November 17, 2021
Business Editors' Pick Hollywood & Entertainment hollywood&entertainment

Lionsgate Is Betting Its Whole Summer On Hollywood’s Biggest-Grossing Movie Star

Lionsgate dropped a few new release dates yesterday. The big one was a June 29, 2022 (Wednesday) release date for Shotgun Wedding. That rom-com stars Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel (replacing Armie Hammer) as a couple dealing with their last-minute cold feet and their opinionated relatives as their destination wedding party gets taken hostage. If things remain as-is, that will give two Jennifer Lopez-starring romantic comedies for early-2022, with the Owen Wilson co-starring Marry Me opening February 11, 2022 following a one-year delay due to Covid. Moreover, Marc Forster’s White Bird: A Wonder Story, a spin-off of (but not direct sequel to) the Owen Wilson/Julia Roberts/Jacob Tremblay sleeper smash Wonder, will open September 16, 2022. In yet another change for summer 2021, Martin Campbell’s The Protégé has been moved up to August 20, 2021.

That action flick, courtesy of the director who rebooted James Bond twice (via GoldenEye and Casino Royale) and gave us a classic superhero epic in The Mask of Zorro, stars Maggie Q as a contract killer vowing revenge for the murder of her mentor (Samuel L. Jackson) in a journey that also involves a fellow murderer played by Michael Keaton. Even if you didn’t like Green Lantern or The Legend of Zorro, Campbell is one of the best around in terms of grounded, real-world action flicks. Vertical Limit and Edge of Darkness are both pretty damn good, and his most recent, the Jackie Chan/Pierce Brosnan thriller The Foreigner, was an unqualified winner. So, yes, I’m very much looking forward to this one. It also means that Lionsgate now has three summer release which all star Samuel L. Jackson.

Summer unofficially begins with Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which stars Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in a soft-reboot of (and direct sequel to) the previous Saw films. Helmed by series vet Darren Lynn Bousman (who set the tone and structure for the sequels with Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV), the Chris Rock-produced flick features someone cosplaying as Jigsaw seemingly targeting corrupt cops. That frankly seems par for the course for the franchise which has always been partially defined by casual police corruption and/or incompetence in its unnamed “makes Gotham look pleasant” city. Jackson plays Chris Rock’s retired cop father, so we’ll see what role he plays in the newest Jigsaw adventure. Counting Thursday previews, Spiral opens two weeks from tonight and once again the marketing has told us almost nothing about it.

The August 20 date now occupied by The Protégé was until-recently occupied by The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. But after Disney moved Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy to August 13, Lionsgate shifted the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson/Salma Hayek action comedy sequel to June 16 (a Wednesday). Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a sleeper hit in summer 2017, earning $71 million from a $21 million debut and $156 million global on a $30 million budget. I argued then and now that a key to its success was that it was Jackson’s first full-on major-studio starring vehicle since (the underrated) Lakeview Terrace in April of 2008, just a month before his Iron Man cameo birthed the MCU. Movies like that, non-franchise, of-the-moment topical, were already becoming an endangered species. The next decade would see them become almost extinct.

Jackson would spend the next decade headlining VOD/DVD flicks like Big Game, Unthinkable and Cell while being an MVP supporting player in the likes of Django Unchained, Oldboy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Legend of Tarzan and Kong: Skull Island along with his turns as Nicky Fury in several MCU flicks. We can debate whether he’s the lead in Quinten Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (he certainly ends the movie as a key protagonist), but The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a return to the kind of movies that made him a star in a (comparatively) less franchise-centric era. He would follow that up with Glass, another Shaft and Apple TV’s terrific The Banker (co-starring Anthony Mackie). Don’t cry for Mr. Jackson, he parlayed his “added value element” status into key supporting roles which made him the highest-grossing actor in Hollywood history.

Samuel L. Jackson’s movies have earned a combined $27.5 billion worldwide. Not counting cameos (Out of Sight, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, the last two Avengers movies and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker among others) along with “before he was famous” flicks (Coming To America, The Exorcist III, Sea of Love, etc.), his films have grossed just over $22 million worldwide since his breakout role in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever 30 summers ago. While none of these three old-school R-rated flicks are expected to break out (all three would be okay with $100 million and thrilled with $150 million worldwide), and to my knowledge he has no screen time in Marvel’s Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Eternals, it’s still amusing/intriguing that Lionsgate is essentially betting their entire theatrical summer on Samuel L. Jackson.