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The Sad Story Of How 'Serenity' Got Dumped, And Why Matthew McConaughey And Anne Hathaway Are Furious

By Kristy Puchko | Film | February 1, 2019 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | February 1, 2019 |


On paper, Serenity had the makings of a hit. It boasted A-list stars, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. It had heralded helmer, Steven Knight. It has an erotic thriller premise that seemed to be positioned for box office success in October, a bit of deliciously saucy counter-programming as award season heated up. Then, after dropping a tantalizing trailer, the movie vanished. It did not open in October. Instead, Aviron Pictures quietly shuttled it to January, a worrisome sign. Earning only $4.4 million its opening weekend, Serenity is one of the biggest bombs on either McConaughey and Hathaway’s filmographies. And reportedly, these stars blame the studio that lost faith.

Deadline reports that McConaughey and Hathaway had agreed to do junkets and talk show appearances, and were promised Aviron would do a full promotional push. There was a junket, some talk show appearances, but the stars were alarmed when they noticed an absence of ads, dismayed when phone calls about the lack of marketing went unanswered, and furious when they were finally told Aviron had slashed the P&A budget. Why? Well, have you seen Serenity?

I say that with affection. I am absolutely in love with this bonkers movie. But the shocking second half is not an easy sell. It’s not set up in the trailer, which likely explains the film’s D+ Cinemascore. It’s been polarizing among critics, which has led to a 23% Rotten Tomatoes score. And according to Deadline, test audience reactions basically predicted as much. So, instead of turning into the skid, Aviron bailed out.

Here’s Aviron’s statement to Deadline:

We had the best intentions for Serenity. We were excited for the opportunity to release this uniquely original movie and work with such a stellar cast and talented filmmakers. As much as we love this film and still hope it finds its audience, we tested and retested the film — with audiences and critics alike — and sadly, the data demonstrated that the film was not going to be able to perform at our initial expectations, so we adjusted our budget and marketing tactics accordingly. Regardless of the spend, it’s next to impossible for an adult-skewing drama to overcome a 23% score on Rotten Tomatoes and a D+ CinemaScore. To have spent more would have been irresponsible to our capital partners and wouldn’t have made prudent business sense for an independent distributor. We have enormous respect and admiration for the talent and all the hard work they put into the film and wish the box office results were better.

This was never going to be the movie they sold in that trailer. But I don’t think that was inherently a bad thing. Yes, the secrets of Serenity make it a far less commercial venture. It seems their initial approach—from the trailer to the planned big PR push—was to offer a bait and switch. Which might have gotten Serenity a bigger opening weekend in October, but likely would have led to a stiff dropoff. However, Aviron could have leaned into the weirdness, promoting the twist that had critics and audiences absolutely astonished. They could have had Hathaway and McConaughey selling exactly the bonkers aspect, calling it a movie you have to see to believe. They could have slathered that superstar charm on to prepare audiences for something wild through talk show appearances. They didn’t have to give spoilers, just tease the insanity! Instead, they left a lot of people unaware of its virtues. McConaughey went on Ellen and spoke vaguely about its premise. Hathaway did silliness—like a McConaughey impression—on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But she took to Instagram to defend the film and its bold choices.

Meanwhile, some critics can’t stop talking about it. And that’s the thing. This movie is wild, unpredictable, and deliciously fun because of it. It was never going to be a big hit, but it’s a fantastically big swing. I can’t promise you’ll like it. But you won’t be bored. Ultimately, I suspect that Serenity will find its following, despite Aviron’s missteps. And despite its missteps, the Serenity press tour at least gave us this interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which he talks about not remembering how nude he is in Serenity (very), how to protect your dangling bits while cliff diving, and “Savage Cock.”

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Aviron Pictures