It’s become a new trend in the film industry that A-list stars can’t get their movies into theaters. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the latest victim, whose new film Empire State is getting the dreaded straight to DVD treatment. The film co-stars Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) and Emma Roberts (We’re the Millers) and is described as a drama centered on two childhood friends who plan to rob an armored car depository, and the NYPD officer who stands in their way. The film is directed by Dito Montiel, who came onto the scene with the well-reviewed 2006 indie A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints starring Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf. He followed up that movie with two critical and commercial failures, 2009’s Fighting and 2011’s The Son of No One, both starring Channing Tatum. The Son of No One grossed a tepid $30,000 in theaters. In addition to Tatum, this is a movie with a cast that includes Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, and Ray Liotta, so that box office take is surprisingly awful.
Empire State has a relatively low budget of $11 million, so the strategy is to avoid spending millions more to market the film theatrically, and just hope to make a killing on the home market. We’re seeing more and more of this as the popularity of Video-on-Demand and NetFlix continues to rise. Still, with a leading man whose films (Fast & Furious 6, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Pain & Gain, Snitch) have brought in $1 billion in 2013 alone, ‘The Rock’ must be thinking, “What’s a guy got to do to get a movie on the big-screen?”.
As was evident a few weeks ago with The Purge grossing $34 million on opening weekend vs. the Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson led The Internship only making $17 million, high-concept plots are beating out high-paid movie stars at the box office. The upcoming Robert DeNiro/John Travolta thriller Killing Season will be getting a very limited theatrical release on July 12th before it’s rushed to DVD on August 20th. Frozen Ground, an action-thriller starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack will play in a handful of theaters on August 23rd, but also be available to order on-demand that very same day. Ten years ago these would have been two of the biggest movies of the summer. The times, they are a-changin’.
You can pop Empire State into your DVD player on September 3rd.