How Sony Pictures Survived the Pandemic to Break Records


A long time ago, in the darkest days of the N95 era, Sony Pictures Entertainment did something drastic. From the spring of 2020 through the fall of 2020, the studio division of the Japanese electronics group basically failed to do what its name promises: it stopped producing cinema films and publishing entertainment. As movie theaters remained closed across North America and Hollywood executives began slamming Klonopin, fearing audiences might leave the cineplex forever, Sony hastily auctioned off a number of titles – The Mitchells against the machines to Netflix, Hotel Transylvania 4 to amazon, An American cucumber to HBO Max and greyhound to Apple TV+ – and again and again supposed blockbusters kicked ass Ghostbusters: Life After Death, diseaseand Venom: Let there be carnage further down the release corridor.

Every Hollywood studio found a different way to spin in the pandemic winds. Disney dumped mulan and Soul straight to Disney+ and was sued by Scarlett Johansson. Universal ironed out a deal with AMC where lions lay down with lambs to share paid video-on-demand profits while the company pushed ahead with plans to shorten the theatrical “window” for its films and give priority to Peacock. Warner Bros. has transferred the entire 2021 roster to HBO Max in an unprecedented day-and-date “experiment” that angered the industry. Paramount went ahead and launched Paramount+. But in the absence of a proprietary streaming platform on which to market its wares digitally, Sony ended up giving things away to the highest bidder. It became something That Wall Street Journal characterized as “more of an arms dealer than a combatant in the streaming war”.

But something funny happened just as Sony was prevented from surviving the industry’s mighty turning point. It changed course suddenly and dramatically. In October 2021 – after lackluster debuts from wannabe hits like Warner Bros.” The Suicide Squad and Disney’s jungle cruise — the Culver City studio finally decided to launch Venom: Let there be carnage (after postponing the comic adaptation a staggering five times). The flesh-eating alien surpassed all financial expectations, topping $500 million in worldwide ticket sales (excluding a China release, no less). Sony slacked off and eventually dropped Ghostbusters: Life After Death (postponed four times) a month later, raising $204.4 million worldwide to relaunch the long-dormant franchise. Then Sony brought out its biggest guns for the pre-Christmas corridor. Spider-Man: No Way Home shattered all financial projections, notched the third-biggest film premiere of all time and has grossed $1.9 billion to date to now rank as the third-biggest-grossing film of all time.

Sony film group presidents Sanford Panitch and Josh Greenstein admit they weren’t sure when they sent the $110 million poison into the film market. “When we started releasing films last October, there really weren’t any other big films. Everyone had their big films postponed until this year, this summer,” says Greenstein. “We took a lot of risks when putting poison in theatres. Then we doubled with ghostbusters. Then our biggest bet was when all the other tent poles had fled, we tripled along Spiderman – our largest and most important intellectual property.”

Sony’s risks certainly paid off and continued to do so through February 2022 – arguably the dead month of the movie calendar – when the video game adaptation starred Tom Holland Unexplored became a surprise hit and grossed the studio $401 million. Executives are quick to take pride in their brinkmanship now—and in Panitch’s case, they’re even reaping some credit for Gonzo’s box office performance Top Gun: Maverick. “There’s so much press top gun at the moment. It’s like, The movie business is back!” Panitch says. “Oddly, I would say top gun benefits from the fact that we take our chance. poison is the beginning of this story that makes it possible top gun to do the kind of business it did. These things don’t happen overnight. It is a seed.”

This summer, Sony continues to bitch where other studios bitch. In a popcorn movie season littered with mega-budget sequels, reboots and spin-offs, the studio is counter-programming by releasing two original films: the action-fantasy shoot-’em-up starring Brad Pitt and David Leitch directed by action fantasy fast train (in theaters August 5) and an adaptation of the best-selling crime novel Where the crayfish sing produced by Reese Witherspoon’s company Hello Sunshine (July 15). “We believe adults are a huge, important part of our business,” Greenstein says, implicitly contrasting the Gen Z, fanboy, and gentleminion crowds more associated with the popcorn movie season with older viewers, the Bullocks showed up in droves for Sandra The Lost City. “We feel the success crayfish as a big hit would be the perfect program for adults in the middle of summer.”

While great intellectual property will always be Hollywood’s coin of the empire – Sony’s includes those jumanji movies that Spiderman universe (on included Kraven the huntr, Mrs Net, and back to back Into the Spider-Verse sequels), as well as the bad boys, men in black, and equalizer franchises and others ghostbusters Rate recently dated for December 2023 – Sony appears to be following a top-down mandate from studio chairman Tom Rothman. On stage at CinemaCon in April, he famously remarked, “We love sequels and we love superheroes. But we don’t believe in the common wisdom that the future is only Sequels and Superheroes.”

“IP is and will always be incredibly valuable for a film; However, we also have a major priority for the company to also engage in originality,” says Panitch, citing Sony’s pre-pandemic release of a Quentin Tarrantino film that grossed $374 million worldwide. “Once upon a time in Hollywood is not a sequel. It’s not a superhero movie. It’s not based on a movie from 50 years ago. It’s totally original content with an incredible director and two movie stars. With fast trainI think we’re the only original thriller of the whole summer.” He’s not entirely wrong. the gray man, Another thriller, which will be in theaters for just seven days this summer before premiering on Netflix on July 22, is based on a series of novels of the same name and comes pre-digested as the launch of its own franchise.

Also finding a home on Netflix: Sony’s action comedy Kevin Hart–Woody Harrelson The man from Toronto, which was acquired by the streamer in April and transitioned from a theatrical to streaming release in June, adding to the sentiment in certain industry quadrants that Sony may be losing sight of theatrical ball again. Both executives get quietly annoyed when I ask them about Sony’s penchant for systematically “selling out” film stocks to streamers during the pandemic and when I refer to the so-called “Say one” deal signed with Netflix in April 2021, which gives the platform an initial stake in the studio’s production (a certain amount Netflix has to act on), but doesn’t stop Sony from selling its stuff elsewhere. They emphasize that this deal is a license agreement. They decline to specify how long the licenses will last, but do point out that once the deadline expires, Sony is free to resell or relaunch any titles involved – a long-term value proposition. “When it comes to licensing and sales, that’s actually a big difference,” says Panitch. “Because it’s really just a part-time distribution where we get it back in our library.”

Ultimately, Panitch and Greenstein contend that multiplex rollouts are still the lifeblood of business on Washington Boulevard and that the great Netflix fix — when the company laid off a total of 450 employees after announcing that the company had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 — has only underscored the turmoil of operating a streaming service in modern Hollywood. However, other industry observers are skeptical. Richard RushfieldEditor-in-Chief of the ankle, has serious doubts about the sustainability of Sony’s business model of “selling the perceived flops to streaming”, noting that there will likely come a day when OTT platforms will no longer have to rely on anyone but themselves, to generate original content. But he concedes that for now Sony has the hard-won admiration of other studios for delivering a cavalcade of hits while not encumbered with the responsibility of maintaining its own streaming platform. “Any time you’re hot, people will be jealous of it, and they definitely are. People definitely give them credit,” says Rushfield. “They made some bold release decisions in the middle of the pandemic and people give them credit for that.”

Nonetheless, after more than two years in a new industry, the question of theatricality arises – which films belong in theaters and, more importantly, which ones Not – still plays a big role for Sony and its back-lot competition. Rather than log exactly what constitutes the theatrical cut (and risk eating those words if everything changes again), executives remain vague. “Obviously, that’s a moving target,” says Greenstein. But they are adamant on one aspect of theatricality, citing the over-performance of a certain friendly neighborhood web-slinger just a year and a half after Universal sifted the window between a film’s theatrical release and its debut on home video to just 17 days. “Our biggest hit of all time, the last one Spiderman Movie, had our longest cinema window at 88, 89 days,” says Greenstein. “The industry misconception has been: A shorter window increases downstream value. no The greater the success in the cinema, the greater the downstream value.”


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