Ben Affleck’s ‘Air’ and the Super-Weird State of Movies (Part 1)

The cast of Ben Affleck-directed sports drama ‘Air’ starring Matt Damon and friends.
The cast of Ben Affleck-directed sports drama ‘Air’ starring Matt Damon and friends. Photo: JC Olivera/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
April 10, 2023

So, here’s a good example of why everyone in the movie business wants to jump off the Hollywood sign: If Warner Bros. spends $130 million on an adult drama, then opens it to $20 million domestic over a five-day holiday weekend, the knives come out. That’s an outright flop, an embarrassment never to be mentioned in a Burbank commissary, even if the movie goes on to generate decent viewership on HBO Max, Warners’ sister streaming service. In fact, I can’t really cite a recent example of this happening at Warners because its executives know better than to make $130 million adult dramas without genre elements or known I.P.

But check out today’s media coverage of Air, the Ben Affleck-directed adult drama starring Matt Damon and friends, which Amazon snapped up before production began for, yes, $130 million, and opened to $20 million over the five-day holiday. “A solid result for an R-rated drama,” raved Variety. “A great start,” beamed Deadline. “What the hell?” declared me before I slammed my head against my MacBook.

Now, we all know money means very little to Amazon Studios, or at least content isn’t the company’s core business, as it is for, say, Warner Bros. Discovery, even though Amazon C.E.O. Andy Jassy is laying people off these days. Amazon also isn’t alone in wildly overpaying for movies that no traditional studio would touch (cough… Netflix, Apple… cough). The recent death of the $130 million Nancy Meyers rom-com, which Netflix passed on after the ask of a $20 million budget increase, is a good example of how few options are available for movies of a certain cost and potential audience. But in theatrical terms, Air is a $130 million release that, even with tens of millions of dollars in marketing and great word-of-mouth, will likely top out at less than half that in U.S. theaters. Not a hit.