In what has been heavily expected in the wake of Jim Gianopulos’ departure from Paramount as CEO and Chairman, the studio’s Motion Picture President Emma Watts is leaving the Melrose lot. Deadline has confirmed the news.
Watts has been in the position since July 20, 2020, and rejoined with her former Fox Boss Gianopulos to rebuild Paramount in the wake of dwindling Transformers’ and Star Trek box office revenues and expensive plays from the Brad Grey and Rob Moore era at the studio. The fruits of her labor will be realized next year on the 2022 release calendar, God willing they all remain on the big screen.
Watts’ departure comes at a time when ViacomCBS is pivoting to putting reportedly putting more of its movies on streaming service, Paramount+. Nickelodeon chief Brian Robbins was put in charge by ViacomCBS Chairman Sheri Redstone to take on Gianopulos’ duties and catapult the media conglom into the OTT age. That said, the notion was that Watts, upon her arrival to Paramount, would one day succeed Gianopulos. But with Robbins’ promotion, that was not meant to be.
Word around town was that Watts and Robbins met following the Gianopulos. While the initial word was that it was an amicable sit down, we ultimately heard it wasn’t the greatest of meetings, hence today’s news about Watts.
There’s been rumors swirling that Paramount would continue on a theatrical track of six-to-eight films a year, but with Watts gone, that throws the studio’s theatrical outlook into question. Yesterday, Paramount put Clifford the Big Red Dog back on the calendar no Nov. 10, but going day-and-date on Paramount+ using the tried and true excuse of the looming pandemic, it’s impact on families, and changing-consumer dynamics.
There’s been buzz that Robbins was canvassing his top picture picker in former Warner Bros. film chief Jeff Robinov. That didn’t happen, for minutes after the news of Watts’ exit, her lieutenants Paramount Co-Presidents of Production, Mike Ireland and Daria Cercek, were immediately named co-heads of the motion picture studio reporting directing to Robbins who now holds the title of President and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures.
In 2018, following the Disney-Fox merger, Watts transitioned to chief executive at the newly rebranded Twentieth Century Studios, and oversaw the production and release of Best Picture nominated Ford v Ferrari and production of Free Guy, which she also sensed was a novel mass-appealing comedy that would work on a grand scale. She was right: Disney held the film through the pandemic for a theatrical release (largely due to the pic’s pay cable contract) and the Ryan Reynolds film has racked up $110M to date, one of the most successful films during the pandemic, and over $303M WW. Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, which she also shepherded at Disney, will open this fall after making its world premiere at Venice. Watts left Disney in January 2020 seeing the truncation of the studio due to the Disney-20th Century Studios merger, and the new owners’ wants to capitalize on the 20th library for its streaming needs (i.e. direct to Disney+ features like the next Home Alone). James Cameron’s next installments of Avatar, which Watts was involved with, still have yet to see the light of day at Disney.
Prior to Disney-20th Century Studios, Watts served as President of Production for 20th Century Fox since 2007. She first joined Fox in 1997 following stints as a creative executive at Def Jam Pictures and later for Oliver Stone.
There has been speculation that Watts could head to Apple next to run their film division. Stay tuned. Watts had a two year deal at Paramount, so she can be patient and doesn’t have to rush on finding her next thing.
It would be in ViacomCBS’ best interests to keep their upcoming 2022 as theatrical as possible; it could be a banner year at the B.O. for Paramount with such releases as Scream, Jackass forever, Rumble, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, The Lost City, Top Gun: Maverick, Transformers, Under the Boardwalk, Secret Headquarters, Mission: Impossible 7, Untitled Bee Gees and Oscar winner Damien Chazelle’s next film, Babylon on the calendar. A bulk of these were shepherded by Watts including the following year’s Dungeons & Dragons, the next installment of A Quiet Place, Untitled Star Trek, Mission: Impossible 8, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, The Shrinking of Treehorn and an Untitled Ryan Reynolds/John Kraskinski film.
We continue to hear from Paramount insiders that the streaming platform is an additive to theatrical, that they’re not mutually exclusive. Actions speak more than words, and we’ll leave such insights to fate. ViacomCBS should take a keen lesson from Warner Bros which has just been through this theatrical day-and-date streaming exercise this year: It’s expensive. More expensive than you can ever imagine. You have to pay out the content players on robust, generous terms as though the movies were each $100M-grossing titles. Not to mention, you’re losing even more dollars to piracy in the entire day-and-date of it all. It’s because of that mayhem why Warner Bros. is going back to a pure theatrical release slate next year, at least for its event titles.
Hopefully this is the end to the Paramount bloodbath: Gianopulos’ firing was announced on three weeks ago at this time, his Corp Comm Chief Chris Petrikin was out last Friday, and now Watts.
Justin Kroll contributed to this report.
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