Fox’s Evasive Maneuvering Hides ‘Independence Day’ Sequel From Critics’ Throng

20th Century Fox

Even though original Independence Day star Will Smith loudly declared this week that instantaneous social media messaging makes it impossible for studios to shield subpar movies going into opening weekend, 20th Century Fox becomes the latest studio to try doing just that. 20th Century Fox has done a shrewd job putting off judgment day on its sequel Independence Day: Resurgence (which Smith opted out of) from the domestic critical press until Friday morning, the day the Roland Emmerich-directed title officially opens wide. While trade reviews hit yesterday, they were done by overseas contributors and not the top critics of THR or Variety. Any U.S. critic looking to get a jump on Resurgence can buy a ticket to the film tomorrow night when it begins its weekend previews at 8 PM. Both trades deemed the sequel to be silly, mindless fun.

Such unconventional moves by a major studio for a $165M-$200M sequel 20 years in the making sends up warning flags to U.S. press. But Independence Day: Resurgence — which has benefited in buzz from limited sampling for critical aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes — might well sneak out a decent opening weekend. There have been limited instances in the past when studios held the press completely back from advance screenings, and in such cases, decent B.O. results were achieved, such as Paramount with 2008’s Cloverfield ($40M opening), 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra ($54.7M FSS) and Fox with 2004’s Alien Vs. Predator ($38.3M FSS).

Contrast that to Universal, screening Warcraft in advance for critics and watching the film get savaged. Fortunately, its numbers in China ($205M-plus) and other overseas territories ($135M) has helped the $170M film from being a fast red ink write-down after terrible results in the U.S ($39.3M). Fox’s tactics to control word of mouth come at a time when studios are daunted by the power of critic aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic and their increasing impact on a film’s opening weekend.

Making Resurgence available to the UK press is likely a safer bet for Fox: Its overseas launch is expected to rake in $100M-$150M from China, Russia, the UK and Latin America this weekend.

Those results will likely save Resurgence from its sinkhole here in the U.S. where it’s expected to be thrown out of the No. 1 spot by Finding Dory‘s second weekend. Here, it is on course to take second place with an opening between $45M-$52M. That projection for Resurgence doesn’t come close to recent tentpole reboots like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, each of which made $200M-plus record debuts. When Independence Day opened in July 1996, it racked up opening records for the July 4th holiday with $96.1M in its first six days at the domestic B.O., with a U.S./Canada total of $306.2M and $817.4M worldwide. It catapulted Smith to A-list star status.

Smith’s comments about old games played by studios to shield films from critics were made at a Cannes Lions marketing session about the challenge of mounting tentpoles in the digital age. Smith’s decision to opt out of the sequel that launched him came as he re-calibrated his career moves in the wake of disappointments. He has become more selective about material. In Smith’s opinion, moviegoers are not so easily duped by the marketing of formulaic movies. And social media now makes it impossible to keep the stink off a bad movie.

“The power has gone away from the marketers,” Smith said, and as a star, he has to “not trick them (fans) into going to see Wild Wild West...Back in the ’80s and ’90s you had a piece of crap movie you put a trailer with a lot of explosions and it was Wednesday before people knew your movie was sh*t,” Smith explained. “But now what happens is 10 minutes into the movie, people are tweeting ‘This is sh*t, go see Vin Diesel’.”

Whenever rival distributors identify a strong four-quad title like Jurassic World or Captain America: Civil War on the release schedule, they typically stay away, but in this case, many are smelling blood with Resurgence and have piled on the weekend to chip away at its demos. Seeing a great opportunity to counterprogram against the Emmerich movie and lure young women is Sony’s Blake Lively shark thriller The Shallowswhich moved to this Friday last week and is set to make $7M-$11M at 2,900-plus locations. Warner Bros./New Line/Universal’s Kevin Hart-Dwayne Johnson action comedy Central Intelligence is expected to hold at -45% with a $16M second weekend. STX Entertainment is opening its Matthew McConaughey Civil War epic Free State Of Jones which looks to bring in between $11M-$13M at 2,815 locations. Finally, Broad Green has Amazon’s Nicolas Winding Refn teen horror thriller The Neon Demon which is banking on an estimated $2M from 770 screens.

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