Hollywood Brief: Gal Gadot’s Dark Side; Warner Bros. Chief’s Comedy Warning

Plus, guest columnist Jeff Sneider tells industry: ”Please Don’t Destroy Will Ferrell”
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Here are some of the stories that the Hollywood industry is buzzing about and some that they will be after reading this column.

Gal Gadot Is Ready to Show Off Her Dark Side

Gal Gadot has been cast as the Evil Queen in Snow White, which will star Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) as the iconic Disney princess. The live-action film will mark Gadot’s first time playing a villain, and the Israeli actress is reportedly “excited” to take on the challenge, which will see her following the footsteps of recent Disney villains Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) and Cate Blanchett, who played the wicked stepmother in Cinderella

It sounds like a potentially fun role for Gadot, who also plays the world’s most wanted art thief in Netflix’s Red Notice, which this week received the kind of splashy premiere fit for a big-budget tentpole featuring three of the world’s biggest stars. The other two would be Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. Never ones to turn down an opportunity to self-promote, Johnson and Reynolds ensured that their respective booze companies Teremana Tequila and Aviation American Gin were prominently featured at the film’s afterparty. I can only imagine the restraint it must have taken Gadot not to roll her eyes at this subtle dick-measuring contest. 

Reviews for Red Notice haven’t been particularly kind, so perhaps it’s best for Gadot to switch things up with this new Snow White movie and leave the action beats — for now — to young rivals such as Ana de Armas and Sofia Boutella. The latter landed the lead in Zack Snyder‘s next movie, Rebel Moon, while current Bond girl de Armas recently signed on to star in Ballerina, an action movie set within the John Wick universe. They represent the next generation of ass-kicking heroines. But don’t worry. Gadot will be back fighting bad guys in no time, as Wonder Woman 3 is still in the works despite a muted reception to the last movie.

Ann Sarnoff attends the “Gossip Girl” New York Premiere at Spring Studios on June 30, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)

WB’s Ann Sarnoff on Project Popcorn and Why Comedies May Be Endangered on the Big Screen

The Hollywood Reporter ran a story this past week about Project Popcorn, the name for WB’s stealth mission to release its entire 2021 movie slate day-and-date in both theaters and on HBO Max. For the record, I think this was the right (if only logical) move for WarnerMedia, albeit one that outgoing boss Jason Kilar failed to properly communicate to the studio’s talent. 

So when Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman-CEO Ann Sarnoff says that Warners “provided a service to movie theaters,” she’s not wrong. WB’s entire slate could’ve simply debuted on HBO Max, or been sold off to rival streamers who would’ve been more than willing to overpay for finished films based on established IP, such as Godzilla vs. KongSpace Jam: A New LegacyThe Suicide Squad and Dune. Yes, all of those movies could’ve made more money had they been released exclusively in theaters, but the difference — likely tens of millions — can really be chalked up as an expensive marketing campaign for HBO Max, which needed to offer premium films if it ever hoped to make inroads in its fight against Netflix and Amazon, both of which have had a long head start in this race. 

While Project Popcorn is slated to end this year with the coming releases of Will Smith‘s Oscar-bound drama King Richard and The Matrix Resurrections, Warner Bros. and its New Line label will continue to make movies that will debut on HBO Max. The only difference is that those upcoming projects will have been developed and budgeted with the streamer in mind at the outset. But Sarnoff left me scratching my head a little bit later on in the THR piece, in which she explained WB’s 2022 strategy.

“No great surprise, the ones we’re putting in theaters are the ones we think will work. It’s not just about budget size, it’s also about genre and the behavioral patterns of people,” Sarnoff told THR, prompting several questions. For starters, does she have less faith in the movies being made directly for HBO Max? Will the industry perceive those movies as inferior, and more importantly, will audiences? And is it telling that those projects include Batgirl and Blue Beetle, which boast two diverse young leads? The fact is worth noting, though one could also argue that WB already has four comic book movies slated for 2022 — The Batman (March 4), Black Adam (July 29), The Flash (Nov, 4) and Aquaman 2 (Dec. 16) — and simply has to debut some new superhero content on HBO Max in order to compete with Marvel’s robust slate on Disney+. Of course, Marvel isn’t making new movies for streaming, it’s making TV shows, so it’s an apples-and-oranges kind of situation. I just wish the optics looked better.

Meanwhile, Sarnoff said “I would love to put dramas and comedies on the biggest screen possible; it’s just right now they are not opening. Honestly, they weren’t opening pre-COVID either.”

Now, the apprehension towards dramas is certainly understandable, but is the part about comedies really true? Or did Hollywood simply stop making big studio comedies in the wake of a few misfires? Movies like Knocked UpSuperbadWedding CrashersTrainwreck and Bad Teacher all opened between $30 million and $33 million. Action comedies will get you a little more, as 21 Jump StreetThe HeatThe Other Guys and Central Intelligence all opened to between $35 million and $37 million. If you make a good movie, like 21 Jump Street or The Hangover, you can open a sequel to huge numbers. $57 million for 22 Jump Street and $85 million for The Hangover Part II. Hell, the Eddie Murphy trainwreck known as Norbit opened to $34 million back in 2007, and if you do the math, that adjusted figure shakes out to $44 million today. That’s more than Dune: Part One grossed! 

Granted, I think all box office comparisons are silly these days, given that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and older audiences have yet to fully return to theaters. I’ve been keeping up with new releases on my own dime so I can see who is actually buying tickets these days, and Sarnoff is right to leave the dramas to streaming for the moment. But I personally believe that audiences are absolutely starved for live-action comedies these days.  I just hope that the fact that no one can agree on what’s funny anymore doesn’t damper Hollywood’s appetite for comedies, because there’s a ton of new talent out there begging to be discovered.

Will Ferrell attends “The Shrink Next Door” New York Premiere at The Morgan Library on October 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Please Don’t Destroy Will Ferrell

I must say, I’m very surprised that Will Ferrell isn’t hosting Saturday Night Live this month, as I thought he’d definitely return to Studio 8H to promote his upcoming Apple TV+ series The Shrink Next Door. Instead, Jonathan Majors, whose kinetic western The Harder They Fall is currently streaming on Netflix, is hosting the Nov. 13 episode. It’s always possible that Ferrell could show up and make some kind of appearance, but either way, he’s due to work with some SNL folks soon. 

See, THR did a story this week about Daniel Cramer, a 25-year-old comedy tastemaker-turned-producer whose career path I certainly envy. And buried in that story was an interesting announcement about Ferrell being attached to star in a movie Cramer is putting together with power producer Jimmy Miller and Please Don’t Destroy, the young comedy trio at SNL whose short films have been a highlight of the show this season. No word on the premise, but the collaboration certainly sounds promising. 

Cramer is the purveyor of the Cramer Comedy Newsletter, which highlights up-and-comers from all walks of comedy, and is sent to roughly 1,000 members of the industry. “He created something out of thin air. And it has the opportunity to become a real go-to voice,” said Miller. This reporter/tastemaker should be so lucky as to receive an overall deal at Sony for his eagle-eyed comedy advice, but good for Cramer, who has a bright future and a promising career ahead of him considering he’s one of the youngest studio-based producers in town.

Bits & Bobs: Matt Damon Reteams with Christopher Nolan, John Woo Goes Silent

We’ll call this final item Bits & Bobs in honor of my former Meet the Movie Press co-host Simon Thompson. First up, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. have been cast in Christopher Nolan‘s latest movie Oppenheimer, about the man credited with being the “father of the atomic bomb.” Cillian Murphy will play the title character and Emily Blunt will play his alcoholic wife. Damon will play Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, while Downey will play Atomic Energy Commissioner Lewis Strauss, who opposed Oppenheimer. It’ll be Damon’s second time working with Nolan following Interstellar, and Downey’s first time. Frankly, it’ll just be nice to see him outside of the MCU again. 

Elsewhere, John Woo is set to direct a silent action movie titled Silent Night starring Joel Kinnaman, and if you aren’t rooting for John Woo, what kind of action fan are you? I was raised on his movies, especially Face/Off and Broken Arrow. Let’s hope this ambitious, dialogue-free project goes better than Woo’s last American film, the aptly-named Paycheck starring Ben Affleck

Speaking of directors, Jonas Akerlund may or may not return to the set of the Beatles movie Midas Man, which temporarily shut down production after Akerlund decided he needed to step away and “take a break.” The film focuses on “the fifth Beatle,” Brian Epstein, who managed the band until his death. Akerlund didn’t give a reason for his departure, but clearly, there was some kind of issue behind the scenes, as this kind of thing is relatively rare. 

And finally, Jeffrey Donovan (Suits) has been announced as the first official cast member in the Law & Order revival coming to NBC, with Sam Waterson and Anthony Anderson reportedly in talks to reprise their roles. Here’s hoping they find a way to bring Angie Harmon back as Abbie Carmichael.