The Fourth of July has come and gone, which means that the best time of year for movies is in full swing. From the end of the month through the New Year, theaters will be packed with some of the biggest, best, and most explosive movies of the year, thanks to the summer blockbuster and winter awards seasons growing ever closer each fall. With so many movies competing for your attention and your money, it can be difficult to keep your Oscar-baiting dramas from your superhero franchise sequels from your sentimental, romantic tearjerkers... and let's not forget about the little indies that are hitting at the end of the summer, hoping to gather enough buzz and box office steam to make it to the Golden Globes in February. In order to help you keep it all straight and plan out the rest of your year accordingly, we've rounded up every movie that the second half of 2014 has to offer and organized them by genre so that the next time you're in the mood for an action flick, a nail-biting thriller or a goofy comedy, you'll know exactly where to turn.
Action/AdventureWe might be nearing the end of Summer Superhero Movie Season (only Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are left to keep us safe) but the rest of the year still has plenty of films packed with explosions, witty banter, and dizzying fight sequences to satisfy your adventurous side.
Hercules, July 25 Lucy, July 25 Guardians of the Galaxy, August 1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, August 8 Into the Storm, August 8 The Expendables 3, August 15 Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, August 22 Step Up: All In, August 25 November Man, August 27 The Maze Runner, September 19 A Walk Among the Tombstones, September 19 The Equalizer, September 26 Left Behind, October 3 Dracula Untold, October 17 Kingsman: The Secret Service, October 24 Interstellar, November 7 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, November 21 Exodus: Gods and Kings, December 12 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, December 17 Barely Lethal, TBA
Highlights: While we can't wait for Marvel's crime-fighting band of misfits, Guardians of the Galaxy, we're equally pumped for Scarlett Johansson's action hero turn in Lucy, Christopher Nolan's mysterious Interstellar, and Colin Firth's performance as a spy mentor in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Comedy Whether you prefer them raunchy and in-your-face, quiet and filled with high emotional stakes, or likely to get the whole country blown up (thanks, James Franco and Seth Rogen!), 2014 has a comedy for every mood, person and sense of humor.
Sex Tape, July 18 The Fluffy Movie, July 25 Magic in the Moonlight, July 25 Wish I Was Here, July 25 What If, August 8 Let’s Be Cops, August 13 Life of Crime, August 29 This is Where I Leave You, September 19 The Interview, October 10 Birdman, October 17 St. Vincent, October 24 Dumb and Dumber To, November 14 Horrible Bosses 2, November 28 Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Christmas Untitled Cameron Crowe Project, Christmas
Highlights: Well, if it makes North Korea that angry, it's got to be good, so we're excited to see The Interview. We're also looking forward to Daniel Radcliffe's hilarious rom com debut in What If and Michael Keaton's big comeback performance in Birdman.
Animation and Kids’ Movies Whether you need to keep a younger sibling quiet and amused for a few hours, or you're just particularly young at heart yourself, the second half of the year is when all of the big hitters in children's entertainment and animation come out to play. Will one of them manage to finally bring Frozen's reign to an end?
Planes: Fire and Rescue, July 18 Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, August 22 Dolphin Tale 2, September 12 The Boxtrolls, September 26 The Hero of Color City, October 3 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, October 10 The Book of Life, October 17 Big Hero 6, November 7 The Penguins of Madagascar, November 26 Night At the Museum 3, December 19 Annie, December 19 Paddington, Christmas
Highlights: Everything Laika painstakingly creates is a joy to watch, so we're counting down the days to The Boxtrolls, which looks completely charming. Ditto the gorgeous and elaborate The Book of Life and the adorably action-packed Big Hero 6.
Sony Pictures Classics
Dramas Whether you're looking for a biopic, a musical, a musical biopic or just an intense, moving cinematic experience, now is the best time to check out your movie theater's more dramatic offerings. Besides, at least half of these films are likely to be in play come Oscar night, and you'll want to be on top of things before the trophies get handed out.
Get On Up, August 1 The Hundred-Foot Journey, August 8 The Giver, August 15 If I Stay, August 22 When the Game Stands Tall, August 22 One Chance, August 29 Addicted, September 5 The Drop, September 12 The Identical, September 12 Hector and the Search For Happiness, September 19 Jimi: All Is By My Side, September 26 The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, September 16 Gone Girl, October 3 The Good Lie, October 3 The Judge, October 10 Kill The Messenger, October 10 The Best of Me, October 17 Reach Me, October 24 Theory of Everything, November 7 Foxcatcher, November 14 Fury, November 14 Beyond the Lights, November 14 McFarland, November 21 The Imitation Game, November 21 Wild, December 5 Inherent Vice, December 12 Unbroken, Christmas Big Eyes, Christmas Selma, Christmas Into the Woods, Christmas A Good Marriage, TBA
Highlights: From the looks of things, Foxcatcher might be the film to give Channing Tatum his own "McConaissance," even if we never do manage to figure out a catchy nickname for it. And if you're looking for more superheroes in serious films, try The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which tells one story from two distinct perspectives (and stars Professor X himself, James McAvoy).
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
Indie If you're tired of blockbusters and Oscar bait, and instead want a more low-key way to spend your afternoon, this is the best season for indie movies. Comedies, dramas, romances, dramedies, action, musicals, characters that wear giant fake heads - there's something for everyone, and they're all worth checking out.
I Origins, July 18 Mood Indigo, July 18 Happy Christmas, July 25 Very Good Girls, July 25 Calvary, August 1 The Trip to Italy, August 15 The One I Love, August 15 Life After Beth, August 15 Frank, August 15 Two Night Stand, August 22 Love Is Strange, August 22 The Congress, August 29 The Skeleton Twins, September 19 Laggies, September 26 Whiplash, October 10
Highlights: There are plenty of Sundance darlings hitting theaters soon, but the most exciting one for us is probably the weirdest: Frank, which stars Michael Fassbender as a musician who wears a giant fake head at all times. A bit more normal is the zombie romantic dramedy Life After Beth, which highlights the challenges of dating the undead. Plus, there's Whiplash, which is set to remind us all just how terrifying J.K. Simmons can be.
Open Road Films
Horror As summer winds down, that means only one thing: Halloween is approaching. And what better way to celebrate ghosts, ghouls, goblins and everything that goes bump in the night than with one of the many upcoming horror movies that 2014 has to offer?
The Purge: Anarchy, July 18 Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, August 1 The Possession of Michael King, August 22 Jessabelle, August 29 Leprechaun: Origins, August 29 The Green Inferno, September Untitled New Line Horror Project, October 3 Annabelle, October 3 Ouija, October 24 Paranormal Activity 5, October 24 See No Evil 2, TBA
Highlights: This list is packed with sequels, but the one we're most anticipating is an original: Eli Roth's The Green Inferno, about a group of Amazonian explorers who are taken captive by a tribe of cannibals. If we know anything about Roth's work, it's probably going to be intense, gory and potentially a little scarring.
Thriller More intense than a drama, but with a better story than a horror film, thrillers are the perfect indoors-y alternative to rock climbing, roller coasters and water sports. It's all of the thrill without the risk of sunburn.
Aftermath, July 18 A Most Wanted Man, July 25 The Prince, August 22 As Above, So Below, August 29 Addicted, September 5 No Good Deed, September 12 Before I Go to Sleep, September 12 The Two Faces of January, September 26
Highlights: A Most Wanted Man was one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final films, and it promises to be an intense roller coaster of a film featuring what we're sure is a powerhouse performance from one of the greatest actors of his generation. Later in the year, there's The Two Faces of January to look forward to, which will see Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac go toe-to-toe.
Maybe 2015 will finally be Leonardo DiCaprio's year (we know, we say that every year, but here's hoping). In addition to reuniting with Jonah Hill to star in The Ballad of Richard Jewel, Deadline reports that the Oscar nominee has signed on to star in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's adaptation of The Revenant, which is slated to be released next fall. The film, based on the novel by Michael Punke, will see DiCaprio play Hugh Glass, a 19th century fur trapper who is mauled by a bear and then robbed and left for dead by some of his cohorts. However, Glass survives both attacks and embarks on a journey to enact revenge on the people who betrayed him. The Revenant is being described as a gritty action thriller, which makes it an unusual choice for both DiCaprio and Inarritu, as both are fixtures on the awards circuit, and tend to stay away from the more stereotypical action films.
While DiCaprio has made a few action films and thrillers over the course of his career — most notably The Departed and Shutter Island with longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese — he tends to stick with grander, more awards-friendly fare, and the few action films he has made heavily feature a psychological element, as those seem to be the kind of thrillers that the Academy likes best. And while Babel had some thrilling, action-heavy moments in it, Inarritu is still primarily known for his work with serious, slightly cerebral films, which is why neither of them seem to be the first choice for a film that sounds like a perfect opportunity for Liam Neeson to break out his most threatening growl.
The most likely explanation for DiCaprio and Inarritu's involvement is that the film has a great screenplay that attracted both of them to the project, but it also seems as if the Academy's attitude towards action films are shifting, which may have given them the incentive to sign on to a big-budget thriller. The big winner at this year's Oscars was Gravity, a sci-fi survival film that, thanks in part to Alfonso Cuaron's direction and a couple of A-List actors, was both critically-acclaimed and a major box office success. All Is Lost, a more artistic take on the typical survival narrative also did well this year. Although it missed out on the Oscars, it still received a great deal of attention and acclaim. Plus, there's also the fact that the current crop of action stars are older men with established careers — led, of course, by Neeson, himself an Oscar nominee — and all of these factors seem to signal a shift in the Academy's perspective.
Survival stories like the one at the center of The Revenant have a strong, emotional thread to connect all the action sequences, as well as the opportunity for character development, and the chance for an actor to transform himself for the role. Therefore, it's not a big surprise that more acclaimed actors and directors are exploring the genre, as it allows them to make a dark, emotional or inspiring film while also differentiating their project from the long line of sentimental, Oscar-baiting films that hit theaters every fall. For Oscar fixtures like DiCaprio, it also gives them the opportunity to step into a role that's different than the ones that have come before it. His most memorable roles are always the ones that show a different side of him, whether that side is a drug-fueled criminal, a sadistic plantation owner or a lovesick teenager, and since Hugh Glass is a completely new kind of character for him, we wouldn't be surprised if he quickly joined the roster of iconic DiCaprio roles.
In addition, well-respected filmmakers like DiCaprio and Inarritu lend the movie a much-needed air of gravitas, which will help convince audiences and Academy members alike to give The Revenant a chance instead of dismissing it outright. Cuaron had already earned a great deal of critical acclaim over the course of his career, and that likely played a large role in helping Oscar voters take the film seriously as an awards contender, rather than ignoring a great film on the basis of its genre. Similarly, All Is Lost benefited from an Oscar-winning writer and a star turn by Robert Redford, both of which helped draw attention to the movie so that it didn't get completely lost in the awards season shuffle. Having both DiCaprio and Inarritu on board helps The Revenant enter the Oscar conversation even before it starts filming, and that kind of buzz could help people see it as more than just another action film.
The A-List team behind The Revenant seems to signal that the trend of high-brow action films is likely to stick around, and it might be just what the Academy needs to change the way it looks at genre films. Besides, a gritty action thriller might just be what DiCaprio has needed all along.
A time-traveling hero. A relationship complicated by that gift. Rachel McAdams. We're experiencing a little deja vu.
On paper, the upcoming Richard Curtis romance has more than a little in common with the 2009 drama The Time Traveler's Wife. About Time stars Brit Domhnall Gleeson (that's Bill Weasley to you, Harry Potter fanatics) as a young man who learns that the men in his family have the ability to move through time. It's not an unlimited range, however. Basically his talents allow him to relive a moment that's just passed, the dream of anyone who's ever stuck his foot in his mouth at a party. Imagine what you could do with that kind of power — you could improve your career, your friendships, your Candy Crush score — but for Tim, it's all about getting girls. One girl in particular, of course. This is a romantic comedy, after all.
Is McAdams a secret sci-fi geek? Because she seems to be drawn to romances where her love interest is a one-man time machine. The Time Traveler's Wife was based on a book of the same name, though the film smoothed out the edges that made it more than your average romance novel. The source material hummed with tension; there was danger inherent in Henry's tendency to pop back and forth from present to past to future. In fact, his travel is treated more like a disease, since he can't control it. The movie toned down the underlying menace in favor of making another rosy-tinted, Nicholas Sparks-ian romance.
But now, we have another chance to get the romantic fantasy we deserve. About Time has the benefit of being an original screenplay, so there's no novel with fans to disappoint. It's got a charming, relatively unknown lead. (Forgive us, but Eric Bana was miscast in The Time Traveler's Wife.) It's got Bill Nighy, who elevates everything he's in. And it's got good buzz from the festival circuit. It may be our last date with romantic comedy guru Curtis, who claims that he's retiring from the meet-cute business. In their review of his latest and last, Den of Geek says, "there are few storytellers, never mind filmmakers, who can view the everyday passions of ordinary folk with such an unending fascination and earnest optimism." Can he add a science fiction element to that mix without losing any charm? We'll find out when About Time hits U.S. theaters on November 8.
Warner Bros Pictures
Gravity has had an incredible weekend. In addition to being fact-checked on Twitter by Neil deGrasse Tyson himself, the film made an estimated $55.6 million domestically, which set a record for both October and autumn releases, as well as making it the biggest opening weekend ever for stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It's also the second biggest opening for director and screenwriter Alfonso Cuarón, behind Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While the film being a success is not particularly surprising, given the film's star power and overwhelmingly positive reviews, the record-setting debut has caused some critics to remark that Gravity marks a turning point in American cinema.
But even if that's too strong of a statement to get behind, the film's success is undeniably a big deal, and so it's not much of a stretch to assume that it could a have a major impact on the film industry. So, what exactly does Gravity's record-breaking opening weekend mean? After all, films have big opening weekends all the time, especially films starring actors like Clooney and Bullock. However, Gravity is an original property with palpable Oscar buzz, which is what gives the achievement such signifigance. Currently, the list of highest-grossing films of all-time is dominated by franchises — all eight Harry Potter films, all three Lord of The Rings, a plethora of superhero movies. However, the summer of 2013 was notable for lacking a definitive "movie of the summer," instead showcasing a series of minor successes or outright bombs. The exceptions, though, were The Heat and We're The Millers, both of which were original films (the former earning its share of critical favor).
Studios see franchises and sequels as a safe bet. After all, there's already a built-in audience dying to spend their money on tickets, and it's easy to attract new audience members with all of the publicity. The better these films do at the box office, the more likely studios are to green light them over original or independent films, which are a much bigger risk, financially. But, if the disappointing summer grosses are any indication, maybe Americans are becoming bored with the overwhelming influx of familiar movies and are craving something different.
Perhaps Gravity's being unlike anything audiences have seen or experienced before is actually the film's biggest strength. With the recent influx of reboots and superheroes, audience may be starting to feel some franchise fatigue, and Gravity's originality allows it to stand out from both the action and sci-fi blockbusters that dominated the summer and the emotional awards contenders that come out every winter. That both critics and audiences have been drawn to the film says something not only about the quality of Gravity, but also speaks to the fact that audiences are excited to see a movie that isn't the same thing they've experienced over and over again. Hopefully, seeing movie-goers flock to such an original film will encourage studios to finance more diverse, interesting films, even if only to balance out the huge summer franchises.
However, Gravity doesn't just manage to stand out in a sea of similar films; it also has enough varied elements that could appeal to a wide range of movie-goers. Setting aside that fact that everyone loves outer space, Gravity is a thriller that promises enough action and suspense to entice an audience who prefers those kind of films over heavier, awards-baiting material. On the other hand, Gravity also contains intense, emotional performances that have been receiving Oscar buzz, and will help draw in audiences who prefer drama over special effects. And for those who wish for movies to have some sense of familiarity, both Clooney and Bullock are reliable box office draws who are well-liked by audiences, and they provide a sense of comfort to both new audiences and concerned studio heads. Add to all of that the immersive IMAX experience that critics have been raving about, and Gravity was practically designed for success.
It's not the first time that a film with major awards buzz has done incredibly well at the box office — Avatar, the current highest-grossing film of all time, was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 2010 — but early autumn is considered to be the quiet time between blockbuster summers and Oscar season that studios use to release horror films and the animated features that got bumped out of the holiday release schedule. As such, it's those kinds of films that set seasonal records. Gravity's October success only reinforces the idea that audiences are looking for movies that aren't telling the same stories over and over again. If the massive success does change things for American cinema, it will be a rise in interesting, original properties that appeal to the same kind of massive audience that action-packed blockbuster and heavy, dramatic films manage to draw in.
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There is probably no upcoming film more shrouded in mystery right now than Disney's Tomorrowland. The studio and the creative team have kept information about the project so tightly under wraps that it's possible to count on one hand the bits of information that have been released: it's directed by Brad Bird and written by Damon Lindelof, the cast includes George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson, it's a sci-fi film, and it's about a scientific teen and a former boy-genius inventor who go on a quest to unearth the secrets of a place known as "Tomorrowland." Oh, and thanks to Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal, we now know that the production team is very interested in Nikola Tesla.
Tesla is the Serbian-born 19th century inventor best known for his work on alternating currents. Although much of his work was wiped from the history books after his death, he has recently grown in popularity and his contributions to science have become recognized once again. Writer/cartoonist Inman is a fan of Tesla's, and even ran a fundraising campaign to save the land where Tesla's laboratory was once located, hoping to build a science museum there. It has been reported that Inman was invited to meet with Bird to consult with them about the Tomorrowland film.
However, they actually ended up talking about something different: "As I said before, we didn't talk about the movie. Instead, they asked me a bunch of questions about Nikola Tesla. They asked what Tesla was doing in Colorado, and if he'd ever conducted experiments at Mineral King. They asked if Tesla belonged to an organization called 'Plus Ultra,' and if it was possible for him to have met Walt Disney. They also asked a variety of questions about the recently saved Wardenclyffe, particularly about the buried tunnels underneath the property that may potentially contain some of Tesla's old equipment."
So, what does Bird's interest in Tesla mean for the film? Theories have been circulating for a while now that Clooney's character is based on Walt Disney — this could still be the case, as according to Inman, Bird was particularly interested in whether or not Disney and Tesla ever met. However, the new information also raises the possibility of Clooney playing a version of Tesla, which would fit with the film's characters being scientists and inventors, as well as with Tomorrowland's furturistic sci-fi theme. Alternatively, Tesla could still be a character in the film, but a supporting one instead of the lead (as you'll recall, in the 2006 film The Prestige, Tesla has a small but important role, and was played by David Bowie). If one of the supporting characters is based on Tesla, it's possible that it could be Laurie's antagonist David Nix or the "pivotal" role that will be played by Thomas Robinson.
There's also the possiblity that Tesla, or a character inspired by him, could be played by an actor who's casting has not yet been made public. If the character is revealed in or as part of a major twist, Bird and Lindelof would understandably want to keep that quiet. Or they've just managed to keep the casting under wraps much like they've been able to keep pretty much everything else about Tomorrowland a secret. After all, the mystery surrounding the movie is what has been causing most of the buzz surrounding it.
Of course, there's always the possiblity that he has nothing to do with the film at all and Bird is just a really big Tesla fan.
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Oprah Winfrey is a marketing machine and the evidence is clear as the true life biopic Lee Daniels' The Butler tops the chart this weekend with an impressive $25.01 million. The film is already generating Oscar buzz with Forest Whitaker's portrayal of a butler who served under numerous U.S. Presidents for 34 years garnering much praise from audiences and critics alike. This is the first number one opening weekend for The Weinstein Co. since 2009's Inglourious Basterds and proves that when Oprah endorses anything, whether a book or a movie, audiences listen.In second place with $17.78 million is Warner Bros.' R-rated comedy We're the Millers which impressively of all the wide release films for this Summer, had the best second weekend at hold at just 33%. The film is just shy of the $70 million mark in North America.Third place goes to Sony's R-rated sci-fi thriller Elysium which in its second weekend blasted up another $13.6 million against a 54% drop after a first place debut last weekend and $55.9 million to date in North America. The Matt Damon film directed by District 9's Neil Blomkamp earned an estimated $22 million overseas this weekend, bringing its cume to $37.7 million internationally and $93.6 million worldwide.Universal's Kick Ass 2 came in much lower than expected for a fourth place debut of $13.568 million, the original Kick Ass opened in April of 2010 with a number one debut of $19.8 million and many were expecting a number in that range for the R-rated action sequel this weekend. Internationally the film fared better opening in 17 territories this weekend and grossed an estimated $6.3M at 1,500 dates.The Top 5 is rounded out by Disney's animated Planes in its second weekend with $13.14 million and $45.09 million to date while Open Road's Steve Jobs biopic Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher in the titular role also opened to a less than expected $6.7 million in seventh place as did the Harrison Ford film Paranoia from Relativity Media in the number 13 spot with $3.5 million.Only two more weekends left in the summer movie season and we are running nearly 11% ahead of the season at the same point last year.Top Movies for Weekend of August 16 - August 18 (Estimates)Rank Movie Gross Theaters Avg.Per YTD Distributor01 Lee Daniel's The Butler $25.01M 2,933 $8,527 $25.01M TWC02 We're the Millers $17.78M 3,325 $5,347 $69.5M Warner Bros.03 Elysium $13.6M 3,284 $4,141 $55.9M Sony/Tri-Star04 Kick-Ass 2 $13.568M 2,940 $4,615 $13.568M Universal05 Planes $13.14M 3,716 $3,536 $45.09M Disney06 Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters $8.375M 3,080 $2,719 $38.9M Fox07 Jobs $6.7M 2,381 $2,814 $6.7M Open Road08 2 Guns $5.572M 2,471 $2,255 $59.2M Universal09 The Smurfs 2 $4.6M 2,349 $1,958 $56.9M Sony10 The Wolverine $4.425M 2,058 $2,150 $120.45M Fox
If you were on Twitter last night, chances are you saw a whirlwind of tweets about Syfy’s latest super realistic movie, Sharknado. Unfortunately the Jaws meets Twister flick, did not deliver in the ratings — hooking only 1.4 million viewers Thursday night.
Now let’s compare that with some of Sci-Fi’s other ceinematic masterpieces, shall we? 2010′s Sharktopus snagged 2.5 million viewers, 2011′s Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid rustled up 2.4 million and last year’s Piranhaconda bit off 1.8 million. Sharknado even fell flat when compared to the far less movie Chupacabra vs. the Alamo, which gained 1.5 million viewers earlier this year.
Even though the movie didn’t snag a ton of viewers, the Tara Reid flick did shatter Syfy’s Twitter records. Syfy says the online feeding frenzy peaked at 5,000 tweets per minute and broke the network’s social media records. Yikes! According to EW, Sharknado gained 387,000 total tweets, mearly 2,500 tweets shy of tying with the Game of Thrones infamous “Red Wedding” episode.
Wanna see all the unrealistic nonsense for yourself? Syfy will air an encore of Sharknado Tursday, July 18.
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At first glance, Ender’s Game seems an obvious choice for a big-budget movie adaptation. The 1985 sci-fi yarn has sold millions of copies, been translated into 29 languages, and is on the “Suggested Reading” list for the U.S. Marine Corps. It spawned a series 11 follow-up novels, meaning major franchise potential for the studio, Summit Entertainment, that snapped up the rights. And with a plot about a boy genius in a futuristic military academy being trained to defend Earth from extraterrestrial hordes it could credibly boast the tagline that it’s “Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games.” Guaranteed box office gold, right?
Not so fast. Several experts say Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card, also credited as a producer on the film, could pose a major problem for Summit as it begins its publicity campaign. Or, rather, his controversial politics do. Card has been at the forefront of the anti-gay marriage movement, acting as a board member of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which campaigned in favor of Proposition 8 in California. He’s said that if the U.S. government in any way allows states to legalize gay marriage, then the government will become his “mortal enemy,” and he will “act to destroy that government and bring it down.” He’s also advocated for sodomy laws to remain in place “to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”
In the past, the largely male, largely young, largely geeky audience for the Ender’s Game movie, directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Asa Butterfield, and due to be released Nov. 1, might not have been thought of as being easily offended by such rhetoric. Today, however, with acceptance of gay rights reaching an all-time high among American youth, and geek culture at the most progressive it’s ever been, that is not the case. Summit faces a major challenge in their marketing of the Ender’s Game movie that centers on two questions sci-fi fans will be asking themselves in the months leading up to its release: Is it possible to separate a book or movie from its author’s personal views? And is that compartmentalization morally defensible?
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“The fact of the matter is that we’re already talking about the controversy surrounding the film now, and, for better or worse, the personal views of the story’s creator are going to continue to be a discussion point in the many months leading up to its release,” says Mark Umbach, a public relations and crisis management expert for Macias Media Group, a firm that helps connect entertainment industry clients, including movie studios, to the LGBT consumer base. Umbach hasn't been brought in to consult on Summit's promotion of the Ender's Game movie but notes that the studio faces a major challenge in courting a gay audience for the film. “There is a huge LGBT audience for science fiction, and it’s going to be hard for those fans to separate Card’s comments from his work.”
Ari Karpel, an L.A.-based journalist who writes about movies and gay culture for The New York Times and Fast Company’s Co.Create site agrees. “The gay community has become adept at using social media to spread its opposition to perceived incidents of homophobia and really does have the power to taint the movie,” Karpel says. “While the gay audience itself is not necessarily the core audience for an Ender's Game series of movies, the younger demographic is increasingly sensitive to gay civil rights issues. Moviegoers are savvy. It's going to be hard to avoid making this an issue.”
NEXT: A Recent Backlash Against One of Card’s Other Projects Spells Trouble for the Ender’s Game Movie.
As expected, the studio has not responded to Hollywood.com’s repeated requests for comment. Rich Ferraro, Vice President of Communications for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), has released the following statement: "Anti-gay activists like Card can't expect to spread the same hateful and dangerous rhetoric they once did without it negatively impacting how the public views them. As a board-member of NOM, one of the most visible anti-gay organizations, Card is not merely a holder of anti-gay views but someone who has used his own fame and resources to actively make life more difficult for hard-working LGBT people and our families. He might still want the buying public to financially support his creative endeavors, but the public is responding with an affirmative "no." (Important to note: as of this report, the organization is not planning a boycott of the Ender’s Game film.)
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If you just look at the book sales for Ender’s Game, that “no” doesn’t seem as affirmative. As of March 1, it’s ranked as Amazon.com’s #16 bestselling science fiction novel, above George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and A Feast for Crows and Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
However, it’s another controversy that shows what an uphill battle Summit has on its hands. DC Comics announced Feb. 6 that they'd hired Card to author a new Superman anthology. AllOut.org, a website devoted to LGBT activism, protested the hiring and has already gathered over 16,000 signatures for a petition to DC Comics to fire Card. DC Comics released a statement noting that Card’s “personal views” are not representative of the company’s, but that they “steadfastly support freedom of expression.” However, for those who could be directly affected by Card’s anti-gay marriage agenda, it’s harder to separate the Superman comic — and Ender’s Game —from its maker.
“It’s extremely difficult for the LGBT community to compartmentalize a body of work or product from its creator, because the views of the creator, who generally has a pulpit from which to speak, so intimately affect their lives and their families,” Umbach says “It’s a direct attack on the basic liberties being afforded to other Americans.”
A number of comic book writers and artists are protesting Card’s hiring themselves. Phil Jimenez, who co-authored the DC Comics Encyclopedia and has penciled Wonder Woman comics for DC and New X-Men comics for Marvel says, “The messaging readers receive through Superman is really important -- he's a symbol of honesty, fairness, goodness, and justice — and I just feel like attaching someone so virulently bigoted to the character seems to taint him for me a little, and certainly ensures I don't buy the works authored by such an individual.”
Card’s association with Superman is surprising given how much more sensitive the comics world has become regarding gay issues and the inclusion of gay characters. DC itself recently had the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, come out of the closet, and Batwoman has been pursuing lesbian relationships in the pages of her comics. “As a writer, I’d like to say that it’s been the creators driving this [inclusivity], but really, I think it’s been the readership that has demanded more diversity over time,” says Batwoman author W. Haden Blackman. “Readers want to see more characters that reflect who they are, or the people they know and love… I’ve encountered virtually no homophobic response to my work on Batwoman. It’s been exactly the opposite, in fact.”
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There certainly isn’t a 100% overlap between comics readers and the sci-fi audience that would buy a ticket to see the Ender’s Game movie, but the increasing openness in representing gay characters in comics, and the audience’s demand, including the straight audience’s demand, for that openness, is indicative of a larger shift in geek culture. “What has always impressed me about science fiction since I was a kid is that it is a progressive genre, one that explores ideas,” says Brannon Braga, wrtier/producer of the Star Trek series The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise and co-creator of CBS’ Threshold and Fox’s Terra Nova. “In exploring ideas you can’t be closed minded. By definition, science fiction is also humanitarian.”
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One thing that might work in Summit’s favor is the fact that the general audience just doesn’t know much about Card’s homophobia — if they know much about him at all. Aside from his placement on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, he’s expressed most of his anti-gay views to Mormon publications. “I didn’t know Orson Scott Card had some hateful aspects to his personality,” says Braga. “I would assume that if people do find out about the author’s point of view, it would have an impact. It’d be almost like dealing with a Scientology book. It’s a little hard to separate Battlefield Earth from its origin. L. Ron Hubbard may not have written it as a Scientology book per se, but it’s difficult when you’re reading it not to think, ‘Oh yeah, this is by the guy who founded Scientology.’”
Though groups like AllOut.org and GLAAD are trying to raise awareness, Card's past isn't a talking point for the run-0f-the-mill moviegoer. But the web-savvy sci-fi fans who will be the core audience for an Ender’s Game movie are much more in tune. That could be a problem, since those sci-fi fans are going to be responsible for building buzz and creating a consensus about the movie on social media leading up and after Ender’s Game’s release. Not to mention that within geek culture authors and their creations, whether books, movies, or TV shows, have never been more closely linked. Don’t like the Star Wars prequels? Blame George Lucas! Hate Twilight? Bash Stephenie Meyer! Still fuming over that LOST finale? Accost Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on Twitter! Love Harry Potter? Build shrine to J.K. Rowling! It’s harder than ever to separate an author’s personality and priorities from the worldview he or she projects through a work of art. “I loved Apocalypto,” Braga says. “I think it’s a masterwork of filmmaking. But it’s hard to separate it from Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks that he made so near to the release of the film. And when I think of Apocalypto, I definitely do think of that.”
The box office track record of movies with these kinds of controversies isn’t exactly stellar. Gibson’s rant certainly didn’t help Apocalypto, and it grossed only $50 million in 2006, though, anti-Semitic comments or not, the ancient Mayan epic was never going to be a hit. More tellingly, Brett Ratner compounded the already bad buzz surrounding his 2011 film Tower Heist when he infamous said “rehearsals are for f**s,” the comment that forced him to resign from producing the Oscars, the weekend of his film’s release. Making only $78 million, it became his lowest grossing comedy in 11 years. And Ron Howard’s The Dilemma flat-out bombed in January 2011 following a backlash over Vince Vaughn’s pejorative use of “gay” in a trailer.
It’s impossible to know whether the controversies surrounding these filmmakers negatively affected their movies, especially given that those films were of questionable quality to begin with. But let’s put it this way: the controversies certainly didn’t help. What happens, though, if unlike The Dilemma, Tower Heist, and Apocalypto, the Ender’s Game movie turns out to be really good? “If the movie is great all else will fall away,” Karpel says. Braga agrees. “If Card’s vision is powerful enough and unique enough, the work can stand for itself.”
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That’s why Summit’s approach in addressing Card’s inflammatory views will likely be to just ignore them outright.
“That might be possible,” Karpel says. “Summit is the studio that managed to maintain Twilight's cultural dominance amidst a scandal that could have toppled it: the revelation that Kristen Stewart had cheated on Robert Pattinson with Rupert Sanders, her Snow White and the Huntsman director. Summit expertly maneuvered through that one, but the controversy does seem to have had lingering effects for Stewart, who is not as beloved as she once was.” Hollywood studios have mastered the ability at circling the wagons and preventing controversial discussions from even starting, and that cone of silence doesn’t only extend to employees on their payroll. Several crisis management experts were approached to comment on this piece, and, other than Mark Umbach, all declined to contribute. Braga himself candidly admits, “It’s better in Hollywood to just lay low on issues like this. The only reason I’m giving [this interview], honestly, is because I really think there is something terrible and ultimately corruptible about hate and judging people as a group rather than considering them as individuals. It’s disgusting when people express the kinds of views this author has expressed and I felt a moral obligation to at least chime in.”
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Likewise, the studio isn’t commenting at all on its strategy for promoting the film and, eight months before its release, it’s possible that they themselves haven’t hammered out their strategy. However, if they follow the template they used to market the final Twilight film in the wake of Kristen Stewart cheating scandal, that means one thing in particular could happen: Card could be left out of the film’s publicity. It seems almost unthinkable. It’d be like marketing the Harry Potter movies without J.K. Rowling. But leaving him out of the discussion may be preferable to putting him on a panel before a crowd of thousands in Hall H at Comic Con, where he might face questions that will distract from the film. “We have a whole younger generation who may not understand why marriage equality is even a debate topic,” Umbach says. “And those are people that are going to be in the audience at Comic Con. Putting Card in front of a huge audience may draw attention away from the film and put the focus on his personal ideologies, which could distract from the purpose of taking the principles to the convention…to support the film.”
Even if we can say that it is indeed possible to separate an author from his work, it seems undeniable that purchasing a ticket to the Ender’s Game movie is in fact funding Card’s politics. “I’d say that’s case,” Braga says. “If an author’s political views are so pronounced and have been articulated vocally enough that you are aware of them, I think there is a social responsibility behind your choice to buy a ticket.” Which is also to say that you can support Card’s right to “freedom of expression” without having to endorse those views with your dollars. Adds Blackman, “I shouldn’t somehow feel compelled to buy something created by someone who will use that money to persecute or restrict the rights of my loved ones.”
But in Hollywood, money is king, and the fact that some people feel that way can’t be good news to Summit. They’ll need a strategist like Ender himself to play this game.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credits: Richard Foreman Jr./Summit Entertainment, DC Comics]
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In January of 2012, director Benh Zeitlin's debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild premiered to 1,270 Sundance attendees who, as the triumphant score crescendoed into the end credits, leapt out of their seats into a standing ovation. Audience reaction quickly poured out of the screening, many suggesting the movie was an early lock for award-season and the end-of-the-year Oscar race. A premature response from the energized festival-goers? Apparently not.
Zeitlin's drama-with-a-drop-of-fantasy was quickly grabbed by Fox Searchlight following Sundance, where it picked up steam upon release and landed four Oscar nominations at the 85th Academy Awards. Beasts actually winning those awards against competition like Silver Linings Playbook and Steven Spielberg's Lincoln looks unlikely, but the mere fact of its presence is a triumph for the little guys. The really little guys.
The definition of independent film and the culture of the Sundance Film Festival has changed since Robert Redford's Park City, Utah experiment first kicked off in 1978. Thanks to Hollywood's "blockbuster or bust" mentality, the types of lower-budget films that once peppered the studio slates are now done for low budgets with actors looking to gain a little indie cred. Instead of funding the next breakout comedy, award-contending drama, or even horror franchise, studios are looking to Sundance for recommendations. Welcome those crafty and daring enough to bring their visions to screen, then pick them up for movie-goers to enjoy.
Following Sundance buzz also puts you, the future audience, in control of what they may see in their multiplexes later that year. Reception from those on the ground at Park City is only the first step. Through social media and Internet comments, Sundance has found a way to put those in the driver's seat. Hear about a movie you love? Make it loud and clear and that movie may eventually find a home.
Beasts' big win sends a message to studios: original ideas can connect with audiences. The film made a solid $11 million in its summer run this past year, but now that it has a few awards to its name, the business is expected to go up. 2013's collection of titles that may have looked too fringe for the masses suddenly seem like fresh ideas ripe for the picking. Same goes for documentary films — four of the five Oscar nominees debuted at the 2012 fest. The outsider, The Gatekeepers, will play at Sundance 2013. With VOD, Netflix, and other streaming services emerging as major avenues of digestion, buyers are more eager than ever to pick up the Sundance movies. There's something for everyone when it comes to the festival line-up. For the first time, those movies can finally see the light of day in some shape or form. The scale of release comes down to demand.
Along with being a place for discovery, Sundance also works as a launching pad for those brazen enough to stay completely independent. Shane Carruth isn't the first DIY filmmaker to keep his films close to the chest, but after wowing audiences with his heady sci-fi movie Primer in 2004, the director is hoping to recreate the magic by distributing his 2013 Sundance premiere, Upstream Color, on his own. Through crafty marketing and image-heavy teaser trailers, Carruth has built up excitement for the movie. He's building towards the Sundance premiere, which likely produce divisive reactions. The controversy should help bring more eyes to the movie and leverage the film when it makes its way to theaters and VOD in Spring 2013.
In the early days of Sundance, the festival's stories — the shocks, the praise, the general tastemaking — rarely impacted those outside major cities with independent cinemas. In other words, most places around the world. But that's the past; we're living in a post-Beasts world where a Sundance unknown can end a year-long journey at the Best Directors table. We're living in a movie-going landscape where even the smallest film can find steal the spotlight for a mere second, zip through Twitter feeds and Facebook walls, and connect with someone who is going to love it. Sundance 2013 is right around the corner — are you going to be watching?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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Everyone loves an underdog, especially the movie-minded folks out in Hollywood (well, minus the ones that invested in 2007's ill-fated Underdog).
Like the perfectly-constructed dramas Academy voters fawn over year after year, the bumpy journey of Ben Affleck's Argo — a film that owned, then quickly disappeared from, the awards conversation — may deserve an Oscar of its own. It all depends on the ending: whether the beloved Affleck can come from behind to take home the Academy's Best Picture award after losing traction in the wake of its release. After Sunday night's Golden Globes, the actor-turned-director was looking like a prize fighter ready to go all the way:
Affleck picked up the Globe for "Best Director" followed by a "Best Motion Picture, Drama" win for his true story thriller, the unbelievable story of a 1979 mission to rescue Iranian Embassy members under the masquerade of a sci-fi blockbuster production. The win is bittersweet for Affleck, who only days before was snubbed by the Academy Awards in their Best Director category. Argo picked up a nomination for Best Picture, but support for the movie looked minimal without Affleck in the Director top five.
Which also makes the Globes win a surprise. Argo is one of the many "prestige" films, movies one would never find in the first 8 months of the year when Hollywood floods the market with blockbusters, to beat the odds and make big bucks at the box office. Since its Oct. 12 release date, Argo has grossed over $111.6 million, picking up coveted critics awards along the way. Affleck's third feature was always considered a frontrunner; like two movies perfectly weaved together, Argo kicks off with the heart of a caper comedy before segueing into an intense thriller worthy of greats like Michael Mann and Sydney Pollack. A movie about movies, Argo had all the right parts for a Best Picture contender. The only thing going against it was time.
Since 2000, only four of the Best Picture-winning films have been released before November. A majority of nominees have also been late-year releases — like the "bet $1" strategy in Price Is Right, movie studios' hope is that releasing their Oscar hopefuls closer to the actual voting deadlines will give them an edge. Argo built up strong buzz when it was first released, but with heavy-hitters like Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, and Les Miserables popping up before the Academy called for votes, Affleck's gem lost luster. The Social Network ran into the same problem when it was released on Oct. 1, 2010. David Fincher's riveting drama was the one to beat for months after it debuted. The King's Speech arrived in December to steal its thunder.
But don't count Affleck out of the running. The Golden Globes surprise turned heads in Hollywood and with the final Oscars votes still weeks away from being cast — final ballots are mailed to voting members in late January and are due the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday — the sympathy garnered from his win could sway the Academy. Having won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting in 1997, Affleck is an industry darling. He built up a status as a leading man before putting it aside for a directing career (it's still hard to believe the star of Armageddon was the eye behind The Town). Still, losing sight of his 2012 picture was easy with legends like Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, new favorite David O. Russell, and Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, two directors who also failed to make the cut, but who likely took votes away from Affleck, Ross Perot-style. The Academy, watching Affleck take home two big awards at the Globes, could recognize their "egregious" mistake and pay respect to the triple-threat the only way they can: with a Best Picture win.
History speaks volumes when it comes to Oscar predictions and the Academy's inclination on how to vote. If Nate Silver can predict the president with a complex series of algorithms and data, awards prognosticators can do the same with 85 years worth of Academy Award winners. Affleck's one major road block to taking back the gold is the rarity of that kind of wealth-spreading occurring in the past. Only three films have won Best Picture without having their directors nominated: Wings (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). In the last decade, only Ang Lee was able to break away from the Best Picture/Director double-win, when he took home the prize in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, over Paul Haggis, director of the Best Picture-winning Crash. On top of that, the Golden Globes aren't sure thing predictors for the Oscars — their Best Drama category has only named a Best Picture winner twice in the last ten years.
Ben Affleck is fighting a losing battle when it comes to Argo at the Oscars, but it's one the industry wants him to fight. They rose for a standing ovation when he won the Golden Globes. They respect him. He's the underdog everyone loves. Like Rocky, he may not win the big prize in the end, but that may not matter as long as he's up for the fight. There's always Rocky II.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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