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Netflix, Still Reeling, Bets Big on ‘The Gray Man’


Anthony and Joe Russo prefer to go big.

In 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” the directing brothers shocked fans after they erased half the worldwide population and allowed their Marvel superheroes to fail. The following yr, they raised the stakes with the three-hour “Avengers: Endgame,” a movie that made $2.79 billion at the worldwide box office, the second-highest figure ever to that time.

And now there’s “The Gray Man,” a Netflix film that they wrote, directed and produced. The streaming service gave them near $200 million to trot all over the world and have Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans portray shadow employees of the C.I.A. who are attempting to kill one another.

“It almost killed us,” Joe Russo said of filming.

One motion sequence took a month to provide. It involved large guns, a tram automotive barreling through Prague’s Old Town quarter and Mr. Gosling fighting off a military of assassins while handcuffed to a stone bench. It’s one in every of those showstoppers that gets audiences cheering. The moment cost roughly $40 million to make.

“It’s a movie inside a movie,” Anthony Russo said.

“The Gray Man,” which opened in select theaters this weekend and might be available on Netflix on Friday, is the streaming service’s costliest film and maybe its biggest gamble because it tries to create a spy franchise within the mold of James Bond or “Mission Unimaginable.” Should it work, the Russos have plans for expanding the “Gray Man” universe with additional movies and tv series, as Disney has done with its Marvel and Star Wars franchises.

But those franchises, while turbocharged by streaming and integral to the ambitions of Disney+, are in the beginning theatrical enterprises. “The Gray Man” is coming out in 450 theaters. That’s a far cry from the two,000 or in order that a typical big-budget release would seem in on its opening weekend. And the film’s nearly simultaneous availability on Netflix ensures that the majority viewers will watch it on the service. Movies that Netflix releases in theaters typically leave them much faster than movies from traditional studios.

“In case you’re attempting to construct a franchise, why would you begin it on a streaming service?” asked Anthony Palomba, a professor on the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who studies media and entertainment trends, specifically how consumers’ habits change.

The film comes at a critical time for Netflix, which is able to announce its second-quarter earnings on Tuesday. Many within the industry expect the outcomes to be even grimmer than the lack of two million subscribers that the corporate forecast in April. The corporate’s first-quarter earnings led to a precipitous drop in its stock price, and it has since laid off a whole lot of employees, announced that it’s going to create a inexpensive subscription tier featuring commercials and said it plans to crack down on password sharing between family and friends.

Despite the present rough patch, Netflix’s deep pockets and hands-off approach to creative decisions made it the one studio that was capable of match the Russos’ ambitions and their quest for autonomy.

“It will have been a dramatically different film,” Joe Russo said, referring to the opportunity of making “The Gray Man” at one other studio, like Sony, where it was originally set to be produced. The brothers said going elsewhere would have required them to shave off a 3rd of their budget and downgrade the motion of the film.

One person with knowledge of the Sony deal said the studio had been willing to pay $70 million to make the movie. As a substitute, the Russos sold it to Netflix in an agreement that allowed Sony to recoup its development costs and receive a fee for its time producing it. Sony declined to comment.

The movie includes nine significant motion sequences, including a midair fight involving emergency flares, fire extinguishers and Mr. Gosling’s grappling with a parachuted enemy as each tumble out of a bombed-out plane, Anthony Russo said.

“Ambition is dear,” Joe Russo said. “And it’s dangerous.”

Netflix, even on this humbling moment, will pay more upfront when it isn’t saddled with the prices that accompany much larger theatrical releases. And for Scott Stuber, Netflix’s head of worldwide film, who greenlighted the “Bourne Identity” franchise when he was at Universal Pictures, movies like “The Gray Man” are what he has been striving to make since he joined the corporate five years ago.


July 15, 2022, 12:04 p.m. ET

“We haven’t really been on this genre yet,” Mr. Stuber said in an interview. “In case you’re going to do it, you should take care of filmmakers who over the past decade have created among the biggest franchises and the most important motion movies in our business.”

The Russos are also producing the sequel to “Extraction” with Chris Hemsworth for Netflix and just announced that Netflix would finance and release their next directing enterprise, a $200 million sci-fi motion film, “The Electric State,” with Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt.

Mr. Stuber pointed to the “Extraction” sequel and a spy film starring Gal Gadot, “Heart of Stone,” each set for release next yr, as proof that the corporate continues to be taking big swings despite its struggles. He did acknowledge, nonetheless, that the recent business realities have forced the corporate to think harder in regards to the projects it selects.

“We’re not crazily reducing our spend, but we’re reducing volume,” he said. “We’re attempting to be more thoughtful.”

He added: “We were a business that was, for a very long time, a volume business. And now we’re being very specific about targeting.”

Niija Kuykendall was hired from Warner Bros. late last yr to oversee a latest division that can deal with making midbudget movies, within the range of $40 million to $50 million, which the standard studios have all but abandoned because their box office potential is less certain. And Mr. Stuber pointed to 2 upcoming movies — “Pain Hustlers,” a $50 million thriller starring Emily Blunt, and an untitled romantic comedy with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron — as examples of the corporate’s commitment to movies of that size.

In recent months, Netflix has also been criticized by some within the industry for the way much — or how little — it spends to market individual movies. Its marketing budget has essentially stayed the identical for 3 years, despite a major rise in competition from services like Disney+ and HBO Max. Creators often ponder whether they’ll get the complete Netflix marketing muscle or just a few billboards on Sunset Boulevard.

For “The Gray Man,” Netflix has sent the Russos and their solid to Berlin, London and Mumbai, India. Other promotional efforts have included national television ads during National Basketball Association games and the Indianapolis 500 and 3-D billboards in disparate locations like Las Vegas and Krakow, Poland.

“It’s very large scale,” Joe Russo said of Netflix’s promotion of “The Gray Man.” “We’re doing a world tour to market it. The actors are going with us. It feels loads just like the work we did to advertise the Marvel movies.”

For the smaller-scale theatrical release, Netflix will put “The Gray Man” at among the handful of theaters it owns — just like the Paris Theater in Latest York and the Bay Theater in Los Angeles — and with chains like Cinemark and Marcus Theaters. And although Joe Russo calls “The Gray Man” “a forget-to-eat-your-popcorn form of film,” Netflix is not going to disclose its box office numbers.

The theatrical side of the movie business is a conundrum for Netflix. The studio’s appetite for risk is usually greater than that of traditional studios since it doesn’t spend as much money putting movies in theaters and doesn’t must worry about box office numbers. On the flip side, the dearth of large-scale theatrical releases has long been a sticking point with filmmakers seeking to display their creativity on as big a screen as possible and hoping to construct buzz with audiences.

And the strength of the box office in recent months for movies as different as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “All the pieces In every single place All at Once” (which the Russos produced) has prompted many to rethink the influence of movie theaters, which the pandemic severely hobbled.

Mr. Stuber acknowledged that a greater theatrical presence was a goal, but one which requires a consistent supply of flicks that may connect with a world audience.

“That’s what we’re attempting to get to: Do we now have enough of those movies across the board consistently where we may be in that market?” he said.

It will also require Netflix to reckon with how long to let its movies play exclusively in theaters before appearing on its service. While the theatrical window for “The Gray Man” may be very short, the Russos hope the film will show that Netflix could be a home for the kind of big-budget crowd pleasers the brothers are known for.

“Knowing that you’ve got, ultimately, a distribution platform which may pull in 100 million viewers prefer it did on ‘Extraction,’ but in addition the potential for a big theatrical window with a commensurate promotional campaign behind it,” Joe Russo said, “you’ve got a really powerful studio.”

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