From the moment I saw the trailer for Annihilation, I knew it was a film I needed to see on the big screen:
Look at that. Gorgeous. This teaser was so good that I bought the book to make sure I read it before the film’s theatrical release (I know if I wait to read the book after I see the film, the odds of me reading it decrease significantly). And the book is good! Weird, and ripe for a cinematic adaptation in that there is a great setting and imagery, but lots of room for interpretation.
Director Alex Garland’s previous film, Ex Machina, is also an intellectual science fiction story that is highly entertaining. His work on that film certainly earned his spot for Annihilation. Ex Machina not only doubled its budget at the box office, but it beat out Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. It is insane for a film with a total budget of $15 million to beat out films that likely had effects budgets larger than that. Based on that trailer, and the strength of Ex Machina, I could not be more excited for Annihilation and eagerly waiting for my chance to see it on the biggest screen possible.
But you know who isn’t hyped for Annihilation? Paramount. The company that made and is distributing the film. They sold the rights for every market outside of the US, Canada, and China, to Netflix. So most people outside of those three countries won’t be able to see the film the way it was intended to be seen, in a theater.
David Sims of The Atlantic reports that this is a byproduct of the studio hedging its bet on Garland to deliver his second feature:
Annihilation will still hit screens in the world’s two biggest markets—the U.S. and China—but the Netflix partnership is an unusually public show of nervousness over the film’s profitability. Paramount can use the money from the deal to help recoup the film’s reported $55 million budget, but if Annihilation is a hit, the studio will miss out on any international grosses. The deal also effectively signals Paramount’s lack of trust in the vision of the filmmaker it hired. According to The Hollywood Reporter, one of the studio’s top financiers, David Ellison, clashed with Garland and the producer Scott Rudin over proposed reshoots that would have changed the ending, which the director refused to budge on. Rudin had final-cut privileges on the movie, giving him control over the finished product, and he opted to back Garland.
The full article goes into much more detail about the internal politics at Paramount that give some explanation to this decision. But one point I want to add is that this probably wouldn’t happen if the film had a more male-heavy cast. In Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, the main expedition heading into “The Shimmer” (referred to as Area X in the novel) is all female. In the film, they are played by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and Gina Rodriguez. The only male in the cast is Oscar Isaac, who plays the husband of Portman’s character, a relatively minor role in the book. Yes, it is a more “intellectual” movie, but it also doesn’t trade on the sex appeal of its leaders.
Given the difference in salary for Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for the All the Money in the World reshoots, I can’t help but feel that female-led films still aren’t seen by studios in the same way as male-centric films are. But of course, the 2017 box office begs to differ, as 3 of the top ten highest grossing films worldwide (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty & the Beast, and Wonder Woman) were female-led films. And Arrival, which Sims rightly cites as a potential Annihilation equivalent, went on to gross over $100 million at the worldwide box office.
Just knowing how much more I enjoyed Okja because I saw it in a theater as compared to at home just makes me thoroughly disappointed in Paramount. This is a gutless decision that deprives many people around the world of seeing a film the way it was meant to be seen.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.