Deadline’s 2019 Most Valuable Movie Blockbuster Tournament Underway: No. 25 ‘Hustlers’

Anthony D'Alessandro

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In the six previous years of our tournament to name the year’s most profitable film, Deadline has always launched the contest around the NCAA basketball tournament. But this year is drastically different. Tonight was supposed to be the national championship game, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, but of course the entire tournament was canceled. Not only are there no tip-offs, but theatrical exhibition also remains shut down as the nation takes cover from the coronavirus. With weekend box office reporting on hold until theaters’ expected re-opening in mid-June, we’ve tried to accommodate industry appetite for P&L data by expanding 2019’s field — from 10 last year to the top 25, building toward the Most Profitable champion. (See last year’s tournament here.) With exhibition struggling to meet its monthly overhead costs and studios funneling their current theatrical releases to streaming, the tournament serves as a reminder of the financial upside of a strong theatrical release, and what its ancillary windows can rake in. 

When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t always about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participation and other costs are subtracted from box office grosses, sweetened by estimates of ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline uses data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.

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This time, we’ll also dissect the five films that lost the most money, and shine a light on five cash cows that didn’t crack our top 25 list that is based on U.S. grosses, but whose outsized profitability makes them noteworthy.

It is difficult to get at exact talent paydays on cash break deals; the aim is to demystify the process. Though a box office champ is crowned in the press each weekend, that only tells a small part of the story.

Here we go with No. 25…

THE FILM

Hustlers
STX

Historically speaking, moviegoers haven’t thrown dollar bills at stripper movies. There have been such notable flops as the Paul Verhoeven-directed, $45 million-budgeted Showgirls ($20.3M domestic B.O.) and the Demi Moore $50M comedy Striptease ($33.1M domestic B.O.). The outlier was the Steven Soderbergh-directed Magic Mike, where the dancers were dudes, at $167.7M worldwide. Based on the Jessica Pressler New York magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores,” Hustlers worked wrapping sex appeal into a gritty crime story about dancers who scammed greedy Wall Street clients during the height of the 2008 recession. The film was originally developed at Annapurna, with Jennifer Lopez starring and Lorene Scafaria directing, this before the indie studio kicked it and other films to the curb because it was a hard sell in foreign markets, making its $30 million budget a risk. While other studios passed on the turnaround project, STX seized an opportunity it saw in a film that could appeal to a diverse cross-section of females. The cast included Lopez as the mastermind, with Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance WuRiverdale‘s Lili Reinhart and pop singers Lizzo and Cardi B as her accomplices. Hustlers’ promise asserted itself when it began showing up on tracking four weeks before its September 12 opening, where it scored strongly with Hispanic, African American, Asian and LGBTQ moviegoers. It emerged from a world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival with awards buzz and strong reviews (87% certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes score) that hinted at success. Critical praise was high especially for Lopez, who earned Golden Globe and SAG Supporting Actress nominations. Hustlers opened to $33.1M at the domestic box office, a best ever bow for an STX-released film, and same for Lopez in a live-action role.

The Box Score

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE BOTTOM LINE:

STX made the movie at a net $20M production cost in 29 days to accommodate Lopez’s schedule as she squeezed in the shoot prior to rehearsing for a concert tour. Helping to drive costs down were STX’s foreign sales output deals with their partners, which are estimated at $10M (the distributor handled distribution in the U.S. and the UK). Lopez bet on herself here, taking less pay upfront in exchange for a bigger back-end, which is estimated at $8M. STX spent $38M in P&A at specific female demographics. They responded, spending close to $105M in domestic ticket sales and $52.6M abroad. Hustlers became STX’s second highest-grossing movie worldwide at $157.5M, trailing only Bad Moms ($183.9M). The film poured off a net profit of $47M, a much needed hit for the mini-major.