Peter Bart: Inspiration Or Anomaly? What Studios Can Learn From John Krasinski’s PG-13 Sleeper ‘A Quiet Place’

A Quiet Place Avengers Infinity War

It’s come to this: The only picture that will finally bump A Quiet Place from its perch atop the box office is a new Avengers. With some online critics calling the latest Marvel entry “a hurricane of carnage”…”a movie tornado”…”a blockbuster of noise,” will audiences miss the sounds of silence?

The majors supposedly were going to detonate a series of hits in the first quarter of 2018, but Pacific Rim Uprising and A Wrinkle in Time both fizzled and Rampage lost its top rung after one week. That left gurus scratching their heads, trying to figure the lure of quietude.

A Quiet Place fits the odd profile of a Hollywood “sleeper.” No one seems to know who gave it a green light. It emerged between studio regimes, so no one claims credit for genius marketing strategies. The movie had no Dwayne Johnson-like champion on social media. Paramount’s new CEO, Jim Gianopulos, seems more puzzled than proud over its success.

While horror pictures like Get Out and It aggressively brandished their R ratings, A Quiet Place relished its cuddly PG-13. Breaking with horror genre rules, Emily Blunt actually plays a kind Mummy, but, under the direction of her husband, John Krasinski, she has virtually no dialogue, nor does anyone else. Perhaps that’s Krasinski’s over-reaction to his previous film The Hollars, which was tediously talky.

At CinemaCom this week, Gianopulos trumpeted A Quiet Place as the signal of “a Paramount renaissance” — perhaps a repeat of the Love Story saga at the studio 50 years ago. The difference is that Love Story was developed by the studio, which even paid the writer to novelize the script and the publisher to hype the novel onto the bestseller list. A Quiet Place, by contrast, landed inadvertently at Paramount; Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes – yes, the Terminator tribe — helped fund the film, hence has a major stake in its gross receipts ($213 million to date).

Paramount Logo

However, there are corporate similarities to the Paramount of 50 years ago. Paramount today is short of cash, as it was then, and there’s similar discord atop the corporate pyramid: Les Moonves today may or may not become CEO if a CBS-Paramount merger takes place (it’s beginning to look doubtful), and Bob Bakish may or may not remain as Viacom’s CEO. Fifty years ago, Charles Bluhdorn’s CEO status at Paramount was in doubt amid rumors that the SEC wanted to put him in jail. Bluhdorn survived and eclectic hits like The Godfather and Rosemary’s Baby propelled the studio through its financial crises.

Paramount’s emerging slate circa 2018 may be less eclectic: Gianopulos is under pressure to find franchises – hence a new deal with Hasbro to tool up a G.I. Joe reboot and a Micronauts epic (Hasbro is going through its own turmoil because of the liquidation of Toys ‘R’ Us). Also in the works are sequels to Top Gun and Coming to America. Then there’s a new unit assigned to creating movies tied to Viacom’s television content on the controversial assumption that network brands synergistically lend value to potential film franchises.

None of these initiatives, to be sure, bear any relation to the off-center thinking behind A Quiet Place, whose original pitch must have sounded off-putting to studio executives. Assuming anyone heard it, the pitch would have said: Create a scary movie about a family whose survival from clanky metallic invaders depends on maintaining total silence. But total. There are no climactic bloody battle scenes (always mandated in superhero movies), there’s no big chase, no sex, no grisly murders, and no booming Hans Zimmer score.

It all sounds somewhat paltry, to be sure. No wonder the studio said no — but did they? Gianopulos said he would greenlight a sequel if his cast was available.

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