Loyalty can do wonderful things when you’re in the entertainment business. However, that sort of trust can only carry you so far, and those limits have apparently been tested over at Warner Bros. With new CEO David Zaslav trying to trim the fat, and cancelling the production of upcoming movies at the studio, his no-nonsense approach to running the company is in full effect. Which is why he allegedly wasn’t very happy when he found out that Clint Eastwood’s flop Cry Macho was made despite executives thinking it wouldn’t be a box office winner.
Reportedly, an early meeting between Zaslav and other studio executives revealed as much. In a piece run by The Wall Street Journal, it was mentioned that Warner Bros. brass allowed Cry Macho to be made despite an assumed loss of millions. The reasons? Apparently, not only had Eastwood been a high-profile actor/director that gave the studio massive hits like the Dirty Harry movies and Unforgiven, he never went over-budget and always came in on time. David Zaslav, unimpressed by this answer, responded with the following:
That statement is even more powerful considering the clear doubts about how Cry Macho would perform at the box office turned out to be absolutely correct. Even with a slim $33 million budget, Clint Eastwood’s latest film only brought in about $15.5 million during its theatrical run. It probably didn’t help that Cry Macho simultaneously debuted on HBO Max, as part of the run of films that tested the waters for the future of movie exhibition.
Once the recent Warner Bros. and Discovery merger was complete, David Zaslav went straight to work when it came to cleaning house. Zaslav not only cancelled the Wonder Twins movie, but he also suspended scripted programming at both TNT and TBS. While firmly believing in courting talent that has brought glory to the Warner Bros. lot, the profile cited above has David quoting a business mantra that fans of Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire are familiar with:
David Zaslav’s approach to business at Warner Bros. probably has people wondering how far the loyalty to brand and personalities goes in terms of his decision-making. That’s an especially potent question when considering the recent meeting announced between Zaslav and Wizarding World franchise creator J.K. Rowling. With the last two Fantastic Beasts films underperforming at the box office, at least compared to the past efforts of the franchise, that divide could be meaningful in a post-Harry Potter world. In fact, it’s probably the most important factor in deciding whether or not they’ll be a Fantastic Beasts 4 in theaters or on HBO Max.
The power of loyalty is an argument that cuts both ways, even on the Warner lot. In the pre-Zaslav era, we saw that bond tested and ultimately broken between the studio and Christopher Nolan. 2021’s simultaneous streaming experiment led Nolan to break up with Warner Bros., delivering his next film Oppenheimer to rival studio Universal. Though David Zaslav reportedly believes the studio owes no favors to its creators, I’m guessing losing the director may still sting a bit.
A new day is dawning at Warner Bros., and I’m curious to see where this new regime will lead. However, if you have yet to see Cry Macho or Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, both films are currently streaming on the HBO Max platform. Meanwhile, Warner Bros’ next test of cinematic marketing will be Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, fresh off of its polarizing debut at Cannes. That film will open in theaters on June 24th.