“Death on the Nile” and the struggles of 20th century studios

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Agatha Christie’s 2017 adaptation Murder on the Orient Express opens with legendary detective Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, after being enlisted by the local chief inspector to find out who stole a religious artifact. As Poirot monologues in his strong Belgian accent, he drives his cane into the wall. He then reveals that the very person who hired him for the case was actually the culprit, who attempts to quickly escape. In the ensuing chaosthe Chief Inspector lunges directly at Poirot’s meticulously (miraculously?) placed cane, washing the line like one of the Three Stooges.

It’s a ridiculous streak, not least because Poirot’s skills apparently include clairvoyance. But perhaps Poirot’s unconventional magic was a point in itself: In a superhero-dominated blockbuster landscape, the world’s greatest detective needed his own superpowers. And before the credits close Murder on the Orient ExpressPoirot’s powers of perception even have wind of a sequel: he is asked to investigate a death on the nile.

Murder on the Orient Express isn’t the first murder mystery with franchise aspirations. (I’ll never forget when The Snowmanone of the most breathtaking movies of the last decade, teased this detective Harry Hole would take a new case.) But with Branagh’s film grossing over $350 million at the box office, it’s clear that audiences had an appetite for this particular kind of old-school whodunnit, especially one helmed by a absolutely stacked cast featuring the likes of Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Leslie Odom Jr. and Johnny Depp. And so 20th Century Fox followed Poirot’s lead, greenlighting a Christie’s-based sequel. Death on the Nile with another star set. But in a twist the mustachioed detective might appreciate, Death on the NileThe journey to the big screen has been more complicated and unpredictable than expected.

There are a few culprits for Death on the Nilethe rocky road to the cinemas, which finally ended on Friday. For one, the film has been pushed back six times since its original December 2019 release due to the pandemic, which has had serious industry-wide ramifications. Moreover, several Death on the Nile cast members have since been shrouded in controversy: several women have gave accounts of sexual abuse by Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright and Russell Brand expressed anti-vax sentiments on social media, and Gal Gadot continued to face scrutiny for commentary on ongoing violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. (People were also pretty mad at her for being the ringleader of a celebrity singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the start of the pandemic.) But perhaps nothing affected the film more than the fact only a few weeks after being lit, Dead on the Nile20th Century Fox’s studio was acquired – and later renamed 20th Century Studios – by Disney, whose priorities for its new collection of assets remain unclear.

It’s hard to blame Disney for pushing back Death of the Nileslack many times during a pandemic, or for reportedly considering recasting Hammer’s role. (They decided that major reshoots would be too difficult since Hammer appears in so much of the film.) But as Death on the Nile heading into the weekend with disappointing box office projections compared to its $90 million production budget, it continues a worrying trend for 20th century films under its new flagship company. While the pandemic is certainly to blame for a sold-out box office performance for adult-oriented tentpoles — especially those not starring controversial actors — it doesn’t look like Disney is doing a favor either. to these projects.

Over the past five months, 20th Century and its sister studio Searchlight Pictures, formerly Fox Searchlight, have released blockbuster films from four famed filmmakers from Ridley Scott (The last duel), Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch), Guillermo del Toro (alley of nightmares) and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story). But of these projects, only The French Dispatch managed to gross more than its production costs, which also happened to be the least expensive of the four films with a budget of $25 million. Despite critical acclaim – and two Best Picture nominations among them –The last duel, alley of nightmaresand West Side Story all heavily bombed. Conversely, even if The French Dispatch made a modest profit, it also became Anderson’s first release since The Darjeeling Limited not to get a single Oscar nomination, which isn’t much of an endorsement for Disney’s campaign for the film.

While Sir Ridley was quick to blame the “millennials” for The last duelits release in October was not really helped by the competition with a superhero movie (Venom: let there be carnage), the swan song of James Bond by Daniel Craig (no time to die), and a sequel to an iconic horror franchise (halloween kills). (Millennials on Twitter who loved The last duelmeanwhile, pointed out the film bad marketing.) A similar fate befell alley of nightmares and West Side Story in December, having been set to be massively overshadowed by Spider-Man: No Coming Home, which was released in the same seven-day period as the two films. The situation was so disheartening that Martin Scorsese wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times imploring the public to check alley of nightmares from nothing but a genuine appreciation of a fellow author’s vision.

Again, these aren’t the types of movies that have otherwise brightened up the pandemic-shamed box office, which has relied heavily on the young male demographic to revive theaters. But Disney’s decision to pit these films against huge blockbusters, including one from Sony Pictures that’s part of the Disney-controlled Marvel Cinematic Universe, seems apathetic at best, and it’s barely what three nominated filmmakers deserve. at the Oscars. Never a fan of subtlety, Scott hinted at friction with new 20th century corporate overlords, revealing in a Hollywood journalist profile that after Disney acquired the studio, “They wanted me to do a wizarding movie, and I don’t make wizarding movies…it wasn’t a good idea.” Scott’s sentiments echo James Mangold’s fears that Disney would change the studio’s mandate to create tent poles for adults. “If what they’re supposed to do changes, that would be sad for me because it just means less movies,” he said. Recount Deadline. (Although it is worth noting that, despite these concerns, Mangold currently runs Indiana Jones 5.)

But in light of the recent critically acclaimed box office bombshells of 20th century studios, these kinds of comments revolve around a larger concern: that Disney’s main interest in the 20th century was not so much to cultivate the audience of the best filmmakers of this generation that he was. land the rights to the X-Men and Avatar franchise. At the time of the merger, there was a faint hope that the House of Mouse would swing its weight to raise the profile of its newly acquired prestige films. Instead, he says that Spielberg, Scottand Toro have set up their next films at Universal, Apple and Netflix, respectively.

Of course, it’s one thing for Disney to reject movies like The last duel, alley of nightmaresand West Side Story, none of which carries the promise of a franchise. The future of Branagh’s Poirot verse at 20th century studios – and if there even was one is a future – will be much more instructive. For all the controversies attached to Death on the Nile‘s together, the on-screen product is exactly as advertised: an old-school murder mystery in which a group of suspects have a motive, and the truth must be painstakingly uncovered by a mustachioed detective. These thriller genres still have their charms – there’s a reason why Rian Johnson Knives out at two suites on the way – and perhaps the greatest virtue of the Poirot verse is that, aside from its lead sleuth, the casting slate can be wiped clean for the next mystery. But with Death on the Nile should fail for a studio that has suffered a slew of them, the prospect of Branagh adapting another Agatha Christie novel is hardly guaranteed. To keep things in Poirot’s vernacular: a pattern has been established, and it doesn’t look good.

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