When “The Upside,” a former Harvey Weinstein project, surprisingly won the box office last weekend, it seemed like a one-off.
After all, the disgraced mogul was forced from the business more than a year ago amid revelations of alleged serial sexual misconduct. He is facing a potentially long prison sentence and recently lost one of the few people on his team who could help him avoid it. Movies would seem a distant memory.
Yet despite all that something unexpected is unfolding: a number of Weinstein’s films will soon be coming to a theater near you.
In a kind of cinematic equivalent of a posthumous nail-grow, a variety of distributors are preparing to release Weinstein passion projects. The mogul may have been pushed out decisively, his Weinstein Company sold off for parts, after dozens of women accused him of abuse, rape and other offenses beginning in October 2017.
But because movies work on a very long lead time — and because distribution is a thirsty business — much of the handiwork of the exiled mogul will soon be retailed to filmgoers.
The next ex-Weinstein Company movie to hit theaters will be “Hotel Mumbai,” a dramatization of the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian metropolis starring Dev Patel. That film was bought by distributor Bleecker Street, the company behind indie hits such as “Leave No Trace” and “Captain Fantastic,” from producers after the latter regained the rights post-Weinstein bankruptcy. “Hotel Mumbai” will arrive in theaters in March; it is currently screening for media after a run at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
Meanwhile, a bidding battle is underway among several distributors for “The Current War,” the period drama about the fight to control electricity starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. Among the players seeking to win the property from the bank that holds the rights? David Glasser, the former Weinstein company executive who started his own firm in the aftermath of the scandal. The movie has been recut since its Toronto 2017 showing, with Martin Scorsese even giving notes to the director, according to a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Several former Weinstein titles are held by Lantern Entertainment, the company that paid $289 million for Weinstein Company assets post-bankruptcy. But a few have reverted to producers, including “The War With Grandpa,” a Robert De Niro comedy based on a children’s bestseller. It has yet to find a new home.
All of these movies will follow “Paddington 2,” the British-bear sequel that grossed a modest $41 million domestically last year but was a major critical hit, ending up on more than 40 critics’ top-10 lists. The Weinstein Company held U.S. rights to release the film, but those rights were sold to Warner Bros. shortly after the scandal to keep the lights on and employees paid.
The movies are being rolled out with no reference to their original backer. A screening notice to the entertainment press for “Hotel Mumbai” didn’t mention the film’s origins. Neither did a news release or any marketing materials for “The Upside.” But the movies' presence throughout the business speaks to how influential Weinstein was, and in some ways remains.
None of the executives or filmmakers interviewed for this story wanted to be identified publicly, wary of a Weinstein taint on their films. But the consensus, according to private conversations with them, is that these films have potential because Weinstein was still making worthwhile movies even at the end of his career.
And “The Upside’s" numbers prove that talk of a taint is misplaced — most audiences don’t know or care where they came from. (The Kevin Hart-Bryan Cranston dramedy was made by the Weinstein Company as part of a years-long push by Weinstein but released by the mid-major STX Films last weekend. It has grossed more than $27 million to date, with a potentially rich holiday weekend looming. STX bought domestic rights from Lantern. Weinstein, incidentally, does not receive any money from these releases; he was fired from the company and is not believed to be a profit participant in any of the movies.)
But should the Weinstein association be factored in to viewer choices? It’s a tricky question, say some in the film business. Consumers are often asked to separate art from artist. Art from a maligned producer-executive is a newer proposition.
One rival executive, who asked not to be identified so as not to be seen publicly criticizing competitors, wondered whether the fact that these movies came into existence because of Weinstein should be viewed differently from the case of an artist with troubles outside their work; after all, the person said, Weinstein was accused of assault in the very course of making films.
Executives interviewed by The Post also wondered whether the movies would have experienced the same fate had Weinstein, known for an aggressive and at times unorthodox distribution strategy, had brought them out before the scandal came to light..
“You could look at the success of movies like ‘The Upside’ and ‘Paddington 2’ as validation of Harvey Weinstein’s taste,” said one executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity. “Or you could look at them as successes that could only have happened without Harvey Weinstein.”
It isn’t only more specialized dramas that bear the Weinstein stamp. Other types of movies could soon also be available thanks to work Weinstein began.
Warner Bros. has recently been developing a reboot of “The Six Billion Dollar Man” with Mark Wahlberg. It appears to be a standard big-budget Hollywood reboot, the result of a restless executive finding a title floating around a studio library.
But the company developing the movie did not own the rights. Warner Bros. bought them, it turns out, from a post-bankruptcy Weinstein.