Atomic Blonde, the $30 million-plus graphic novel film adaptation starring Charlize Theron as a kick-ass super spy, bows this weekend from Focus Features and Sierra/Affinity and is expected to bring in somewhere around $20M in its opening weekend. That would be a good start for the film if word-of-mouth is strong, and it has received generally favorable reviews. This movie comes after Theron was embraced as an action star two years ago by audiences in Mad Max: Fury Road, so moviegoers have already rallied behind the actress in a role of a lean, mean fighting machine.
If Atomic Blonde opens above $22.69M, it will become Focus Features’ biggest opener of all time, surpassing Insidious Chapter 3 which opened two years ago in June. Will it happen? We will have a decent idea in the next 48 hours.
This picture’s trajectory will largely be due to Theron, stuntman-turned-director David Leitch and Sierra/Affinity, which optioned the graphic novel by Antony Johnston and illustrator Sam Hart, developed the property with screenwriter Kurk Johnstad, and began packaging it.
The production/finance and international sales company was founded in 2009 by Nick Meyer and Marc Schaberg who in 2011 pacted with Gigi Pritzker and Michel Litvak’s Affinity International (the sales company created by Bold Films and OddLot Entertainment). It got a boost at the beginning of last year when eOne made an equity investment into the company to help with its slate, which included Atomic Blonde.
Atomic Blonde marks the highest-profile film to ever be fully funded and produced by Sierra/Affinity. Sure, they did sales for the greats Manchester By The Sea, Hell Or High Water, Nightcrawler and Whiplash in the past, but none were homegrown. Atomic Blonde is, financed with pre-sales and bridge financing.
“We optioned the material, we developed it and then licensed the movie out,” said Meyer, who said the company plans to do more and more start-to-finish productions. And they are doing just that. In the past, they have produced and financed such titles as Parker and Pride Prejudice And Zombies, but with Atomic Blonde, they are stepping it up a notch.
Just after the three-day numbers come in on Atomic Blonde on Monday, Sierra/Affinity will begin shooting the Theo James, Forest Whitaker starring film How It Ends in Winnipeg from a script they optioned six and a half years ago from Brooks McLaren. How It Ends, an action thriller directed by David M. Rosenthal, is set against a mysterious apocalyptic event that turns the roads into mayhem, follows a young father who will stop at nothing to get home to his pregnant wife on the other side of the country. It is also being produced by Paul Schiff Prods. which developed it with them.
But right now, all attention is on the launch of Atomic Blonde. “This is such a great female empowerment story,” said Meyer. Leitch (who co-directed John Wick and is directing Deapool 2) wanted to find an actress “who get knocked down and kept on coming,” like a female Terminator. They found that actress in Theron who had also been looking for something specifically in the genre. Once Theron came on, so did her company, which includes Beth Kono and A.J. Dix, who also came in to help develop the film.
With a director, star and script in place, they were ready to roll. About seven months before they started shooting the picture, Focus Features pre-empted North American rights to the project which was then still under the title The Coldest City in what was said to be a near-eight-figure deal. In that agreement, they also committed to a wide release.
In fact, Atomic Blonde was one of the hotter projects going into Cannes in 2015. WME Global brokered the deal in advance of the international film festival that year and the film then began shooting in Germany where Theron actually did most of her own stunts — and got hurt doing so.
Theron cracked two teeth during the filming while fighting and told audiences at CinemaCon that she was heading into her fourth root canal; she also took a punch to the face. She trained for two-and-a-half months in an evolution from looking like Big Bird to a fine-tuned fighting machine. Overall, Theron said, “It was a five-year journey and we worked our balls off. I have no more balls. I’m a full girl now.”
Focus decided to move the high-octane film onto the July 28th date late last year and then it was off to the races. The film was re-titled to Atomic Blonde (a joint decision that involved the studio and filmmakers) and then swung into SXSW to generate buzz. “It was hard to have a film release in the middle of the summer titled The Coldest City,” joked Meyer. It premiered in Austin bringing in the star power to the otherwise sleepy festival with Theron, Leitch, and co star James McAvoy. Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan and Sofia Boutella also star in the film.
Then it was off to ComicCon where they revealed the lengthy fight scene to enthusiastic exhibitors. Of course, by this time, they were enjoying the full effects of Universal Pictures’ finely tuned marketing team. Besides the promotional tour, Theron is also doing her all and talking/sharing with her 10.2M fans/followers, according to RelishMix, who notes that outside of her the other stars are not very social with the exception of Boutella who is also promoting Atomic Blonde on social media. Even still, overall the film has a good Social Media Universe of 67.6M with the conversation circulating about female empowerment (“so this is John Wick with a woman?). Only complaints are the over-saturation of ads before videos on YouTube.
Trailers set against the music of Orgy’s Blue Monday and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus set the mood for the film’s kind of ‘hip violence’ (if there can ever be such a thing), but that’s what it did. They also weren’t shy about lesbian love scenes between Theron and Boutella. The film has also been screened heavily throughout the summer. The thinking is, if you have the goods, then why not flaunt it.
Universal Pictures is shouldering p&a. Sierra/Affinity made its own deals with distributors in Russia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Israel, Sweden, Vietnam and Singapore which will open date and date with the domestic release. Universal will begin its rollout internationally in key markets on Aug. 3.
Theron, Kono and A.J. Dix (Denver and Delilah Prods0, Kelly McCormick (87Eleven Action Design) and Eri Gitter and Peter Schwerin (Closed on Mondays Ent.) are all producers.
Atomic Blonde releases into 3,300 theaters this weekend domestically and another 3,000+ screens internationally. “It’s a special feeling have the movie on over 6,000 screens worldwide,” said Meyer. “Everyone involved in the movie has done an amazing job. Atomic Blonde feels like it’s a really special movie. This is the A+ version of what we do and we’re going to continue to do.”