Paramount, thrillers, Jack Reacher and Jack Ryan

Feature Simon Brew 28 Dec 2012 - 07:36

Is Paramount onto something with its increasing rediscovery of the character-driven thriller?

Two big deals that have taken place over the past year or two have had something of an impact on the Paramount Pictures slate. And whereas Disney's blockbusters are bagsied now by a regular pipeline from Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar and its own animation studio, Paramount has found itself a few films shy.

Firstly, Disney's ownership of Marvel has brought to an end a flow of films that ran from the first Iron Man. Paramount took a small slice of the takings of The Avengers still (which turned out to be a significant sum of cash), but it has left a gap of a blockbuster or two in its annual roster.

Furthermore, earlier this year, DreamWorks Animation ended its long-term relationship with Paramount, and instead signed up with Fox. In this instance, Paramount took a distribution fee, and the studio's machinery was looking at having to heavily push three big animated films a year, that another company had made. Perhaps it's unsurprising that the studio walked away from the proverbial table, albeit leaving another three big spaces on its release slate a year.

Paramount isn't without franchises of its own, of course. JJ Abrams' Star Trek sequel is due in 2013, and is expected to be a massive hit. Furthermore, the last Mission: Impossible film was the most successful yet at the global box office. There's the small matter of the world-stomping Transformers films, which the studio has a significant investment in too, of course. Those are offset by potential franchises that may be experiencing a few problems. The sequel to G.I. Joe is one of two big blockbusters that Paramount delayed from this year to next (World War Z being the other).

However, if you dig into the history of the studio, the genre that's perhaps served it the best - along with comedy - is the thriller. And it's perhaps telling that, with the rest of the industry obsessed with comic book movies, Paramount has gone back to its roots a little (albeit with more of an action tinge to its modern thrillers).

Back in the 1990s and early noughties, Paramount was content to pitch mid-budgeted thrillers, and watch the money role in. Films such as Kiss The Girls, Indecent Proposal, the brilliant Breakdown, The Firm, The Rainmaker and Nick Of Time came thick and fast, as well as a whole collection of movies that kept Ashley Judd in work (Double Jeopardy the most successful).

The second half of the 80s? The small matter of Fatal Attraction gave the studio one of its biggest hits. Successes were also scored with Witness, The Untouchables, The Accused and Black Rain. In fact, dig back to the very early years of Paramount, and thrillers have always been important to the studio.

What's interesting now is that it's betting heavily on the genre, when others are perhaps being a bit more cautious. The Mission: Impossible series of action thrillers are at the point where they look after themselves, but this Christmas' Jack Reacher is clearly another determined attempt to kickstart another franchise in the genre. Paramount is banking on a title character-driven thriller this time next year too, with the return of Jack Ryan to the big screen, now played by Chris Pine. That's three Christmases running, three big thrillers as Paramount's big films.

The difference between now and a decade or two back is that the budgets are such that the smaller, $50m thriller is harder to sell. Furthermore, studios release fewer movies as a rule than they did ten years ago. However, Jack Reacher and Jack Ryan see Paramount hunting for tentpoles in a genre that still seems just a little neglected. It's puzzling to see why, given that good thrillers remain popular, and that as a rule, they're cheaper to make than effects-driven blockbusters.

In much the same way that Disney will be looking to interchange Marvel heroes on their release schedule over the coming years, it looks like Paramount might just be doing the same with Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan and Ethan Hunt. The studio's willingness to go just a little against the grain may yet see it score some highly profitable movies as a result...

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