You could tell that there was something wrong with The Rhythm Section as early as last April when Paramount didn’t include the title in its CinemaCon reel of then-intended big pics like Terminator: Dark Fate and Gemini Man.
After what was buzzed to be a female James Bond pic from 007 Eon producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, we finally learned why Paramount didn’t bet on this critically panned-audience rejected knock-off of La Femme Nikita. Rhythm Section reps Blake Lively’s lowest wide opening at the domestic box office with $2.8M. It’s an unfortunate setback for the former Gossip Girl alum, who’s proved herself to be bankable on a global basis with A Simple Favor ($97M+) and The Shallows ($119M). Man, she even injured her hand during filming. Note this is a film that she over-delivered on, and critics have been quick to note her sublime performance. Rhythm Section is also the lowest opening ever for a movie debuting at 3,000-plus theaters.
With Paramount shelling out $31M for most of the world on this $50M production (before P&A), sources tell me this morning that the Melrose lot is apt to lose between $30M-$40M. Currently, I hear that the overseas launch for Rhythm Section is up in the air, with the studio pondering a direct to video title for Rhythm Section abroad after the dismal stateside results.
UK and India released this past weekend. If Rhythm Section doesn’t get a theatrical release in offshore territories, than its lucrative international television deals won’t kick in. If the movie gets distribution in material territories, the P&A versus TV revenue lowers the loss to $25M-$30M. Paramount doesn’t have Germany or China, the latter market, by the way, I hear is without a distributor, with rights being shopped after former Tang Media and IM Global owner Donald Tang defaulted on rights.
But if you want to know what went wrong with Rhythm Section, you have to go back to the beginning. In sum, Broccoli and Wilson, two producers known for steering big budget 007 action movies, were thrust into indie finance hell, I hear.
Broccoli and Wilson weren’t available for full comment on this story, but provided the following statement to Deadline over the weekend:
“We are obviously disappointed with the box office, but proud of Reed and our movie and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Blake’s performance,” said the Eon producers.
While Rhythm Section was initially set-up by former IM Global boss Stuart Ford, given his friendship with the Eon producers,, pre-production financing went off the rails when Donald Tang took over IM Global, and Ford left in August 2017. I hear that suddenly, Eon was dealing with China partners, and given the Byzantine form of financing in the PRC, that’s when funding slowed down. Critics have pointed out that the biggest blunder with Rhythm Section is its hackneyed screenplay, and I hear that Mark Burnell’s script, adapted from his own novel, always had problems. Given the problems in pre-production, fixes couldn’t be made to the script no matter how much talent boarded this movie in Eon, Lively, and Emmy-winning indie filmmaker Reed Morano.
I also understand there was a miscommunication between Eon and Paramount in regards to what Rhythm Section actually was: Rhythm Section was always pitched as a slow burn, noirish Euro thriller by Eon. Not a female Bond film, even though Paramount won the rights in a competitive bid.
As we know, Lively injured her knuckle during production in December 2017, forcing filming to shut down for six months. But I’m told by multiple sources that didn’t spike the production cost, as insurance covered that gap.
Then, in post-production, I understand that Morano, Lively, and Eon all clashed on what the final product should be, with the latter’s vision winning out. Note this wasn’t a scenario like Will Smith and Bad Boys for Life: Lively wasn’t a producer on Rhythm Section with a voice. Rhythm Section was scheduled to come out a year ago, on Feb. 22. The pic was moved to Nov. 22, then moved again to this weekend. I understand the last release date push to this year had to do with Lively being able to promote the film in the wake of welcoming her third child.
I hear that a fall 2018 test screening at the Sherman Oaks Arclight didn’t go well, with Rhythm Section having the stink of being one of the worst-tested titles in Paramount history. The Melrose lot knew what they had and cut their losses, with the most minimum of P&A spends for a wide release (estimated to be between $20M-$25M). That was obvious to entertainment social analytics corp RelishMix, which noted a late-breaking campaign that didn’t really impact social media metrics, with few upticks in daily Facebook and YouTube views.
“What Rhythm Section lacks is the dazzling partnership or spot that has galvanized fans,” reports RelishMix, adding that prior to opening, “discussion on social for this movie leaned negative, as the overall sentiment reflects an audience that has seen the ‘bad-ass chick’ before, and there is little to nothing new here.”
In the end, both critics and audiences agreed that Rhythm Section had zero heat, with Rotten Tomatoes at 33% Rotten, PostTrak exits at 2 1/2 stars, and a CinemaScore of C+.
Despite Rhythm Section‘s hot mess here at the box office, bright days lie ahead for Eon with its next Bond movie, No Time to Die, over Easter weekend, plus the rosy forecasts for Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog ($47M 4-day over Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend) and cash cow A Quiet Place II on March 20.