With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people out of cinemas, times are tough for Hollywood film studios right now. For Paramount Pictures though, times have been tough for a while. While the likes of Disney and Universal had been racking up billions of dollars with their major franchises, Paramount actually posted huge losses of $445 million, $280 million, and $39 million for the respective three years from 2016 to 2018. 2019 was only marginally better as a late Q4 push managed to at least push the studio into the black with a $78 million profit.
So what’s been going wrong? It’s simple: Very expensive tentpole productions not making enough money at the domestic box office. In 2019, Paramount releases earned a combined $563.9 million in the US (compare that to Disney’s $3.72 billion). That’s the second-lowest annual domestic income for the studio in over two decades. But Paramount had a plan though, and 2020 was going to see it line up a series of huge films leveraging both the classic franchises in the studio’s stable as well as big headline-grabbing talent. This included the likes of Top Gun: Maverick, Mission: Impossible 7, Coming to America 2, A Quiet Place: Part II, Without Remorse, and more. And then the pandemic struck, derailing all those plans again! Well, not quite.
While Paramount has joined other major studios in massively delaying tentpole films (A Quiet Place: Part II, Top Gun Maverick, and Missions: Impossible 7 are all pushed into 2021), it quickly pivoted its approach when it came to medium and small releases by instead selling them off to streaming platforms. The Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani-led romantic action-comedy The Lovebirds got the ball rolling when Paramount sold it to Netflix for a reported $20-30 million. With that film not having big name stars and set to release right at the start of the global lockdown, that was a very clever move.
And Paramount kept that cleverness up by then selling Aaron Sorkin’s star-studded Oscar-hopeful The Trial of the Chicago 7 to Netflix as well for a reported $56 million. Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America 2 went to Amazon Prime Video for a whopping $125 million. It joined Without Remorse, the Tom Clancy adaptation starring Michael B. Jordan also shopped to Amazon for an undisclosed amount. There are also more deals in the works, including an untitled time travel adventure film starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Shawn Levy that Paramount is in the process of selling to Netflix.
As The Wrap reports (via JoBlo) what all of this has done is put Paramount in a much better position than they’ve been in ages. Of the studio’s few films that had released in early 2020, The Rhythm Section ($5.4 million) and Like a Boss ($29.8 million) had been dismal failures, but it also had the surprise success of Sonic the Hedgehog which earned $146.1 million in the US (global total of $308.4 million). Combined with those figures, Paramount is estimated to have already earned around $450 million in the US, with the bulk of that coming from the sales of films. Yes, the studio has nearly matched its 2019 domestic income by barely releasing any movies.
Now obviously that is not just pure profit as the cost of these films still need to be offset, but Paramount didn’t need to pay for any marketing for them which makes a massive difference. The studio is also getting sly in how it’s offsetting its financial risk on expensive production. Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon will reteam the Oscar-winning filmmaker with two of his most reliable stars in Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio to tell the true story of how the FBI investigated the mystery of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma who were being quietly killed off one by one in the 1920s after they came into considerable wealth thanks to oil being discovered on their land.
That sounds like a fantastic premise to get audiences in theatres, but with a reported price tag of over $200 million, it’s still risky as hell. So Paramount approached Apple to co-finance the film in return for exclusive streaming rights on Apple+ while Paramount will still distribute to theatres in regions where the streaming service isn’t available. There’s currently no release date pegged for Killers of the Flower Moon, but it’s unlikely it will release in 2021 due to production not even having started yet. Even if it had, it wouldn’t have released any time soon as Paramount Pictures bosses have promised they won’t release any blockbusters into theatres while the pandemic is still happening.
For now, the studio has the triple threat attack of A Quiet Place: Part II lined up for April 2021, Top Gun: Maverick follows it in July, and then Mission: Impossible 7 drops in November. Yes, that’s just three titles compared to how many big releases the likes of Disney and Universal pump out each year, but they are also about as sure-fire bets as you can get. And combined with Paramount probably making some more easy money by selling off films, it looks like the studio may just have a good year for a change.
Last Updated: November 4, 2020