Apocalypse Now: HBO’s Last of Us & A24

This article first appeared as a daily newsletter. To receive these direct to your inbox every morning sign up to The Industry Newsletter!

Good morning: In today’s edition of The Industry, we look at:

A24’s goes big budget, Scarlett Johansson in space, Princess Jasmine does horror and an Estonian sauna.

Let’s go!


APOCALYPSE NOW: HBO’S LAST OF US & A24

In America, the apocalypse has never felt closer.

Glimpses of America befalling disaster have been littered throughout TV and cinema from The Twilight Zone’s Time Enough at Last (1959) to the small budget gritty, mini-masterpieces of the 80’s:

These films were largely meditations on the fragility of society with nuclear weapons. They showed in painful detail the effects that would befall America if disarmament or AI were to go sideways.

The next generation of these films were extrapolations into climate change:

HBO’s The Last of Us (2023, trailer) ignited a new generation of American end times films. In this series, a fungal infection overtakes modern American and destabilizes it to the degree of producing tiny factions fighting for survival.

When Patient Zero is brought to a leading epidemiologist, she only has one idea to contain the spread:

“Bomb”

Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Devs) takes a new perspective on the apocalypse film. No doubt spurred by recent political events this movie sees an implosion of America to divisiveness. But Garland’s film flows beyond the twittersphere and the protests, disintegrating the country into full blown Civil War (trailer).

In this landscape of cinematic cataclysms, America’s portrayal as teetering on the brink of destruction reveals a culture grappling with its vulnerabilities. From the chilling Cold War era depictions to the unnerving technological and ecological disasters, these narratives transcend mere entertainment.

These films serve not only as cautionary tales but also as catalysts for introspection, urging us to envision and strive for a world where such apocalyptic landscapes remain firmly within the realm of fiction.

For More:

Nick Offerman plays the President of the United States in Civil War. He’s recently played two stellar dramatic roles in The Last of Us (scene) and Devs (trailer).

The remarkable irony of a bookworm stuck by themselves in the apocalypse without any reading material. Watch the iconic scene from The Twilight Zone’s Time Enough At Last.

Kirsten Dunst is no stranger to the world ending. She’s a war photographer in Civil War hell bent on making it to the White House. In Melancholia (trailer) she just wants to watch the world burn.


THE INDUSTRY NEWS

Undeterred by Napoleon’s box-office defeat, Apple partners back with Sony for two films. Apple’s latest projects are the George Clooney and Brad Pitt film Wolfs.

The official synopsis reads:

Follows two lone wolf fixers who are assigned to the same job.

Apple’s next is Project Artemis, which is a 1960s space race film starring Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson.

Although Apple is accelerating its distribution of mega-budget films, it remains to be seen whether they will continue their currently unprofitable enterprise, which has seen both Napoleon and Killers of the Flower Moon flop on a $200M/each production budget.

How much loss will Apple endure as a branding play to bolster what Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has lovingly termed “the flywheel effect” of their movie business doubling as a massive promotional campaign for their iPhone sales?

Follow up from earlier in the week. Best of Enemies, the Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale glitzy film package where the actors play a CIA agent (Cooper) and a KGB spy (Bale), produced by Charles Roven (Oppenheimer, The Dark Knight, American Hustle) saw a bidding war between Amazon MGM and Warner. Amazon MGM ultimately had deeper pockets and it was reported they will paypay high 7-figure sums for the writer and the producer fees. There seems to be a post-strike end of year desperation to lock down prime content as we move into 2024. Like this project:

Ryan Reynolds heist comedy launches bidding war. Netflix beat out seven other studios and payed high 7-figure deals for Dana Fox (Cruella, The Lost City) to write the script. Reynolds has been a bit of a Netflix darling with Red Notice (2021) raking in 68M viewing hours for the first half of this year and The Adam Project (2022) pulling in 3oM for the same time period.


THE ACTOR SPOTLIGHT

Princess Jasmine does horror. Naomi Scott is best known for her role as the princess in the most recent Aladdin (2019) film starring Will Smith. In a complete 180 from that character, she’s just been cast as the lead in the sequel to the indie breakout horror film The Smile (trailer). The 17M indie darling grossed 217M at the box office and ran a guerilla marketing campaign of people manically smiling at sports arenas.

Scott can most recently be seen in the Netflix series Anatomy of a Scandal, where she played both the seductress and the betrayed (clip).

From indie darling to Wolfman. Chris Abbott who we mentioned earlier this week for his prowess in Poor Things and his aptitude for playing various killers:

Abbott is now playing his most mainstream role to date: Wolfman. Ryan Gosling and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) were previously attached to the project but they have departed because of script differences. Now Leigh Whannell (The Invisible Man) is set to direct with Blumhouse producing.

It’s a tricky role as the temptation to go over the top and mimic the 1941 classic. Abbott, well-skilled at restraint should be able to temper the temptation.

The formidable Andre Braugher, who played Captain Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has passed away at 61. He pioneered the cop drama interrogation scene in Homicide (1993-1998), which was created by David Simon (The Wire).

Braugher noted:

“I looked with amusement at NYPD Blue and all those other shows that began to incorporate all the techniques that we had, dare I say, pioneered for television.”

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-2021), Braugher shifted to comedy and revitalized his career playing a deadpan gay police captain (best of scenes) opposite Andy Sandberg’s immature cop.

He will be missed.


FESTIVALS

Greta Gerwig was just named the 2024 Cannes Film Festival jury president. Gerwig stated:

“I love films – I love making them, I love going to them, I love talking about them. As a cinephile, Cannes has always been the pinnacle of what the universal language of movies can be.”

Previous Palm d’Or Jury presidents have included:

Cannes’ president stated:

“This is an obvious choice, since Greta Gerwig so audaciously embodies the renewal of world cinema, for which Cannes is each year both the forerunner and the sounding board. Beyond the seventh art, she is also the representative of an era that is breaking down barriers and mixing genres, and thereby elevating the values of intelligence and humanism.”

It’s a flashy choice given that Cannes usually prides itself more on artistic merit than box-office numbers. But again, Cannes is the zenith of glitz and glammer, for which if nothing else Barbie is the poster child.

Full press release here.

Lauded short film gets star EP: Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). Lloyd Lee Choi’s short Queenie won three big awards:

  • Berlin Film Festival
    • Best Short
  • SXSW
    • Audience Award
  • AFI
    • Grand Jury Prize

Here’s the synopsis:

Roaming the streets of New York, Queenie is dead set on one thing: getting money. Following the seven-year-old’s shrewd gaze as she navigates the adult world, the film speaks of things parents try to keep hidden, and of childlike tenacity.

The trailer is a great POV look into NYC’s smallest hustler. Cretton is currently EPing Choi’s first feature film.


INDIE FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT

First-time director Jade Halley Bartlett wrote and directed the upcoming Martin Freeman and Jenny Ortega film Miller’s Girl.

The synopsis under-sells it:

A creative writing assignment yields complex results between a teacher and his talented student.

The trailer is topped to the brim with tension that sees an interesting new dynamic in the teacher-student seduction. Bartlett’s Miller’s Girl script made the Hollywood Black List in 2016 and was originally slated to be produced by Good Universe (Oldboy, Neighbors, The Night Before). While that iteration of the film never took off, Bartlett has been busy helping doctor the scripts for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and Doug Liman’s Road House, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Hopefully, the long gestation period allowed her to improve as a writer and hone the script even further.

Jennifer Fox is one of the most talented producers of this generation. She’s hyper-selective about her projects:

Her most recent project Magazine Dreams, premiered at Sundance 2023 to strong reviews but got pulled due to Jonathan Majors involvement. While she’s currently slated to produce the Governors Awards, her next film project is Alexander Skarsgård’s directorial debut The Pact:

It tells the story of a group of documentarians who go to the remote wilderness of Alaska to save a nearly extinct species of wolves.

Skarsgård’s previous directing effort was a Swedish short film from 2003 narrated by his father Stellan Skarsgård. Fox’s ability to help director’s craft distinct visions should be a major asset as Skarsgård steps behind the camera for the first time in over two decades.

Benny Safdie is launching his first solo directorial effort with The Rock. Check back tomorrow for a full cover story on this A24 project but suffice to say it’s going to be a unique one.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Estonian Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. In Estonia, there is a place where women gather to find peace through fire and ice. A rural community of women helping one another through the ritualization of blistering saunas and ice plunges. The director, Anna Hints, got the inspiration for the documentary after her grandpa’s funeral:

“Granny revealed that grandfather had betrayed her and lived with another woman for several years after the war when she had four kids. She released all the emotions connected with that: frustration and anger and hurt and shame. I remember being in the dark space, all these female bodies around me, just listening and embracing her.”

The film is Estonia’s official Oscar selection and won the Sundance’s 2023 directing award for World Cinema documentary. Watch the trailer here—visceral and marginally NSFW.

Tunisian film that won Best Documentary at Cannes gets distribution. Four Daughters tells the following tale:

Between light and darkness stands Olfa, a Tunisian woman and the mother of four daughters. One day, her two older daughters disappear. Filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania invites professional actresses to fill in their absence.

The trailer, scored with lacerating violins is a beautiful and painful introspection of memory that blends the line between narrative and drama.

The director, explains her process:

“There was nothing scripted. It was like, ‘On this day, we will shoot this memory.’ And they start talking, reenacting, asking questions. [Eya and Tayssir] went through psychotherapy.”

We hope that Hania ensured that her documentary subjects were taken care of and respected in the process.

Kino Lorber is distributing. Out in limited run in the US now. UK release March 2024.


ON THIS DAY

1974. Disaster film The Towering Inferno is released, starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.


See you Friday!


Written by: Gabriel Miller. Research by Spencer Carter.

Share the Post:

Other Editions

Become a Film Industry Insider!

Sign up for The Industry!

It’s a curated newsletter read by almost 100,000 film professionals.

We synthesize the latest film & TV news and send it to your inbox every morning. 

It takes less than 5 minutes to read.

Plus it’s FREE forever.