This year, entertainment gifted unforgettable performances often from unexpected places, changed the way we thought about politics, and gave us a chance to revel in the enduring relevance of pop culture standbys. With that, we close the year with a look back at some of our favorite stories from 2016.

The Devil Wears Prada’ Turns 10: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt Tell All
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“‘The Devil Wears Prada’ wasn’t an easy strut down the catwalk for Hollywood, as Variety learned in an oral history with the film’s stars and executives. It took Fox several years to bring the project to the big screen. Even after earning a greenlight, director David Frankel was a ball of nerves during the first half of the 55-day-shoot in New York.”

Michelle Obama Interview: How FLOTUS Used Pop Culture Stardom to Make an Impact
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“Michelle Obama, 52, calls herself ‘a product of pop culture.’ She is convinced of its influence on the public consciousness — in her case to build awareness of her signature policy initiatives, specifically ones tied to healthy eating and exercise, girls’ education, support for military families, and college advancement.”

How Shia LaBeouf Stopped Drinking and Found the Career He Wanted
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“In an interview with Variety in Prague, Shia LaBeouf speaks candidly about his ups and downs, and how he has been working hard to put his life in order. He says he hasn’t had a drink in almost a year, and he’s been to AA meetings (though he doesn’t call himself an addict). ‘You don’t touch it,’ he says. ‘Alcohol or any of that sh-t will send you haywire. I can’t f–- with none of it. I’ve got to keep my head low.'”

‘Ali’ Director Michael Mann on the Greatest, the Man Behind the Movie (Guest Column)
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“Ali knew he bore the burden of symbolic representation to Black America. He embraced it. He would build a motivational figure made out of life, itself. His life. And, it cost him. Denouncing the war and refusing the draft cost Ali — in addition to ‘millions and millionses of dollars’ — the revocation of his boxing licenses and a fighter’s prime years. In a way we may never have seen the very best of Ali. It would have occurred between ages 25 to 29. In 1974 both of his struggles reached their zenith in Kinshasa.”

Diversity in Hollywood: Failure of Inclusion Plagues the Entire Industry
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“The 89-year-old motion picture academy is absorbing the brunt of the public disdain. But the fault lies not just in the star-making Oscars, many agreed, but in ourselves. The Hollywood studio hierarchy remains an exclusive club chaired by white men and one white woman. The big talent agencies have almost no minority partners. And the media that cover it all — Variety included — employ only a few people of color.”

Presidential Race Takes Over Pop Culture as Hopefuls Embrace Celebrity Status
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“Never has politics been so blended with entertainment. Contentious presidential debates help drive larger audiences than most new fall series; candidates are eager to take part in sketches on late-night TV and strive to be hip to pop-culture references, to sprinkle catch-phrases into their tweets and to reveal their music playlists; and celebrity surrogates are as polarizing as the candidates themselves.”

Bob Iger on Shanghai Disney, Parting With His Chosen Successor, and His Pursuit of Perfection
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“A series of audacious, big-ticket purchases that have come to define Disney in the Iger era. By buying Marvel Studios in 2009, and Lucasfilm — owner of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise — in 2012, Iger has guaranteed his media company the breadth of name-brand characters and stories that competitors can’t match.”

Snap Judgment
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“Snapchat may be attempting to engage young people in new ways regarding subjects vital to our democracy, like the presidential election. But at a certain point, we have to consider whether what we’re doing to sugar-coat the pill is so dumbed down that there’s no point to engaging them at all.”

Stars’ Soaring Salaries Rattle TV Business
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“What used to be a fringe occurrence is now a commonplace event on TV, but not everyone knows how to deploy such a shock. For one thing, acting as if a show has never pulled off this unprecedented event is a bit rich, considering soaps and a whole host of solidly crafted supernatural-flavored programs do this kind of thing on the regular.”

Kristen Stewart Lets Down Her Guard: Inside Her Reinvention
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“At only 26, Stewart is in the middle of reinventing her career. After catapulting to fame at 17 in the young-adult vampire franchise ‘Twilight,’ she couldn’t leave her house without flashbulbs trailing her every step. The public became obsessed with her relationship with her then-boyfriend (and co-star) Robert Pattinson, and she topped every studio’s wish list for it-girl parts. But since putting Bella Swan to rest in 2012, she’s turned her back on tentpoles.”

When Character Deaths (and Revivals) Work — and When They Don’t
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“What used to be a fringe occurrence is now a commonplace event on TV, but not everyone knows how to deploy such a shock. For one thing, acting as if a show has never pulled off this unprecedented event is a bit rich, considering soaps and a whole host of solidly crafted supernatural-flavored programs do this kind of thing on the regular.”

‘Stand by Me’ Oral History: Rob Reiner and Cast on River Phoenix and How Coming-of-Age Classic Almost Didn’t Happen
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“The story of four friends from small town in Oregon, hiking into the countryside in search of the body of a boy who has been hit and killed by a train, is an unlikely coming-of-age tale. Yet in Rob Reiner’s sensitive hands, it becomes a meditation on mortality — one that transcends its 1950s setting to have a universal appeal.”

The Morning Show Wars, Kelly Ripa and TV’s Disposable Spring
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“The Kelly Ripa situation is part of a spring trend in which all kinds of women on all kinds of shows — and now, including morning TV — have been shown what they’re really worth. They’ve been killed off, written out and otherwise disposed of. Or blindsided.”

Has Entertainment Lost Its Power to Unite in Wake of Donald Trump’s Victory?
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“The election results are a stunning reminder of the limitations of comedy and the circumscribed role of entertainment in people’s lives. And a call, perhaps, to find a better and more lasting way to speak to audiences. Perhaps it is time to leave aside ‘eviscerations’ as our primary tool for expanding consciousness. They have their role, but in the end, empathy may well be the greatest tool in a storyteller’s repertoire.”

Rio 2016: NBC Slowly Realizes Women Are the Olympic Stars
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“As these Olympics close, the careful treatment of Ryan Lochte suggests that maybe NBC is finally understanding where the future of these games are. Not with the cavalier, empty-headed jocks, blond or otherwise, but with these heartfelt and disciplined women, who seem to inherently understand the context and importance of the Olympic Games. At the very least, based on the expressions on Matt Lauer and Bob Costas’ faces, we have a very clear idea of which Olympians can be taken seriously, and which ones are destined to be forgotten.”

Is ‘President Trump’ Funny? Late-Night Reconsiders What’s Good for a Laugh
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“The nation’s late-night hosts have for months let loose with a steady barrage of one-liners, sketches and bits, all poking fun at Donald Trump. As it turns out, a good portion of the audience wasn’t in on the jokes. Now that Trump has won the race for the White House, there’s a growing sense that many of the comedians who won notice for tackling his foibles as a candidate need to consider the fact that a significant percentage of the populace supports his campaign initiatives.”

It May Be an Accident, But ‘Rogue One’ is the Most Politically Relevant Movie of the Year
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“It’s galvanizing to see a message this politically primal embedded in a ‘Star Wars’ movie, since there’s always been something passive about ‘Star Wars’ culture. It’s the quintessence of sit-back, drop-your-jaw, munch-your-popcorn, let-special-effects-do-the-work-for-you fantasy. In fact, you could make a case that the political environment in which we now find ourselves, where fake news is as influential as real news, and where you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint where Donald Trump’s fantasies leave off and his policies begin, was brought to you, in part, by the paradigm shift in pop culture ignited 40 years ago by ‘Star Wars.'”

‘Charlie’s Angels AGAIN? How Reboots of Reboots Became the New Normal
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“In truth, the relentless recycling of pop culture has gone on for a very long time. It seemed like it reached peak fever any number of years ago, with the vogue for turning old sitcoms into new movies (‘Bewitched,’ ‘Sgt. Bilko,’ ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’). Hollywood, of course, has been remaking movies ever since there were movies.”

‘Showgirls’ With Subtitles? The Demented Caveman Feminism of Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’
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“My puzzlement over the rapture it has inspired begins with a question that’s been percolating around in my brain ever since ‘Elle’ was released on Nov. 11: Where’s the outrage? Where’s the fury, the passion, the wild range of reaction, the debate, the dissension, the contention, the fulminating counterattack? These days, it takes a lot to make a movie controversial; controversy now tends to swirl around behavior that’s happening off-camera.”

What ‘American Honey’ Catches (Beautifully) About the Kids: They’re Not All Right
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What’s wrong with the kids today? That’s a question that adults have been asking ever since the teenager was invented as a stand-alone demographic entity, sometime in the early ’40s. The question tends to make the person posing it sound like a crank. For decades, teen rebellion has been the cutting edge of sexual revolution (how to dress, dance, hook up), and who wants to take a stand against that? A long time ago, teenagers were seen as delinquent destroyers of the status quo, but we now tend to assume that they’re simply leading the way.”


As the new year approaches, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is eyeing a box office three-peat, while “Sing” continues to hit the right note with moviegoers.

The former, from Disney and Lucasfilm, earned $18.2 million on Friday from 4,157 locations on its way to over $65.2 million over the four-day holiday weekend. Illumination and Universal’s animated feature, directed by Garth Jennings, continues to show strength with $16.8 million on Friday at 4,029 locations. The movie, which includes a star-studded voice cast, should belt out $54.6 million during its second weekend in theaters.

The two films are standouts this weekend, ahead of third place “Passengers,” the science fiction romance starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The movie earned $5.7 million at 3,478 locations on its way to a $20 million second weekend for Sony. Disney’s animated adventure “Moana” and Paramount’s “Fences” — directed by and starring Denzel Washington with co-star Viola Davis — round out the top five on Friday with $4.3 million and $3.4 million respectively.



It May Be an Accident, but ‘Rogue One’ Is the Most Politically Relevant Movie of the Year


“La La Land,” still in limited release at 750 locations, looks to notch the sixth spot after earning just over $3 million of Friday. Damien Chazelle’s original musical from Lionsgate, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, should earn about $12 million this weekend. On Friday, the film passed “Hell or High Water” to become the highest-grossing movie in limited release for the year.

To close out the year, “20th Century Women” and “Paterson” were the only new films released, both at four locations. The former, a comedy-drama from Mike Mills starring Annette Bening earned $40,000 for A24 on Friday. The latter — a drama starring Adam Driver from writer and director Jim Jarmusch and released by Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street — made $24,000.

After Friday’s tally, Disney announced that “Rogue One” passed the threshold to become the third-highest earning film at the domestic box office this year. It trails only “Finding Dory” at $486 million and “Captain America: Civil War” at $408 million. The film was directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones.


Gross theatrical box office in China grew by just 3% in 2016, reaching RMB45.3 billion in local currency terms. That compared with RMB43.9 billion in 2015.

In U.S. dollar terms the data points to a 3.5% drop in the value of the Chinese market from $6.76 billion (using end of 2015 exchange rates) to $6.52 billion (using end of 2016 rates.)

Those numbers are a far cry from the 49% surge enjoyed in 2015 and requires a sharp revision to forecasts of when China’s numbers will overtake North America. The 2017 target figure, so widely used at the beginning of the year, now seems not only wildly optimistic, but also to have misunderstood the dynamics of the market.

Full year data from tracking and consultancy firm Ent Group – likely to be corroborated in the next couple of days by official statistics – show that ticket sales increased by close to 9% over the year. They reached 1.37 billion in 2016, for an average of one ticket per head of population, compares with 1.26 billion in 2015.

The average ticket price slipped from RMB34.8 in 2015 to RMB32.9 in 2016. That reflects the dilution of ticket prices as the theatrical circuit has expanded into less affluent towns and cities, often described as being in Tier 3 and Tier 4.

The Ent Group data shows that seven months in 2016 delivered lower scores than the same month in 2015. The last four months of the year were all down.

Far and away the year’s top film was Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid,” which grossed RMB3.39 billion and was watched by more than 92 million people in theaters. Second place went to Disney’s “Zootopia” with a gross of RMB1.53 billion. “The Great Wall,” which is still on release, was just shy of the symbolic RMB1 billion mark at Dec. 31 and ranked tenth for the year.

The top ten includes three films that were made as Hong Kong-China co-productions, two that were U.S.-China co-productions, two that were wholly Chinese and three that were U.S. imports.


“Finding Dory,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Secret Life of Pets” and other blockbusters helped drive the domestic box office to record heights in 2016. However, it’s not like moviegoing suddenly saw a surge in popularity. Attendance was essentially flat with last year’s 1.32 billion and a far cry from the record 1.57 billion admissions from 2002. The record came from a new high-water mark in ticket prices, as well as the added cost that comes with Imax and 3D releases.

Overseas, the numbers are still being tallied, but many experts believe that a slowdown in China will lead to revenue declines.

The story of 2016, when it is written, will be a mixed one. Despite the rise of streaming services and quality television, the movie business continues to be resilient. Audiences are still turning up en masse for the new Star Wars or Avengers films, regardless of how adept “Game of Thrones” is at serving up epic spectacles.



The Biggest Bombs and Blockbusters at the 2016 Box Office


Yet there are also very real challenges to the business. Fewer films are accounting for an ever greater slice of overall box office revenues and one studio in particular, Disney, is responsible for more than half of the top ten highest grossing films. There’s also a dawning realization that the older modes of distributing movies are in need of a shakeup — a change that seems likely to roil the industry.

As studio executives and filmmakers look ahead to 2017, and what they hope will be another record-smashing 12 months, here are five takeaways from the year that was.


Screening Room, the Sean Parker-backed startup that hoped to release movies in the home at the same time they hit theaters, got a raft of big-name filmmakers to back it, but has yet to announce any major studio partners. But that doesn’t mean exhibitors who view any erosion of the theatrical window as an existential threat should be breathing a sigh of relief. The debate around Screening Room and the support it received from the likes of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg signals that there is a growing realization that movie distribution may require a major overhaul. The threat of piracy is too real and it’s increasingly clear that our on-demand culture, one in which people want to see things where they want, when they want, is making the old experience of hitting the multiplex seem passé.

Universal and Warner Bros. have publicly said they’re having discussions with exhibitors about making some films available on demand for a higher price earlier than they are traditionally released on those platforms. It’s clear that any diminishment of the standard 90 days that a film appears exclusively in theaters will require studios to offer exhibitors some sort of carrot, likely in the form of a cut of digital revenues.

One entertainment company chief told Variety that a big cable company or some other competitor will try to compact the theatrical window down to a “few weeks” at some point this year. The executive added, “It will be for a high price. We are pretty good at carving out windows.”

Just don’t look to Disney to join in. The studio is on a hot streak and doesn’t seem too eager to mess with a good thing. “The theatrical experience is the embodiment of our filmmakers’ vision and acts as a locomotive to all the downstream businesses,” from television, to consumer products to theme parks, said Dave Hollis, the studio’s distribution chief.

There are other believers in the value of a theatrical release. Although indie films such as “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” proved that there is money to be made in simultaneously releasing a film in theaters and in the home, many art house companies have grown convinced that this approach is shortsighted. Debuting a film in theaters raises its profile and helps it cut through the clutter, they argue. While Netflix has publicly emphasized streaming its films over releasing them theatrically, other digital pioneers such as Amazon have opted to embrace more traditional distribution models. In turn, they’ve been rewarded with the likes of “Manchester by the Sea” and “Love and Friendship,” two of the year’s bigger indie releases, as well as duds such as “The Neon Demon.”

“We’re definitely doubling down on theatrical,” said Howard Cohen, head of Roadside Attractions, which distributed “Love and Friendship” and “Manchester by the Sea” with Amazon. “What quickly happened with day and date was that everybody jumped in and VOD became code for not a good movie.”


Audiences seemed to come down with a nasty case of “sequelitis” last summer, rejecting or failing to show up in force for the likes of “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” All told three out of the fourteen sequels released over the summer failed to match the grosses of their predecessors. It didn’t help that many of these films were roundly rejected by critics.

“Ultimately, it was about the product,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore.

Despite these failures, it would be incorrect to assume that Hollywood is going to get out of the franchise game. For the most part reboots, spinoffs, prequels, and followups are still the driving force in the business. Of the top ten highest-grossing films domestically, eight are sequels, remakes or exist in some sort of cinematic universe. Hardly a triumph of originality. The only exceptions are “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Zootopia,” two animated offerings that benefited from their associations with Illumination and Disney, top brands in the world of family entertainment.

And the reason that many studio executives and analysts believe that 2017 will be an even bigger year at the box office is because it will see the return of major franchises such as “Star Wars,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Fast and the Furious,” and “Alien,” not because of any explosion of risk-taking and creativity.

What studios do seem to have realized is that they need to offer something familiar that still seems fresh. Those sequels or spinoffs that did work, such as “The Conjuring 2” or “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” introduced new characters or plot lines, taking their franchises in innovative directions, instead of simply recycling plot points and scenarios from previous chapters.

“You have to do a lot of work to convince people of why you made another movie and why they need to see it,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s marketing and distribution chief.


After years of explosive growth, the Chinese box office finally showed signs of slowing down. Ticket sales in the country grew by a mere 3%, a steep decline from the 49% jump experienced in 2015. It’s left some observers wondering if the Middle Kingdom will overtake the U.S. as the top market for film in 2017,as many had previously predicted.

At the same time, the U.S. failure of “Warcraft” and the video game adaptation’s success in China shows that culturally the countries still want different things from their blockbusters. Having a big budget and a lot of special effects isn’t a guarantee that a film will work in Asia or vice versa.

Studio executives still believe that Hollywood’s future is inexorably linked with that of China.

“Of course there are going to be some pauses, but it’s still going to be a much bigger business five years from now than it is today,” said Disney’s Hollis.

Then there are longer term concerns. President elect Donald Trump has railed against trade with China on the campaign trail. If he enacts tariffs on Chinese goods, it could impact the number of Hollywood films that the country allows to screen in China annually.

Negotiations on film quotas are expected to take place this year. Expect the talks to be heated. Chinese investment in the entertainment business is already raising concerns. AMC, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, faced a public relations backlash when it was buying Carmike, and some lawmakers have raised questions about the level of Chinese ownership of media companies. Hearings on Capitol Hill seem preordained, but no matter how hard Congress slams the gavel, studios will continue to seek out Chinese investment and try to appeal to Chinese audiences. China has become to big to be ignored.


Movie stars aren’t shining as brightly. The likes of Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, Warren Beatty, Melissa McCarthy, and Johnny Depp saw audiences steer clear of their latest offerings, while movies such as “Rogue One” and “The Jungle Book” made bank without relying on A-list names above the title. One by one, their projects fell, as “Allied,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Inferno,” “Rules Don’t Apply,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Zoolander 2” collapsed at the box office. In the case of Depp and Pitt, messy divorces served as distractions, limiting both actors from doing press for “Alice” and “Allied,” respectively. It can be risky to rely to heavily on a single actor to sell a project.

“Passengers,” a science-fiction romance with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, is still in theaters, but its debut was on the lower end of expectations. That’s disturbing because both actors are seen as two of the hottest performers in Hollywood. If they can’t generate sparks, who can?

Nor were actors alone in seeing their popular appeal diminish. Top directors such as Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee also failed to attract crowds with their latest efforts, “The BFG” and “Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk,” leaving audiences cold. Both filmmakers may face tough questions when it comes time to get a greenlight for their next passion project.

What makes it puzzling is that there are still a few instances where a star, a director, and a project can perfectly align, ensuring box office success. Hanks may have face-planted with “Inferno,” a Dan Brown adaptation, but he scored with “Sully,” a biopic about Chesley Sullenberger. The actor’s innate decency combined with Clint Eastwood’s direction seemed like the perfect match for the story of a hero pilot. The problem is that kind of alchemy is difficult to pull off and hard to bank on.


When it comes to releasing their biggest films, studios have started to stretch out. Gone are the days when a major release had to hit theaters between Memorial Day and the end of July if it wanted to put up blockbuster grosses. Instead, the likes of “Deadpool,” “Zootopia,” and “The Jungle Book” opened in the dead of winter or spring and were rewarded with some of the year’s highest grosses. Without the same level of competition, these films weren’t forced to rack up a disproportionate amount of their revenues in their opening weekend. They could benefit from word-of-mouth.

Warner Bros. bet heavily on this type of dating when it scheduled “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” for March and August release windows. These comic book movies let Marvel have the prime summer and winter openings, and putting some distance between them and those costumed avengers, helped everybody profit.

“Neither one of those two months were proven for releasing films,” said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. “And with both of those films we proved those periods could work.”

Others will soon follow suit. Next year, “The Ghost in the Shell,” “The LEGO Batman Movie,” “Logan,” and “Beauty and the Beast” are just a few of the high-profile movies that will steer clear of summer in favor of spring or winter debuts. In Hollywood, no secret stays that way for very long.

James Rainey contributed to this report.


“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Sing” loomed large at the multiplexes over the New Year’s holiday, racking up the biggest grosses and ringing out 2016 on a high note.

The Star Wars spinoff topped the box office for the third consecutive weekend, earning just under $50 million for the three-day period and a projected $64 million for the four-day holiday. The movie business is tacking Monday on to New Year’s weekend, because many companies and schools are observing it as a national holiday. The weekend gross pushes the space opera over the $400 million mark domestically. It currently ranks as the year’s second highest-grossing domestic release, with $425 million, behind only “Finding Dory.” “Rogue One” concludes a record-annihilating year for Disney. The studio became the first to top $7 billion in a single year, has fielded four of the five top grossing domestic releases, and should see four of its movies top $1 billion at the global box office.



5 Box Office Lessons From 2016: From Franchise Fatigue to Fading Movie Stars


“Sing,” the latest collaboration between Illumination and Universal, racked up $41.4 million during its second weekend in theaters. It is projected to earn $53.7 million for the four-day holiday weekend and has made $177.3 million stateside. It’s the second smash of 2016 for Illumination, the maker of “Despicable Me.” The company also scored with last summer’s “The Secret Life of Pets.” “Sing” centers on a talent competition for animals and features vocal turns by the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Taron Egerton.

In third place “Passengers,” a critically-derided science-fiction romance with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, earned $16.1 million over the three-day weekend and $20.7 million over the four day. As of Sunday, its domestic haul stands at $61.4 million. With a $110 million budget and millions more spent in promotion, “Passengers” will need a lift from foreign audiences if it hopes to make money.

The same is true for Fox’s “Assassin’s Creed,” which took in $8 million for the weekend and a projected $10 million for the holiday. The video game adaptation has earned $41 million since opening over Christmas — a dispiriting result given its hefty $125 million budget. Movies made from games are a mixed bag. For every hit like “Mortal Combat” or “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” there are a slew of duds such as “Warcraft” and “Prince of Persia.”

Fox is having more luck with “Why Him?” The R-rated comedy earned $10 million over the three day period and an estimated $13 million for the four day holiday. The film about the rivalry between a father (Bryan Cranston) and his daughter’s fiancee (James Franco) has earned $37.6 million and cost an economical $38 million to produce.

It wasn’t all space aliens and singing animals. A number of Oscar favorites capitalized on the holidays. Paramount’s “Fences,” expanded nicely. Denzel Washington directs and stars as a domineering patriarch in the August Wilson adaptation, with Viola Davis playing a key supporting role as his long-suffering wife. The drama earned $10.2 million over the three-day weekend and an estimated $13 million for the holiday. It has made $32.7 million since debuting three weeks ago in limited release.



5 Box Office Lessons From 2016: From Franchise Fatigue to Fading Movie Stars


Lionsgate’s “La La Land,” continued to capitalize on awards buzz. The musical about two lovestruck Angelenos (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) earned $9.5 million over the weekend and is projected to make $12.3 million over the four-day holiday. That would bring its gross to an estimated $37 million. On Friday, “La La Land” passed “Hell or High Water” to become the highest-grossing movie in limited release for the year.

Fox’s “Hidden Figures” continues to look strong. The drama about the African-American scientists and mathematicians who played pivotal roles in the early days of America’s space program, earned $815,000 for the three days and $1.1 million for the four days from just 25 theaters. It goes into wide release next weekend.

“20th Century Women” and “Paterson” were released just under the wire in order to qualify for Oscars. “20th Century Women,” a comedy-drama that’s earned some of the best reviews of Annette Bening’s career, earned $112,705 for the weekend. A24 is handling the rollout. “Patterson,” a drama about a poetic bus driver, made $70,760. It is being released by Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street.

“Live by Night,” a gangster picture with Ben Affleck, appears to be shooting blanks. The film earned $32,000 from four locations for a paltry $7,995 per-screen average. That doesn’t exactly kick things off with a bang and putting Affleck in a fedora couldn’t have been cheap.


“La La Land,” in theory, is a movie that needs no explanation. The simplest thing you could call it is “an old-fashioned musical” — which means, of course, that it’s a big colorful splashy cornball swoon of a movie, one that traffics in the kind of billboard emotions (Love! Sadness! Joy!) and timeless Hollywood forms (Singing! Dancing! A Lavish Freeway Production Number Done In One Unbroken Take!) that can hit audiences like a sweet shot to the heart. That’s the beauty of it, right?

Yet “La La Land” isn’t just old-fashioned. It’s the new-fangled version of a sprawling Tinseltown classic. It’s Old Hollywood meets Jacques Demy meets “New York, New York” meets postmodern indie backlot passion. It’s a grand Los Angeles epic that features “mainstream” sentiments, but it’s also a subtle and idiosyncratic journey that’s almost entirely unpredictable. (Half an hour before it ends, you’ll have no idea where it’s going.) It’s Boy Meets Girl meets the precarious freedom of 21st-century love. It truly is a romance, but it’s also about what it takes to be an artist in a world that may or may not believe in art anymore.

I liked “La La Land” a lot the first time I saw it, but I confess that I didn’t fall head over tap shoes in love with it until I’d seen it a second time. That’s just the way it happens with certain movies; even a great one can kick in more fully on the second date. Here are a few thoughts as to why Damien Chazelle’s film, for all the spangly seduction of its surface, is a movie whose very rapture is elusive and off-center. (Once you’ve hooked into it, though, the rapture seems more heightened because of its off-centeredness.) “La La Land” isn’t just a stylized nostalgia trip of champagne montages and harmonizing hearts. It’s a filmmaking trifecta — it hooks the heart, the eye, and the mind. And once it snags you, it keeps getting better. Here’s why — though please know that I can’t talk about “La La Land” without revealing crucial aspects of it, so if you’re looking to see the movie unspoiled, don’t read on.

There’s a challenge built into the film’s structure. Okay, so you’re sitting there watching “La La Land.” You’ve seen Mia (Emma Stone), a plucky but desperate barista-slash-actress (that hidden underlayer of anxiety is where the potency of Stone’s performance begins), and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a retro-obsessive jazz pianist with a real snob edge to him, meet and square off, bicker like alley cats, do a soft-shoe against the magic-hour L.A. carpet of urban lights, and sing a song (in that same sequence) about how they don’t like each other — which, of course, is the moment they start to like each other. Finally, they go on a date to see “Rebel Without a Cause,” which ends with the two of them heading from the Rialto Theater to Griffith Observatory, where they enter the planetarium and are lofted, in the headiness of their romance, right up to the stars.



How Damien Chazelle & His ‘La La Land’ Team Created the ‘Magical’ Romance


That moment is the climax of an intoxicating journey into the sweetness of old-movie love, and it ends with an iris shot right out of a silent film: the image closing down into a tiny circle against the darkness. You’re about an hour into the film — and what you don’t realize, yet, is that that’s the fading moment of its confectionary studio-system daydream aesthetic. From here on in, no more nifty choreographed numbers. No more dancing on air. The glorious sprawling freeway jam that opens the movie? You won’t see another sequence like it. This is all by design, but to go with the flow of “La La Land,” you have to drift for a long time, in the second half, into a very different mood: downbeat, contemporary, a place where production numbers — with their promise of instant mood enhancement — have gone away. You have to realize that you’re now watching…

…a Jacques Demy movie. And here’s what that means. To make “La La Land,” Chazelle drew — in form and spirit — on two celebrated French musicals directed by Jacques Demy in the ’60s: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964) and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967). There’s a lot you could say about those films — one thing I’ll say right up front is that I’ve never actually been wild about either of them — but they have a doleful wistful quality that’s strikingly and soulfully European. “Umbrellas” is the better of them, and the more radical achievement: Every line of it is sung, but it’s a pop operetta of the everyday, with lyrics that sound like conversation (a lot of them don’t rhyme), and it tells a story that throws you for a loop: It’s about a girl (Catherine Deneuve) who works in her mother’s umbrella shop, the mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) she’s in love with, and what happens when he goes off to join the military. The two pledge their love to each other, but then…it fades. Why? Lots of reasons, but the real reason is that love, in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” is a delicate and nearly arbitrary thing, a bit like the weather. (The film opens with a summer rain and ends with a cold snow.)

I’ve always had two essential feelings about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” One is that it has the single most haunting theme song in the history of motion pictures (and I really mean that). The opening sequence, which consists of nothing more than an aerial view of a bunch of people walking under umbrellas accompanied by…that song, can reduce me to a blubbering baby in about 45 seconds. The music, by Michel Legrand, is grand. And so, believe it or not, is the wallpaper. (Most dazzling wallpaper in a movie. Ever.) But the story, as it unfolds, is…strange. Nearly philosophical in the frosty abstraction of its melancholy. The final scene is two people who were once in love running into each other for the first time in many years, and neither of them bats an eye. Which is supposed to demonstrate something. I confess, though: I’ve never gotten it. And I don’t buy it.



‘La La Land’ Director Damien Chazelle Shows His Love for Jazz


But I buy “La La Land,” which takes what’s great about the Jacques Demy musicals — the formal daring, the sweet sadness, the willingness to portray love as a highly imperfect thing — and restores the faith that Demy replaced with a forlorn shrug. “The Young Girls of Rochefort” is probably a more direct stylistic influence on “La La Land”: crowds of people in ordinary dress erupting into song and dance along a roadway, a fusion of MGM and new-wave naturalism. Yet what Chazelle ultimately got from Demy was a feeling, a lush open-endedness: the idea that the ultimate stylized romantic movie form — the musical — could contain a love story about people who drift apart as much as they come together. It’s the same life-goes-on notion that Woody Allen played with in “Annie Hall,” and in “La La Land” Chazelle does it full justice. As much as Jacques Demy (no, I’ll say it: better than Jacques Demy), he made a poetic fantasia about the way old-fashioned love fits into the new-fashioned world. Of course, it helps that he has a co-creator who provided…

The greatest original songs ever composed for a contemporary movie musical. Just think about “Singin’ in the Rain.” There are so many things that make it (arguably) the most sublime big-screen musical of all time, but take away the title song, and you don’t have the full magic. Even the quintessential image of Gene Kelly sashaying through puddles comes at us through those indelible musical notes. The melodies that Justin Hurwitz composed for “La La Land” have that rare kind of luscious defining earworm tastiness, and not to take away from Damien Chazelle’s wizardry, but if the songs weren’t that good, the movie wouldn’t be either.

Everyone will have his or her favorite. The one that’s currently being pushed for the Oscars, “City of Stars,” is my third or fourth favorite. It’s an exquisitely mournful yet seductive number (and the image of Ryan Gosling, with his ordinary-guy croon, singing it to two middle-aged strangers on the Hermosa Beach Pier is one of the film’s most memorable), but I actually prefer the electric infectiousness of the film’s opening mambo, “Another Day of Sun,” which played in my head for three months after I first heard it, and the great “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” the song sung by Emma Stone in which the film’s emotions of love and loss fuse into its theme: that those who live to create are flaky, difficult, moonstruck, maybe somewhat mad beings who cause distress through their passion — yet the world needs them like oxygen. The song comes at the end of the lengthy detour “La La Land” takes away from singing-and-dancing exuberance, and that’s part of what makes it a deliverance. We’re back in old-musical Heaven! When Emma Stone sings “Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make,” it has a dramatic/musical/spiritual impact equal to that of Liza Minnelli singing the title number of “Cabaret.” It is that gorgeous, that heartbreaking, that uplifting, that amazing. Stone’s performance is timeless — I have never noticed more the way her large almond eyes evoke Charlie Chaplin — and what reverberates right off the screen is the lilt of that melody. It’s a miracle of melancholy perfection.

That’s another reason “La La Land” gets better the second time you see it: You now have those songs in your system. And why should it be otherwise? Great pop songs don’t necessarily hit us with their ultimate force the first time we hear them; often, on the radio, they kick in that second or third or fourth time. In my own second experience with “La La Land,” I felt like I melted, all the more, into the story those melodies were telling. And I do mean melodies (though the lyrics are lovely). What I heard the second time is how Justin Hurwitz constructed the songs out of bits and pieces of the same musical motifs, so that they flow in and out of each other and merge; it’s really a unified song suite. By the end, the music has become a character in the film (which may be why there are so few actual supporting characters). Just watch the scene near the end where Mia is seated in the nightclub and Sebastian, on stage, sits at the piano and plays, very slowly, with one hand, those notes. Da da da da da…daaa. Those simple six notes tell the entire story we’ve been watching.

Then there’s the “Whoa, I didn’t expect that!” ending. Instead of a shoot-the-works production number, “La La Land” culminates in a shoot-the-works piece of alternate reality: Call it “That’s Entertainment!” by way of Charlie Kaufman. Mia, in that club, imagines the life that she could have had if she’d remained with a certain person — and the first time I saw the film, it looked, quite simply, like scenes-from-a-road-not-take. But on second viewing, I saw that this rapid-fire home-movie hallucination is something more: It’s the very movie we would have been watching had “La La Land” simply been the delectable old-fashioned musical we think, for an hour or so, it is. The incandescence of “La La Land” is that while it isn’t that movie, it contains that movie, and it leaves us in a bittersweet swoon over the happy endings we long for that can no longer be, because they’ve all been replaced by the beautiful mess we make.


Bill Marshall, who co-founded the Toronto International Film Festival in 1976, died Sunday in Toronto. He was 77.

The festival and his family reported that he died of cardiac arrest while in the hospital.

He was also a film producer, producing the noted Canadian film “Outrageous!” and 12 other feature films, as well as many documentaries. He also produced live theater productions such as the Toronto production of “Hair.”

In a statement, the festival said, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and TIFF Chair Emeritus Bill Marshall.

“Founder of the Festival of Festivals in 1976 (along with Co-Founders Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl), Bill was also the organization’s Director in its first three years. He was a pioneer in the Canadian film industry and his vision of creating a public Festival that would bring the world to Toronto through the transformative power of cinema stands today as one of his most significant legacies.

“Without his tenacity and dedication, the Toronto International Film Festival would not be among the most influential public cultural festivals today.”

Marshall moved to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland in 1955. He served as campaign manager and chief of staff for three different Toronto mayors and an advisor to Canadian politicians.

In addition to TIFF, he helped establish the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, The Toronto Film and Television Office, and he was past president of the Canadian Association of Motion Picture Producers.

He is survived by his wife Sari Ruda, his children Lee, Stephen and Shelagh, and six grandchildren.


The North American box office closed out the year with $11.4 billion in ticket sales, ComScore said Sunday. That marks a new record for the industry, bypassing the previous high-water mark of $11.1 billion that was established in 2015.

ComScore, a data measurement company, did not calculate admissions, but studio executives and analysts believe that attendance will be essentially flat. Nor does it account for inflation. The record was achieved, in part, thanks to more expensive tickets. Ticket prices hit new highs earlier in 2016, though an average full-year price for tickets have yet to be calculated.



5 Box Office Lessons From 2016: From Franchise Fatigue to Fading Movie Stars


Still it was a record that few thought the industry would set. This year was faulted for lacking major franchises such as James Bond and the Fast and the Furious series.

It was a particularly strong year for Disney, which controlled more than a quarter of the domestic market share despite releasing fewer films than any of the major studios. It made the most of what it had. Disney launched four of the top five highest-grossing films, including “Finding Dory,” the years top film with $486.3 million. When holdovers are taken into account, Disney had six of the year’s ten highest-grossing releases, a group that includes “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which debuted in 2015.

Other top films include “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” ($408.2 million), “Captain America: Civil War” ($408.1 million),”The Secret Life of Pets” ($368.4 million), and “The Jungle Book” ($364 million).


Though he told Variety just two weeks ago that “everything is coming together” for the production of “The Batman,” a standalone film that he would direct and star in, in his latest interview didn’t sound so optimistic.

When he spoke to Variety at a New York screening of his new film “Live By Night,” he said, “We’re still finishing up a script. I’m very excited.”

But on New Year’s Day, Britain’s The Guardian released an interview ahead of the U.K. opening of “Live By Night” that made the project sound much more iffy. “That’s the idea,” he told The Guardian. “But it’s not a set thing and there’s no script. If it doesn’t come together in a way I think is really great I’m not going to do it.”



Joe Manganiello to Play Deathstroke in Ben Affleck’s Batman Film


It’s not the first time Affleck has seemed hesitant about making the DC Comics film, which is set to star Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke and is projected to open in 2018. He’s said repeatedly he doesn’t want to force it. Also in December, he told Entertainment Weekly, “I’m not going to write and direct anything that I don’t think is good enough to be made.”

Starring Affleck and Elle Fanning, the period gangster film “Live By Night” opened in limited release on Christmas Day and so far hasn’t made much of an impression. It will have another shot at drawing interest when it opens wide on Jan. 13.


ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terror attack which killed 39 people and injured 69 in a prominent Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s eve.

“In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey, a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday,” said ISIS in a statement on Monday.

A manhunt is still underway. The assailant’s identity has not yet been revealed by Turkish authorities, although footage of his entrance into the Reina nightclub has emerged.

The gunman, who is believed to have perpetrated the raid single-handedly, stormed into the Reina nightclub, which is located on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul’s upscale Ortakoy district, just after 1 a.m and sprayed bullets into the crowd. An estimated 600 people were inside the nightclub, according to media reports.

At least 25 of the victims were foreign. Among them were people from Israel, Russia, France, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to news reports. Among the 69 wounded, three are in critical conditions.

The raid is just the latest in a series of terror attacks in recent months in Turkey by either the Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish militants. 2016 nearly begun with a suicide bomber killing 10 in Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul. Attributed to IS militants, a gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul killed 41 on June 28.


MADRID — Marking a third year of partial recovery after a double-dip recession, piracy and high ticket prices devastated cinema-going in Spain, total box office for 2016 hit €600.8 million ($634.3 million), up 5% on 2015. At 100.3 million, cinema attendance in Spain broke the 100 million barrier for the first time since 2009.

Announced Monday by comScore, the 2016 box office results echo those of France: Spain’s biggest hits of 2016 were consistently down in box office against 2015’s top behemoths. But strength in depth again meant total box office for the year was up on 2015.

Other factors also look at work for Spain. Total gross take at Spanish theaters held consistently above €600 million ($632.4 million) from 2001’s €616.4 million ($649.7 million) through 2012’s €614.2 million ($647.4 million), per Spanish Ministry of Culture records. But in 2013, it fell off a cliff, plunging to just €522 million ($550.2 million) after Spain’s government slapped a 21% tax on cinema tickets in September 2012.

Since then, Spain’s exhibition sector has fought to attract Spaniards back to cinemas without surrendering totally on ticket prices. Two cut-price Fiestas del Cine, a campaign to get Spaniards back to the cinema, and slightly cheaper tickets, down from €6.07 to €6.01, help explain Spain’s market renaissance, said David Rodriguez, at comScore Spain.

According to comScore, the single most popular day of cine attendance in Spain last year was Oct. 28, during one of its Fiestas de Cine.

2016 was also “another year with local product as a key driver,” Arturo Guillen, comScore VP, Europe, Middle East and Africa, tweeted Sunday.

For the fifth time in the last six years, a Spanish title, this time round Juan Antonio Bayona’s “A Monster Calls,” proved Spain’s No. 1 box office champ, earning €26.1 million ($27.5 million) at Spanish theaters over 2016. Earning €109.0 million ($114.9 million) on their home turf, Spanish movies took an 18.1% share. That share was 25% in 2014 and 19% in 2015, the two best results for local movies since 1977 as Spaniards begin to revise their historical antipathy for homegrown movies, which dates back to the 1940s post-Civil War.

Spain’s 2016 results are “tremendously positive. confirming a trend which we first noted some three years ago,” said Guillen.

That said, Spain still has some way to go to full recovery. Only one Hollywood movie punched over €20 million ($21.1 million) at the box office last year: Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Such trawls for top Hollywood fare were a far more regular result second half last decade before the spread of broadband facilitated piracy in Spain.


1.”A Monster Calls,” Universal, €26.1 million ($27.5 million);

2.”The Secret Life of Pets,” Universal, €21.3 million ($22.5 million);

3.”Finding Dory,” Disney, €17.6 million ($18.6 million);

4.”The Jungle Book,” Disney, €16.8 million ($17.7 million);

5.”The Revenant,” Fox, €14.2 million ($15.0 million);

6.”Zootopia,” Disney, €13.4 million ($14.1 million);

7.”Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” Warner Bros., €13.1 million ($13.8 million);

8.”Palm Trees in the Snow,” Warner Bros., €12.2 million ($12.8 million);

9.”Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Disney, €11.4 million ($12.0 million);

10.”Suicide Squad,” Warner Bros., €11.3 million ($11.9 million)

Source: comScore, €1 = $1.05