John Krasinski's horror-thriller A Quiet Place just grossed a surprising $50m in its opening weekend. It took in over double the gross of its nearest competitor, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, and easily surpassed early estimates. Aside from Black Panther, it’s had the biggest opening weekend of 2018 so far. With excellent reviews and strong word of mouth, this is a film that many expect to do better business in the coming weeks. Internationally, it's also done well, and overall the movie has made over four times its budget.
Whatever way you parse it, this has been a resounding success for the film, and it’s one that will have many at Paramount breathing sighs of relief. Indeed, A Quiet Place could be the answer to the studio’s growing problems.
Paramount's Been in Major Trouble Recently
The past couple of years haven’t been good for one of Hollywood’s legendary studios. Major blockbuster efforts stumbled hard at the box office, like the curious example of $125m folly Monster Trucks, which the studio took a $115m write-down on before it was even released in theaters. Even their supposedly reliable franchises took a hit with audiences. The latest installment of Transformers, The Last Knight, grossed over $400m less than its predecessor, while Star Trek Beyond didn't even double its $185m budget - the generally accepted break-even point. Paramount has not had a film in the top 10 highest grossing movies list for two years running.
Outside of the blockbuster world, the studio has seen troubles with the distribution of smaller films. Paramount sold the latest installment of the Cloverfield franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox, to Netflix, surpassing cinemas altogether. Annihilation, the acclaimed sci-fi by Alex Garland, received a muted theatrical release in North America but internationally those duties fell once again to Netflix. There’s been much debate over whether or not this was a good idea – Did it help increase viewership? Does it ruin the movie-going experience? – but from a business point-of-view, it doesn’t seem like the actions of a flourishing studio to hand over the reins to a streaming service when it comes to some of their most anticipated offerings - even if it is financially profitable.
Paramount has taken some interesting risks recently, such as giving a wide release to the decidedly un-mainstream drama mother!. That gamble didn’t pay off, but it was an undoubtedly gutsy move, one that may not have happened if their blockbuster strategy was paying off. As it is, the studio’s much-discussed financial troubles seem to have them backed into a corner. With finances in bad shape, the studio turned to potential investment from Chinese companies. In July 2016, the Wanda Group entered negotiations to acquire a 49% stake in the company, but the talks ended soon after. Last November, Paramount lost their financing deal with the Chinese group, Huahua. That deal was supposed to finance a quarter of the films they produced over the following three years. Viacom had admitted to the press that Huahua simply stopped payment to the studio.
To put it simply: Paramount needs hits. All studios do, but it’s Paramount who stands to lose the most without those reliable profits in their roster. They have franchises like Mission Impossible and Transformers, but nothing on the scale of what Disney offers. Those series don’t release a film a year, much less several a year in the Marvel mold. It was only a few years ago that the studio dominated Hollywood, thanks to its reliable franchises and small-budget juggernauts like Paranormal Activity. So much has changed in cinema since then, thanks to the expansion of shared universe blockbusters, so Paramount may not be able to rely on the things it used to. That being said, their recent past and the events of this past week show clearly that there is a better way forward.