World music sensation. A recently slapped comedy legend. An indie “it” girl. Retired Batman. And Barbie herself. These actors are the stuff of movie marketers’ dreams, and that’s what The Walt Disney Company has with “Amsterdam.” This established author, David O. The film stars Russell, whose reputation for delivering the goods has attracted killer talent including Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift and Robert. De Niro.
And yet, a film quoting more stars than the sky — with an old line — and a budget of more than $80 million — is entering theaters that have been blown away by published critics so far and hopes to salvage its investment. By overcoming reviews to achieve commercial success.
With a 33% “rotten” ranking on Rotten Tomatoes (only six reviews so far), the film opened on Oct. 7. , and is looking at an opening weekend of $17 million to $20 million accordingly. For pre-release tracking. That would be a respectable result in the context of the still lingering pandemic, though some rival studio sources believe the notices will detract from ticket sales and that word-of-mouth will dampen results.
The solid tracking is surprising because the buzz on “Amsterdam,” a period crime story that looked like an Oscar contender on paper, is deadly. Early reviews were harsh with David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter calling it “a lot of movies shoved together unfairly”, Robert Abele of The Wrap branding it a “flat, unfunny misfire”, and Diversity‘s Peter DeBrugge predicts that viewers will ask themselves, “’What’s going on?’ For the better part of 134 minutes.
These are not the kind of reviews that Russell has historically enjoyed throughout his career. In fact, the high-wire writer’s ability to blend pathos and absurdity has led to three Academy Award nominations for hits like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Fighter” and “American Hustle.” And yet, it’s Russell himself, who seems to have been granted a blank check to realize his idiosyncratic vision with the lavishly produced “Amsterdam,” which may be sinking his latest feature.
In particular, the director’s long-documented tendency to lash out at cast and crew on set (this is a man who almost got into an argument with the normally mild-mannered George Clooney) hasn’t aged well in the modern age. Fans of Swift and Robbie have taken to social media to question why the actress is willing to work with Russell when video exists of her beating up Lily Tomlin during the making of “I Heart Huckabees.” Russell and Tomlin reconciled the day of that YouTube-immortal shock, insiders say, and the director and Clooney have also buried the hatchet.
Complicating matters, however, is a 2011 incident in which Russell was accused of molesting his then-19-year-old transgender niece. Russell confirmed the incident but said it was consensual, the LA Times reported. Insiders say Russell was on good terms while making “Amsterdam” and there were no incidents involving the director, who avoided a flare-up on his previous effort “Joy.”
Even more puzzling to industry observers was the absence of “Amsterdam” from every major fall film festival, including splash launchpads like Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Insiders say the film wasn’t finished in time for Venice, where its backers thought it would get the best reception. He chose not to come to Toronto, believing the gathering was too late to elevate his profile on the calendar (one insider noted that it would have been difficult to bring the film to Canada, as the picture was locked the day before the festival opened). In light of early reactions, the studio’s decision to try to reposition “Amsterdam” as a commercial drama and not a critical one may have been a wise move.
To be fair, adult-skewing dramas, even those with flashy notices, haven’t fared so well during the pandemic. At one point, aware of the challenging Covid-era theatrical landscape and wallet-busting deals with other films that were once designed purely for theatrical plays, New Regency, its primary financier, held preliminary talks with streamers. Potential sales. After all, this was a time when movies like “Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Borat 2” and “Without Remorse” were outselling the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Earn at the box office. Those discussions were ultimately abandoned, and New Regency believed that a major theatrical release presented the best distribution option for “Amsterdam.”
Some of the negative chatter surrounding the film stemmed from Disney’s sudden decision in August to push the film’s release date from November 4 to October 7. These moves called into question the studio’s faith in the film. According to sources, the decision was made to avoid competition from juggernauts such as Disney’s Black Panther sequel “Wakanda Forever” as well as other streaming and theatrical awards contenders including “My Policeman,” “Blonde,” “White Noise” and “She.” said.” Some competitors have wondered why “Amsterdam” is being marketed as a highbrow farce rather than a slick murder mystery in the vein of “Knife Out.” Set during the Depression, the film follows three friends who become prime suspects in the murder of a powerful senator.
Disney has poured millions into marketing “Amsterdam,” including holding premieres in New York and London. It drew 1,100 attendees to Alice Tully Hall, including Academy and Guild members, and an afterparty hosted by Drake (Swift was absent from the event). Tastemaker screenings have been held in Los Angeles, and pricey ad buys have also been secured during NFL and NCAA games, as well as big fall TV premieres like “The Voice” and “Law & Order.”
If all that hype pays off with a big opening weekend, it will be money well spent. But if audiences ignore “Amsterdam,” Russell’s next project won’t get the same money to realize his big-screen dreams.