Surprise! The collapse of the merger talks between Viacom and CBS means Paramount’s Brad Grey gets a new lease on life. (Sources say if CBS chief Les Moonves had taken the reins, Gianopulos was headed there.) The big question is whether the merger is truly dead or whether Viacom regroups and tries again.
If not — or meanwhile — Grey, 59, has his work cut out for him. “Our slate is strong,” he tells THR. “Our films have some of the world’s biggest stars and fan favorites like Vin Diesel, Scarlett Johansson, Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Matt Damon, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Lawrence — and some of the most celebrated filmmakers — Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, Alexander Payne, Darren Aronofsky, Alex Garland and George Clooney. We anticipate a great year.”
It seems possible that xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, set for Jan. 20 with Diesel and Jackson, might be a sequel that audiences did not exactly demand, but Paramount is not deep in franchises and this installment is packed with Asian stars to lure the overseas audience. March 31 brings Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, based on an anime property, while Johnson and Efron appear in Baywatch on May 26.
Paramount rolls out a big gun with the fifth in its Transformers series, The Last Knight, on June 23. The previous installment was filmed in China with actress Li Bingbing and grossed $320 million there compared with $245 million in the U.S. (Overall the picture pulled in $859 million of its $1.1 billion worldwide gross from international.) The question is whether this version, lacking those Chinese elements, can do nearly as well.
More significantly, after Transformers the studio has only three relatively small films dated for the second half of the year: a Friday the 13th installment on Oct. 13, a Cloverfield movie from J.J. Abrams on Oct. 27 and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing with Matt Damon on Dec. 22. A handful of other films are planned but not dated, including a still-untitled Aronofsky movie with JLaw and the Clooney-directed Suburbicon (also with Damon), written by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Paramount pipeline needs some serious restocking and the job won’t be easy given the uncertainty about the studio’s future. Grey also needs to replace former vice chairman Rob Moore. If Viacom management can send a signal that it has the means and the will to invest in Paramount, which had been operating under tight constraints, that could help, but for now, skepticism in the industry runs high.