.
A 2019 New Yorker story exposed Mallory’s supposed “trail of deceptions,” while the novel itself was accused of borrowing heavily from the 1995 movie “Copycat,” among other sources.
Then: Gabler and Rudin went to director Joe Wright.
The British director was hot off “Darkest Hour,” which scored Gary Oldman the Oscar. Wright was eager to bring Hitchcockian visual panache to a $40-million movie that, like “Rear Window,” involved a shut-in with a camera in a limited space. Wright was excited by those constraints, and cited Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” as his inspiration. While he clearly spent a lot of time on elaborate cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) and a lush four-level Brooklyn Armory interior set with a central skylit staircase and a complex pastel color scheme, some preview audiences were left cold.
The filmmakers agreed to shoot more footage to sell the finale, around the time that Disney was closing the Twentieth Century Fox acquisition. “The Allens at Disney were very supportive,” Gabler told IndieWire, “very communicative with us, very respectful in every way. We all wanted it to be the best movie it could be. They were fair and we couldn’t have asked for any kinder treatment from them. We were upfront with them from the beginning; transparent.”
Wright went along and supervised the reshoots after Gilroy handed in his pages, reconstructing discrete sections of the sets in New Jersey. “There were some plot points that people found a bit confusing — I would say possibly too opaque maybe,” Wright told Entertainment Weekly. “So we had to go back and clarify certain points, but I think also we tried to make sure we didn’t oversimplify anything and make things too clear. There’s an enjoyment in not knowing what’s going on, but at the same time, you have to give the audience something to hold on to — you have to lead them through the labyrinth of mystery and fear.”
Now: Wright and Gabler have moved on.
Still in demand, Wright filmed “Cyrano” for Michael De Luca’s rejuvenated MGM, starring Ben Mendelsohn, Haley Bennett, and Peter Dinklage, followed by the Tom Hanks World War II drama “In the Garden of Beasts” (StudioCanal), adapted from Erik Larson’s nonfiction book.
By the time “The Woman in the Window” was in the final stages of post-production, while Gabler consulted on the edits and went to England for the final mix, she had already decamped to Sony with 3000 Pictures.
Then: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed an avant-garde score.
Now: The duo dropped out during the overhaul phase, and won the Oscar for “Soul.”
They were replaced by Danny Elfman, who supplied a Bernard Herrmann-tinged score (as did Reznor and Ross for David Fincher’s Oscar-nominated “Mank”).
Then: Disney set the retooled movie for May 15, 2020 release.
Now: Disney sold the film to Netflix during the pandemic.
Acquired in August 2020, Netflix scheduled Fox 2000’s last gasp for May 14, 2021, complete with the retooled Twentieth Century fanfare. Would “The Woman in the Window” have made money in theaters anyway? Unlikely. From here on, any such movie that relies on good reviews and word of mouth will likely wind up hitting online platforms if it doesn’t turn out well. It’s the new straight to video. The pandemic lockdowns allowed Hollywood to recalibrate its release models, as producers, financiers, and distributors retool their deal language to add more flexibility.