Selection Day Cast on the Challenges of Filming Netflix’s New Indian Original

“I don’t think he tanned, he turned purple,” actor Shiv Pandit (Shaitan) told Gadgets 360 at a press event for Netflix’s upcoming original series Selection Day, which is out December 28 worldwide. Pandit was talking about the show’s India-born British director Udayan Prasad, and referring to the challenges involved with filming during the summer months in the country.

Based on Indo-Australian author Aravind Adiga’s 2016 book of the same name, Selection Day is a coming-of-age story of two teenage brothers, Radha (Yash Dholye) and Manju Kumar (Mohammad Samad), who have been raised by their obsessive father (Rajesh Tailang) to be star cricket players. The show was put together over the course of the last year, with the principal cast signing on last December, filming starting between February and April, and post-production being completed a few months ago.

In our conversations with several of the cast members, there appeared a common theme regarding the filming: the heat. Dholye noted that Mumbai’s high relative humidity presented an additional challenge, which meant the make-up department was constantly on the run.

The director-actor Mahesh Manjrekar (Vaastav: The Reality), who has a role in Selection Day as well, noted that he once left a TV show in his heydays because “it was too hot on the set and I used to sweat all the while. I just dropped it because I was being too erratic, getting angry on small, small things.” Why did he stay here? Because there was a fan.

“Of course, actors are always looked after,” said Ratna Pathak Shah (Sarabhai vs Sarabhai), who’s also part of Selection Day. “But the crew, they suffered man. It was a really tough shoot. Very limited time, a fairly limited budget also, I think. And a complicated script, requiring a lot of people, a lot of interaction. It was important to show the scale of cricket as well as the personal interaction that’s happening on the field.”

Ratna Pathak Shah on Selection Day and Why She Hates Actors Using Profanity


“And I’ve to say, I’m very, very impressed with the way it was all done. Our director, the poor fellow Udayan, who comes from England and has a very different experience of dealing with filming, I suppose, I’ve to say, he was frazzled and quite at the end of his tether,” she added with a laugh.

“And he just couldn’t get past the fact that there was so much noise. All the time. ‘How can you think with this kind of noise?’ We’d be rehearsing and he’d be shouting at the crew on the behalf of the actors saying, ‘Shut up! Keep your voices down. Quiet, quiet.’ We actors are used to functioning with all kinds of rubbish around. It was he who was finding it really hard to operate with this kind of noise. I’ve to say, hats off to the man, because it was a huge culture shock, I’d imagine.”

“Working in India is tough in any field, and film also. And often, we don’t make good enough arrangements for our crew. This is something we really need to improve, and I’m hoping that a company like Netflix coming in, they put their money where their mouth is, and make the production — the whole process — better for everyone concerned.”

“I think [Selection Day] has been one of the better productions that I’ve been a part of,” Pandit noted.

“Oh yes, absolutely. Considering the scale of what they were doing, they were really efficient and on the ball,” Pathak Shah said. “But this process needs to be made smoother and nicer. By and large. I’m not talking about specifically with reference to this, but this has been the bane of our existence in India. The processes just don’t fall into place.”

The Selection Day cast didn’t let the oppressive conditions get in the way of their fun and learning, though. Manjrekar remarked that how there would be times when the crew would be ready to film a scene and he would be busy playing cricket. Dholye, on the other hand, made the most of his time on the sets of a Netflix production.

selection day yash dholye mohammad samad Selection Day

Yash Dholye and Mohammad Samad at the Selection Day premiere in Mumbai on Tuesday
Photo Credit: Netflix

“I never used to sit in the vanity van, I used to be behind the monitor,” he said. “Because this is my first project. So I was observing how filmmaking works at a grand level. I was into it, I wanted to learn the process. Even in pre-production, I was observing things though we were not involved much. What goes on, how [assistant directors] work, how production goes on.”

And if the heat wasn’t enough on its own, they also had to make the cricket scenes look believable and realistic.

“You either get a good cricketer or a good actor,” said Manjrekar. “You can never get the combination right. Even today, Sachin Tendulkar, after doing so many ads, still is very uncomfortable in front of the camera. Because it’s not his thing. [With Selection Day], it was a very difficult task, but they managed somehow. These boys were very good.”

Selection Day is out December 28 on Netflix worldwide.

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Men in Black: International Trailer: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson Are Here to Deal With the Scum of the Universe

Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson have donned new suits and re-teamed in a different universe with the first trailer for Men in Black: International, while bringing over some of that chemistry they shared in the Marvel movie. The film — the fourth in the Men in Black series — is a spin-off to the first three that starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and moves from the American to the British branch of the fictional organisation that monitors and takes care of any alien-related problems on Earth.

The first Men in Black: International trailer sets up Thompson’s Agent M as a newcomer to MIB, as Agent O — the head of the US branch played by Emma Thompson, reprising her role from 2012’s MIB 3 — sends her to London, where she’s paired with Hemsworth’s Agent H, described as one of the top agents by the UK head, played by Liam Neeson. Their first meeting is decidedly anti-climactic but pretty soon, they are travelling across the globe — Men in Black: International filmed in London, Morocco, Italy, and New York — dealing with extra-terrestrial threats.


Here’s the official synopsis for Men in Black: International:

“The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organisation.”

In addition to Hemsworth, Thompson, Thompson, and Neeson, Men in Black: International also stars Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead), and the Les Twins. F. Gary Gray, known for helming Straight Outta Compton and Fast & Furious 8, is the director on Men in Black: International, with a script from the writing duo of Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, co-writers on Iron Man, and Transformers: The Last Knight.

Historically, the Men in Black series has grossed over $1.65 billion at the worldwide box office. The first film — released over two decades ago — proved to be a hit with critics, and though the second in 2002 bombed, a third followed in 2012 and brought back some of the critical acclaim.

Men in Black: International will release June 14, 2019 in India and across the world.

men in black intl Men in Black International poster

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Google’s New Ad Recreates Iconic Home Alone Scenes With Macaulay Culkin and Google Assistant

Google has released a new American holiday-season ad for its series of products — the Pixel 3 XL, the Home Hub, the Home Mini, and the Nest doorbell and thermostat — that brings back Macaulay Culkin as a much older version of his character Kevin McCallister from the 1990 movie Home Alone. It’s a Christmas movie, this is a Christmas ad. Just like in the movie, Kevin wakes up to find his family is gone but except here, he has the company of the Google Assistant in every room, seemingly.

According to the new Google ad, the McCallister family didn’t accidentally leave him behind this time though, as there’s a calendar event called “House to yourself” in Kevin’s Google Calendar account. Later, throughout the day, Kevin uses Google devices to add things such as aftershave to his shopping lists, set reminders that involve cleaning the sheets, use the Nest Hello video doorbell to talk to the pizza delivery guy, ask the Google-compatible thermostat to turn down the temperature, and make use of a custom routine — called Operation Kevin — that turns on the lights, locks the door, and moves around cardboard cutouts of people on Roombas to scare away potential thieves.


The entire one-minute ad is full of references to Home Alone, with nearly every shot — and some of the dialogue — being a recreation of the original from the movie. You can see those, and a making of the ad, over at Google’s official blog, where it also announces that the Google Assistant is now powered with some Home Alone quotes, for long-time fans of the film. If you ask Google “How much do I owe you?”, it will respond with “Keep the change, you filthy animal.”, and shout “KEVINNNNNNNNNN” if you were to ask “Did I forget something?”

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YouTube Spotted Testing Autoplay Improvements That Offer Users Customisation

YouTube Spotted Testing Autoplay Improvements That Offer Users Customisation

YouTube is testing a new way to let users control what they see in the Autoplay queue

YouTube seems to be testing a new way to let users have more control over videos that play automatically after one gets over. As of now, YouTube lets users view a bunch of videos that are queued up in the autoplay lineup but there’s barely anything a user can do apart from simply turning off the feature. Videos that appear in the ‘Up next’ column play automatically if the autoplay toggle is enabled.

Currently, YouTube decides which videos are available in the autoplay queue based on a user’s viewing habits and other parameters. YouTube is now looking to change things by offering custom options above the ‘Up next’ column, reports Android Police. The feature is apparently being tested in India with select users.

According to these users, YouTube now displays filters that let users pick from options such as ‘Suggestions’, ‘Related’, ‘Recommended for you’, and others. Based on these filters, YouTube changes the videos in the ‘Up next’ column. The feature doesn’t let users pick exactly what they want to see next, but offers a certain level of customisation. YouTube seems to be testing a variant of these filters.

We weren’t able to locate these filters on the YouTube app on our Android device yet. This means YouTube is probably testing it out across a small set of users. India being a huge market for YouTube, it’s not a surprise that the company is reportedly testing the feature amongst its Indian users.

Nevertheless, it would be a welcome change for YouTube users across the globe. By offering a little more control to users, YouTube might just increase Autoplay usage in the near future.

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – What the Heck Is Going On?

It’s been nearly a full year since the last batch of Black Mirror episodes — season 4 released December 29, 2017 — and Netflix lent some official confirmation Thursday to the rumours that have been floating around the interwebs about a new upcoming episode. If you look up “Black Mirror” on Netflix, you will find a title named “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” alongside the other seasons. It displays the loading logo associated with the series, but one lucky — and fairly dedicated — Twitter user spotted a preview thumbnail before it was seemingly pulled down by Netflix.

If you haven’t been closely following every titbit of Black Mirror news, here’s what we have in all:

Leaked set photos posted on social media revealed that Black Mirror was reportedly filming a new episode possibly titled “Bandersnatch” in Croydon, England. Much of the town’s centre had been converted into the 1980s, and people figured out that the exact year was 1984 by looking at music charts visible in the set photos.

Bloomberg claimed it had learnt from its sources that Netflix was developing choose-your-own-adventure stories for adults, which would include an upcoming episode of Black Mirror. It had no further details, though. Could that be Bandersnatch? Who knows.

One of the several Netflix Twitter accounts mistakenly posted an image detailing the sci-fi and fantasy release highlights of December. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was listed with the release date of December 28. Netflix pulled down the tweet swiftly but not before many had already saved it or screen-grabbed it.

That brings us to now, with Netflix featuring Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on its catalogue. It’s being termed as a ‘Netflix film’ which some have taken as an indication that it will be feature-length. For what it’s worth, Black Mirror episodes have always been submitted as “TV movies” at the Emmys — where Black Mirror has won two consecutive awards, for season 3’s “San Junipero” and season 4’s “USS Callister” — and it’s possible that Netflix is merely adopting that wording for the new episode.

The new listing for Bandersnatch also briefly carried a run time of 5 hours and 12 minutes, which was spotted by news site It has since been edited and now reads 2 minutes, which is a more appropriate length for a trailer.

Ever since the April leak, Black Mirror fans have been trying to figure out what Bandersnatch refers to. It’s the name of a fictional creature in Lewis Carroll’s 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and Bandersnatch was also the name of an abandoned video game being developed in the UK in the 1980s.

We’ll just have to wait for December 28 to find out what Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is. Hopefully.

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Selection Day Release Date on Netflix, Cast, Trailer, and Everything Else You Need to Know

Netflix’s next original series from India, Selection Day, is based on Aravind Adiga’s 2016 book of the same name, which tells the coming-of-age story of two teenage brothers, Radha and Manju Kumar, who have been brought up by their cricket-obsessive father to become the two best batsmen in the world. Selection Day is the fourth original series from India for Netflix, after Sacred Games, Ghoul, and Little Things.

With the show out next week on Netflix, here’s everything you need to know about Selection Day, including release date, cast and crew, and more.

Selection Day release date

Selection Day is out Friday, December 28 on Netflix worldwide, including India. All six episodes will be available at 1:30pm IST (midnight PST) on the streaming service.

Selection Day Cast on the Challenges of Filming Netflix’s New Indian Original

Selection Day synopsis

Here’s the official synopsis for Selection Day, provided by Netflix:

“Fourteen-year-old Manju is destined for cricket greatness. There’s only one problem, he hates cricket. Controlled from a young age by his overbearing and cricket-obsessed father, Manju’s main role in life is to support his older brother and fellow cricket star, Radha. When the family moves to Mumbai and the brothers start at a new school, Manju discovers his interests outside of cricket and starts slipping away from Radha and his father’s grasp. More importantly, Manju becomes friends with Radha’s greatest cricket rival, a boy who is the very definition of freedom and confidence — concepts Manju has never experienced himself.”


Selection Day cast

The two teenage leads, Radha and Manju, are played by newcomers Yash Dholye and Mohammad Samad. There’s another newcomer in Karanvir Malhotra, who plays Javed Ansari. Javed attends the same school as Radha and Manju, and is the captain of the cricket team when they arrive.

Radha and Manju’s father Mohan Kumar is played by Rajesh Tailang, known for his work in Anurag Kashyap-directed 2017 sport drama Mukkabaaz, and the 2015 comedy-drama sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Ratna Pathak Shah on Selection Day and Why She Hates Actors Using Profanity

Ratna Pathak Shah and Mahesh Manjrekar are also part of the Selection Day cast. Pathak Shah, best known for her role in the sitcom Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, plays the school principal Nellie Weinberg, while Manjrekar — known his role in 2002’s Kaante and for directing Vaastav: The Reality — plays the cricket coach Tommy Sir.

Akshay Oberoi, who has appeared in films such as 2017’s Gurgaon and 2016’s Laal Rang, alongside shows such as It’s Not That Simple for Voot and The Test Case for ALTBalaji, also has a supporting role. Oberoi plays an investor and entrepreneur named Anand Mehta.

Shiv Pandit on How His Sacred Games Disappointment Led to Selection Day

Beyond that, you’ve Shiv Pandit (Shaitan, FIR) as Lord Subramanyam, Parul Gulati (Haq Se, P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke) as Mehta’s girlfriend Monica Tandon, and two more newcomers in Vipashyana Dubey and Pakhi Gupta as fellow schoolmates Zoya and Sofia respectively.

The likes of Subrat Datta (Sameer), Amruta Subhash (Contract), Dibyendu Bhattacharya (Dev D), Geetanjali Kulkarni (Sir), Puja Sarup (The Owner), and Dalip Tahil (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) have recurring or guest roles in Selection Day.

selection day cast anil kapoor Selection Day Netflix

Anil Kapoor (centre) with the Selection Day cast at the premiere in Mumbai on Tuesday
Photo Credit: Netflix

Selection Day crew

Behind the scenes, Selection Day is more of an Anglo-Indian original, with many of the principal participants being British. The show’s head writer, Marstoon Bloom, is a British actor-turned-writer who previously created the short-lived 2008 medical drama Harley Street, and wrote for the BBC comedy-crime series New Tricks from 2012 to 2015.

India-born British director Udayan Prasad helmed all six episodes of Selection Day. His credits include the 2008 drama The Yellow Handkerchief, and the 1997 comedy-drama My Son the Fanatic that starred Om Puri.

Selection Day Is More Than a Cricket and LGBTQ Story, Say Creators

Selection Day is a production of Anil Kapoor Film Company and London-based Seven Stories. Kapoor is a veteran Bollywood actor whose production credits include Veere Di Wedding and the Indian remake of the 24 TV series.

He served as an executive producer alongside AKFC’s Udayan Bhat, Karan Boolani, who has directed several episodes of 24: India, Seven Stories co-founder Anand Tucker — known for producing 2003’s Girl with a Pearl Earring — and his colleagues Collen Woodcock and Jo McClellan, and Golden Globe-winner Helen Flint (Longford, Patrick Melrose). Bloom and Adiga also served as executive producers.

Soumik Mukherjee (Maroon, P.O.W. Bandi Yuddh Ke) is the cinematographer, Shashwat Sachdev (Phillauri) is the composer, Anasuya Sengupta (Bose: Dead/Alive) is the production designer, and Gopika Gulwadi (24: India) is the costume designer on Selection Day.

Selection Day trailer

Netflix released the first teaser for Selection Day in November, which set up the premise and the characters. A full trailer followed later that month, expanding on the backstories of and journeys for the protagonists.


Selection Day runtime

Selection Day episodes run between 18 and 25 minutes — critics, including us, have seen four out of the total six — which means you’re looking at roughly a 2-hour binge in total.

Selection Day season 2

At a press event in November, Tucker said that the first season covers the whole of Adiga’s book, except the last chapter that is set a decade ahead, which means any potential second season — Netflix hasn’t said anything officially — will go beyond what’s on the page.

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Shemaroo Announces ShemarooMe, a Streaming Service of Its Own

As streaming gains traction in India, one of India’s biggest content acquisition and distribution companies Shemaroo is stepping into the ring itself. On Friday, it announced ShemarooMe, a streaming service slated for launch in the first quarter of 2019, with the vague promise of delivering “premium, engaging content to its consumers through user-friendly, exclusive, multi-genre platforms that suits the needs of every Indian”. ShemarooMe will focus on Bollywood, regional, and devotional content.

Though Shemaroo is being short on actual details regarding its new streaming service ShemarooMe, you can (hopefully) expect to see most, if not all, of the film slate it owns — a library that spans 2,500 titles in total. That includes contemporary films such as Padmaavat, 102 Not Out, Pad Man, and Drishyam in addition to classic films in Mughal-E-Azam, Pyaasa, Shree 420, Mera Naam Joker, Anand, and Amar Akbar Anthony among others.

Usually, a distributor launching its own platform is bad news for viewers as it means their content could end up being exclusive to their service. Disney plans to do that with the launch of Disney+, for instance. But Shemaroo’s announcement suggests that might not be the case, as it says it will use the launch of ShemarooMe to expand its “digital business through strategic partnerships to offer exciting content across multiple platforms”. That sounds like its films will still be available elsewhere. Gadgets 360 has reached out for clarification.

“The name ShemarooMe is essentially about expressing one’s individuality,” Hiren Gada, Shemaroo Entertainment CEO said in a statement. “Indian consumers today are assertive about their choices and a similar trend can be noticed in the entertainment space as well. ShemarooMe caters to these audiences who are proud to voice their preferences. With this insight, we intend to touch the hearts of our audiences spanning across metros and Tier 2 and 3 cities.”

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Wonder Woman 1984 Wraps Filming, Gal Gadot Shares New Photos

Gal Gadot shared some behind-the-scenes images with director Patty Jenkins on Instagram on Sunday, as filming came to an end on Wonder Woman 1984, the sequel to the 2017 original slated for a June 2020 release. She thanked Jenkins and the crew in her caption, in addition to noting the size and scale of the production.

“We did it. Again!!” Gadot said in her Instagram post. “And as much as the first time shooting Wonder Woman was amazing, this time was even more unique and special. We shot in 4 very different locations in 3 countries, and I’m so soooo [sic] proud of the almost 1000 crew members who came to set every day, giving everything they have into our movie.”

“Couldn’t ask for better partners on this. I’m so lucky to have the one and only Patty Jenkins, as my director. She always has our backs, she gives us the wings to dare, and everyday [sic] she helped us find the most creative version of ourselves. I am so grateful to call her my friend. And to our AMAZINGly [sic] talented cast who made every day enjoyable and fun, thank you!”

“Honestly, words cannot describe this experience. This journey was so demanding and challenging but we all came and did our very best every take, every day, putting our all out there and I’m so proud. Thank you universe for this opportunity. I love this character. And thank you to all of you for being the best fans in the world. It was you that made me push myself every day. I’m so happy and excited, can’t wait to share it with you in 2020! ❤️ Gal”

The three photos in question all feature Gadot and Jenkins, out on a street, inside a mall — which we’ve seen previously — and in the sun in the wild somewhere. Filming for Wonder Woman 1984 took place over six months at London, Duxford, and Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in the UK, Washington D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia in the US, Tenerife and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, and Almería in Andalucía, Spain.

In addition to Gadot, Wonder Woman 1984 also stars Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, who is somehow not dead, Kristen Wiig as the primary villain Cheetah, Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Diana’s mother, and Robin Wright as Antiope, Diana’s aunt. Pedro Pascal is also part of the main cast in an undisclosed role.

Wonder Woman 1984 will release June 5, 2020.

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Star Wars: Episode IX Set ‘Roughly One Year’ After The Last Jedi, Says John Boyega

Star Wars: Episode IX Set ‘Roughly One Year’ After The Last Jedi, Says John Boyega

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm/Disney

John Boyega as Finn, Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode IX is reportedly set one year after the events of The Last Jedi, according to star John Boyega, which is roughly as much time fans must wait to see the third and final chapter of the sequel trilogy and the last chapter of the Skywalker saga in theatres. The release date for the as-yet untitled Star Wars: Episode IX is December 20, 2019.

A scan of British film magazine Empire’s upcoming February 2019 issue contained the new nugget of information, as part of a look at next year’s most awaited movies. Star Wars: Episode IX obviously made the cut and though much of the piece features bits we have known for months, the time jump detail is certainly new. It had been hinted at previously, by Boyega himself back in May, but it’s a lot more precise this time around.

“John Boyega has confirmed the film takes place roughly one year after the events of The Last Jedi,” Empire’s assistant editor Ian Freer writes. Star Wars: Episode IX, which has been in production since the start of August, has been filming under the working title ‘trIXie’. Principal production is expected to conclude in February 2019.

In addition to Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Soutamo, Anthony Daniels, Billie Lourd, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their roles in Episode IX. Previously unreleased footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi will be used for Fisher, who died in 2016. Billy Dee Williams returns from the original trilogy as Lando Calrissian, and is joined by newcomers in Keri Russell, Matt Smith, Dominic Monaghan, Naomie Ackie, and Richard E. Grant.

Star Wars: Episode IX is slated to release December 20, 2019 in India and across the world.

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Is Netflix Killing the Movie Theatre? Not So Fast.

This Christmas, Hollywood’s major film releases are competing for Americans’ entertainment time with a slew of new shows on Netflix – and all those television series that slipped through the cracks during the year.

Yet many of those films – Aquaman, Bumblebee, Mary Poppins Returns – are projected to do big business in theatres, with Aquaman already winning the weekend with a strong $68 million (roughly Rs. 480 crores) opening through Sunday. Their success will cap a record-breaking year at the box office, upending the conventional wisdom that movie theatres’ relevance is fading.

Movie-ticket revenue in the United States has risen 8 percent in 2018. That puts the industry on track for the largest year-to-year increase of the domestic box office in nearly a decade – and suggests that, surprisingly, theatres can more than hold their own in the age of widespread at-home entertainment.

But the news also comes with significant dark clouds. Industry experts say that a future for the movie theatre – a venue that Americans have for the past century pridefully counted as both an economic engine and cultural gathering spot – may be far from assured.

Those clouds include the fact that fewer movies are powering the box-office returns: Well over a third of revenue for 2018 comes from just 10 films, out of the more than 700 released during the year. And it’s primarily just two categories – superhero adventures and animated films – keeping the numbers afloat.

Some industry insiders even suspect some of the gains were driven by MoviePass, the beleaguered subscription service that essentially provided heavy subsidies to millions of filmgoers in the first half of 2018, when box office particularly overperformed.

“We’ve certainly had a strong year at the box office,” said Bruce Nash, a longtime expert on box-office returns who runs an industry site called the Numbers. “But there are a lot of signs this can’t continue. I think we’re going to regress to the mean very soon.”

The box office is an unusual economic indicator. It only partly reveals the financial health of film studios, as it fails to take into account production and marketing costs, both of which have been rising in recent years.

But it offers a window onto something perhaps more important: whether those studios understand the entertainment that Americans wish to consume. And, lately, whether Americans still value the country’s 41,000 movie theatre screens, period.

In 2017, the numbers were stark. Box-office dollars went down, by 2 percent, a historically troubling sign given that ticket prices and the U.S. population grow every year. Admissions – the industry term for the number of tickets sold – dropped 6 percent to 1.24 billion, the lowest in 23 years.

This all coincided with an 11 percent spike in the number of Netflix subscribers in the United States, a gain that put the streaming service’s tally of U.S. consumers above the 50 million mark for the first time. And Netflix, of course, is opposed to playing movies in a large amount of theatres.

The die seemed cast: Theaters were losing ground to streaming services, and fast.

But in February, the Marvel movie Black Panther opened. And suddenly, the tide seemed to turn.

The politically minded superhero release would gross $700 million in the United States, the third most of all time.

It was followed two months later by another Marvel Studios production, Avengers: Infinity War. That film would gross $679 million – the fourth most of all time in the United States.

The domestic box office has just set a new record. On Sunday revenue for the year hit $111.38 billion, topping 2016’s total of $11.37 billion, which previously was the highest ever not adjusting for inflation. And the eight percent rise over 2017, if it holds, will be the largest since 2009, when revenue climbed ten percent over the previous year.

“People looked at the grosses at the beginning of 2018, and there was a lot of pessimism. They thought there was a deep structural change happening,” said John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, or NATO, the trade and lobbying group for the country’s movie theatre business. “But look at where we are now at the end of 2018: We have a significant record-breaking year in terms of box-office grosses.”

There is no way to know exactly what led to the rebound this year. It could be a fluke, related more to the quality of and anticipation around a few Marvel films more than any broad adaptation. MoviePass’s aggressive marketing – it saw subscriber totals double to 3 million in the first six months of the year – also probably played a role, experts say. And that won’t continue: The service has since retrenched and is no longer as willing to pay the cost of a ticket for any subscriber who wants to see a film.

Whether the gains are in fact the result of one-off factors or a more fundamental shift will tell a lot about where the movie theatre is headed in the streaming age.

Theatre owners say it is decidedly the latter and that competition between streaming and theatres may not be as zero-sum as it seems.

Far from Netflix cannibalizing sales, its popularity is positively associated with theatrical moviegoing, according to Fithian. A study commissioned by his group released this week said that people who watch a lot of streaming also see a lot of movies, while limited streaming viewing is correlated with lower theatre attendance. (It found, for instance, that 57 percent of respondents who watched at least 15 hours of streaming each week also went to the movie theatre at least six times every year.)

The theory is that people who are fans of film are either inspired by the variety of choice at home to come out to theatres or at least are unaffected by it. Although past entertainment innovations, such as television in the 1950s, decidedly ate into box office, the theatre industry says streaming is a neutral or even favourable development.

“Movie theatre attendance and streaming consumption are positively related – those who attend movies in theatres more frequently also tend to consume streaming content more frequently,” the study said.

Not everyone is convinced. Some in the industry argue that Netflix and its ilk may still represent a substantial threat to theatres for all but the most epically scaled films, which require top-of-the-line sound and very large screens.

“I don’t think anyone who looks at the challenges movies face in a crowded landscape could argue Netflix is helping theatrical box office,” a film executive said, noting the historic lows for admissions last year. The reason, the executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to upset theatre owners, is the vast amount of choice streaming services offer, as well as the convenience. For most screen content, they noted, the experience at home isn’t that different from the one in a theatre.

Even more troubling to some in traditional Hollywood is where the box-office growth is coming from.

The upper tier of the chart, they say, is carrying a growing amount of the load. Although overall box office is up 8 percent compared with last year, the revenue for the top five grossing movies is up double that, which means that all the other movies on average are well down.

Similarly, in 2009, the top 10 films constituted 30 percent of overall box office. In 2018, that number has risen to 36 percent. This indicates a kind of wealth gap, in which only a very small number of movies generate significant revenue.

What’s more, that top tier is made up of very few genres. In 2009, the top 10 movies were distributed among science fiction, vampire, fantasy, action-adventure, animated adventure, football drama and raunchy comedies. The Blind Side was on the list. So were Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Twilight. And The Hangover. Disney had one movie.

But seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies in 2018 are either films with Marvel or animated characters, the industry’s seemingly only reliable pillars. An eighth is a Star Wars film. The remaining two are a Mission: Impossible and a Jurassic Park sequel. Half of the films come from Disney.

The fear, close watchers of the industry say, is what happens if – or when – the bottom falls out of the superhero boom. Without diversification, it could bring disaster.

“I’m not convinced that these franchises like Star Wars and Marvel can sustain for a long time. How many times can you save the world from a really bad person?” said Russell Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University. “And if it does, there’s no guarantee anything takes its place.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the movie theatre business could one day contract or even disappear,” he added. Roberts offered the analogy of bookselling, which saw a great contraction with the arrival of online sales and, though it still exists, has realigned itself as a far more niche business.

Even the holiday release window, despite not seeing a Star Wars movie for the first time since 2014, does not exactly scream multiple genres with its three most promise-laden releases. Mary Poppins Returns is Disney family entertainment. Bumblebee is major intergalactic spectacle that is a superhero movie in all but name. Aquaman is – of course – a superhero movie. One other recently released film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – which as an animated superhero movie combines both trends – is also flourishing.

Two studio executives, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the press, say these movies are made because the public wants them and that the studios would shift course if the market dried up. (Roberts noted that superhero films are “the symptom, not the cause – what people are willing to pay $20 in a theater for is much narrower than it used to be.”)

Besides, the executives point out, there’s room for smaller films to break through, noting the success of the transpacific romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians and the high-concept science-fiction-horror A Quiet Place earlier this year.

But others say those are more exception than rule.

“You have occasional more-niche hits, but there doesn’t seem to be much room for them,” said Nash, the box-office expert. “The money,” he added, “all comes from the top.”


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