One of the most memorable moments at this year’s CinemaCon came on opening night when Sony Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman debuted footage for “Blade Runner 2049” and said, “Netflix, my ass.”
Six months later, domestic distributor Warner Bros., international distributor and production partner Sony and production company Alcon Entertainment are about to find out whether the Denis Villeneuve-directed sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 original has what it takes to get filmgoers off the couch.
It’s starting to look promising for the sequel, which opens Oct. 6 and stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford reprising his Rick Deckard character from the 1982 film. Sony co-financed the production with Alcon Entertainment, while Warner Bros. handles the domestic rollout through its longstanding output deal with Alcon.
It’s highly beneficial that the original is held in such high regard, Rothman says, but adds that “Blade Runner 2049” is being pitched very much on its own, rather than as a sequel. That means the distributors aren’t relying on just the fanbase of the original film, but banking on names like Villeneuve and Gosling to interest younger audiences.
Rothman is gratified by the strong early reaction. If it performs well with audiences it would help Sony continue the momentum of recent box office hits “Baby Driver” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The studio has had years of commercial disappointments and misses such as “Passengers,” “Inferno,” and “The Brothers Grimsby,” but is starting to turn things around.
At a time when big budget films have to battle for filmgoers’ attention, Rothman explains why he thinks “Blade Runner 2049” will entice filmgoers.
“Denis is a humanist, so the film is both epic and very personal, which is difficult to do,” he said. “And it’s not set in space – it’s right here in Los Angeles.”
Loaded with special effects, the budget is estimated at $150 million — so strong international performance will be crucial to the film’s path to profitability. With early tracking looking at a possible $40 million domestic opening weekend and outstanding reviews coming in, its box office potential could be compared to another long-gestating sequel — the similarly-budgeted “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which ended up with a solid but not spectacular $379 million globally. “Blade Runner 2049” opens day-and-date in most territories except Japan and China, which will follow later.
Rebooting a beloved 35-year old movie is a risky business for just about anyone whose name isn’t George Lucas, but Warners, Sony and Alcon will share both the risk and the revenues.
“There’s a great responsibility to live up to the expectations,” Rothman told Variety a week before its release. “And there’s nothing safe and easy about it.”
The R-rated movie has a lengthy 2 hour, 45 minute running time.
“Blade Runner 2049” is owned by Alcon, founded in 1997 by Andew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, which acquired rights to produce prequels and sequels to “Blade Runner” in 2011 from the late producer Bud Yorkin and Cynthia Sikes Yorkin. Both Yorkins have producing credits along with Johnson and Kosove.
Johnson and Kosove first began working with Scott and original screenplay writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green to develop the script with an eye to Scott returning to direct. But scheduling issues on the “Alien” movies precluded Scott from directing, which led to Alcon selecting Villeneuve for the gig.
Kosove credited his spouse Kira Davis with spotting the Canadian’s work in “Incendies,” which led to Alcon collaborating with Villeneuve on the bleak 2013 drama “Prisoners.” His 2015 “Sicario” and the $200 million-grossing “Arrival” helped attract a youthful fanbase for the director.
“Denis has the best body of work in noir of any filmmaker and he has strong relationships,” Kosove added. “For us, it’s really been a magical ride.”
Budapest stood in for an apocalyptic Los Angeles and Las Vegas filled with snow dust storms, and dazed androids, and Rothman noted that Villeneuve’s team tried to keep CGI to a minimum.
“I saw dailies every night and looked forward to it every night,” Rothman said. “I was on set in Budapest and saw the level of care with every detail. The lion’s share of effects are practical. The sets were mind-blowing.”
In 1982, critics and filmgoers alike were perplexed by the sci-fi noir movie, based on the Philip K. Dick story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Variety said at the time that “Blade Runner” was “a stylistically dazzling film noir set 37 years hence in a brilliantly imagined Los Angeles… Special effects and sheer virtuosity of the production will attract considerable attention but unrelenting grimness and vacuum at the story’s center will make it tough to recoup reported $30 million budget.”
Though the original only grossed $32 million domestically, the film’s reputation grew over time thanks to its unique visual style and stylized view of a bleak future.
Kosove said that despite the original’s burnished reputation among cinephiles, premiering at a festival such as Cannes, Telluride, Venice or Toronto wouldn’t have been the right move. Telluride chief Julie Huntsinger, a former Alcon employee, made a strong pitch as did Toronto, where several of Villeneuve’s earlier movies premiered.
“This movie was never going to a festival,” Kosove noted. “It’s a true noir movie in that even the plot itself is a spoiler.”
Rothman says his approach to working with distinctive filmmakers remains the same as when he broke into the film business in 1986 as a producer on Jim Jarmusch’s “Down by Law.”
Three decades later, it’s still about helping filmmakers and producers realize their visions.
“The partnership with Alcon, Ridley and Denis was special,” he said. “Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson are fabulous producers, backing up their great passion with significant investment. What we’re seeing in Denis is the emergence of a master filmmaker.”