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The Russo Brothers Are Using Their Box-Office Clout for Evil

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 16, 2022 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 16, 2022 |


For the better part of a decade, the Russo Brothers — Joe and Anthony — were best known for directing beloved television comedies. They had directed the pilot episodes for three of the best comedies of the era: Arrested Development, Community, and Happy Endings. They didn’t have a lot of feature film experience, but the movies they did make were … not good: Welcome to Colinwood — a movie most of you have probably never heard of, even though it starred George Clooney, William H. Macy and Patricia Clarkson — and the abysmal You, Me, and Dupree.

Honestly, I don’t understand why Marvel gave them Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I won’t argue with the results. It’s probably one of my five favorite MCU films, and its success gave the Russos the clout to make three more MCU films, including Avengers: Endgame, the second biggest worldwide box-office hit of all time.

I’m not going to revise my opinions on the Russo Bros. MCU films based on their most recent output, but I will say this: The Marvel movies are huge, factory-made films that are almost too big to fail. But the Russos have parlayed not their talent but their box-office success into their own little industry of bland, generic crap. We are now seeing what the You, Me, and Dupree talent combined with the Avengers: Endgame box-office results in, namely The Gray Man, a bad film salvaged only by Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, and Cherry, a film so bad that not even Tom Holland could save it. Both films have received Rotten Tomato scores (46 percent, 37 percent) more in line with You, Me, and Dupree (20 percent) rather than Winter Soldier (90 percent) and Endgame (94 percent), possibly because they didn’t have 300 fail-safes in place for those films.

The directing duo have become less visionary directors and more of a corporate brand who will attach their names to anything, apparently, in exchange for a check. There are at least 14 films and television shows currently in production that the Russo Brothers are producing, and two projects — one on Amazon, one on Netflix — they are directing with huge stars. They are gravitating toward the streamers not just for the big checks but because they better insulate them from failure: People will devote millions of viewing hours to a Netflix movie starring Millie Bobbie Brown and Chris Pratt, so — like The Gray Man — it doesn’t even have to be that good, and they will continue to be judged not on the quality of their projects but on the hours viewed. You can get away with that on a streamer where the content is free(ish), but you can’t when audiences are asked to pay $12 a ticket.

Their latest project is rage-inducing. They are producing a reimagining of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a television series set in an alternate universe for Prime Video. That is not a joke. It will star Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton) and Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick). How much of a hand will the Russos actually have in the production? Given the number of films and television shows they are already producing, as well as directing, I doubt their names are there for any other reason other than clout. It’s branding. They are using their box-office clout for evil, assuming that you agree — as you should — that Butch Cassidy should not be reimagined as a television series set in an alternate universe for a company owned by Jeff Bezos.

These guys aren’t different from the ones who directed the Community pilot and You, Me, and Dupree — look at Cherry and The Gray Man for evidence of that — except that they now have considerably more power, and they are using that power to push through unnecessary television remakes of The Warriors or another Thomas Crown movie. It’s not just that they are sell-outs — who in Hollywood isn’t? — it’s that they’re cashing in on the wrong projects, and to be honest, I naively believed that the guys who directed 14 episodes of Community were better than that. They are basically the directorial equivalent of John Travolta after Pulp Fiction: They’re cashing in while they can, and Butch Cassidy is their Battlefield Earth.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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