As Paramount Studios says goodbye to the old boss — avuncular chairman Jim Gianopulos, 70, who joined the studio in 2017 after running motion pictures at 20th Century Fox for 16 years — the new boss does not come from the movies. Paramount did not anoint Gianopulos’ expected successor, former Fox star Emma Watts. (One of the most respected production executives in the business, she could be snapped up by Universal or Apple.)
Instead the key post went to rising star Brian Robbins, 57, a former child actor who at one time also directed films like “Norbit” and “Varsity Blues.” Currently, he’s chief of ViacomCBS’s valued children’s brand Nickelodeon and he was credited with pushing forward the animated “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” Paramount’s recent surprise hit ($82.5 million worldwide).
A shift was coming for Paramount. Like most studios, it is leaning toward streaming, the platform most beloved by Wall Street. Gianopulos righted a skinny studio starved by its late chairman Brad Grey, who lost both Marvel and Indiana Jones to rising behemoth Disney. Gianopulos focused on re-energizing brands like “Transformers,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Top Gun,” and “Mission: Impossible.” During the pandemic, he kept cash flowing by selling off movies to streamers, from “Coming 2 America” (Amazon) to “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix), hanging onto a few key titles including “A Quiet Place II” that scored $297 million at the global box office.
As Paramount+ launched last March with its hungry maw, Gianopulos continued to support theaters by hanging on to theatrical titles. Hollywood is already speculating about the tantrum Tom Cruise will throw if “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Mission: Impossible 7” goes day and date with Paramount+. When ViacomCBS and Comcast announced their joint streaming service for Europe, SkyShowtime, that ignited speculation of a merger with Comcast. No question, Paramount+ and Comcast’s NBCUniversal streamer Peacock are seen as also-rans, falling far behind the subscribers amassed by Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, and HBOMax.
Clearly, Old Hollywood is on the ropes. Ex-Paramount chairman Barry Diller recently complained that “Hollywood does not exist anymore” and he’s not wrong. Horrormeister Jason Blum fretted about losing the big-screen experience. Usually close-mouthed uber-agents Bryan Lourd and Patrick Whitesell went on record as well, fighting for their respective clients Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone’s hard-won back-end participation. Christopher Nolan was one among many angry A-listers dissing studio Warner Bros. for going day-and-date with its 2021 slate — although the studio did support him with a 105-day theatrical-exclusive run for “Tenet” during the pandemic. Nolan now seeks a theatrically friendly new home for a somber, costly post-World War II drama about Robert Oppenheimer and the invention of the atom bomb. Is 90-plus days in theaters available to any filmmaker, for any movie, at any studio?
©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection
Today, a story about the father of the atomic bomb is just the sort of serious drama that is automatically funneled to televisions. Maybe deep-pocketed Netflix will chase the filmmaker, but that would certainly come with some deep compromises for the theater-driven Nolan.
“If and when he comes up with his new movie,” film content chief Scott Stuber told Variety, “it’s about can we be a home for it and what would we need to do to make that happen. He’s an incredible filmmaker. I’m going to do everything I can.” The streamer fed many of its higher-quality movies to theaters during the pandemic, if only for a short time, and continues to do so with films like Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Hand of God.”
It’s more likely that Nolan would wind up with theatrical holdout Sony, which has no streaming service. Running that studio is the last old-Hollywood man standing, Tom Rothman, who turns 67 in November. With Gianopulos at Fox, they served as the studio’s co-chairs from 2000-2012. Rothman successfully lured another theater fan, Quentin Tarantino, with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Another possibility for Nolan is Michael De Luca’s MGM/UA, home of James Bond and “No Time to Die,” which is expected to remain theater-friendly even after it completes its sale to Amazon.
As the beleaguered studios continue to compete with Netflix, catering to short-term Wall Street bottom-line projections, they may come to regret losing legacy executives like Gianopulos as they throw the box-office baby out with the bathwater.