Universal To Release Its Stealth Oscar Contender, 'Green Book,' Five Days Early

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Universal To Release Its Stealth Oscar Contender, 'Green Book,' Five Days Early

Source: Forbes

Universal/Comcast Corp. just dropped word that they will be platforming Green Book five days before its national Thanksgiving weekend debut.

© Universal.
by Scott Mendelson

To wit, the buzzy and crowd-pleasing dramedy, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali (both of whom offer wonderful movie star turns) will open in limited release on the weekend of Nov. 16 with the intent of going wide as planned on Nov. 21. The reasoning is simple, namely that the festival darling and stealth Oscar contender will play like gangbusters with paying consumers. I saw Green Book last night, and it's a very good movie. Universal knows it and are attempting to get the word out accordingly.

If I were Universal, I'd seriously consider holding a national sneak preview on the weekend of the 16th, perhaps paired with First Man as a kind of old-school double-feature sneak preview. I'm curious how the pundits will react, as it's the kind of racially-charged dramedy that will allow white folks (especially older white folks) to walk out of the theater feeling a lot better about themselves than they might after BlacKkKlansman or The Hate U Give. That it is a "safer" movie than Sorry to Bother You or Blindspotting does not change the fact that it's a solid piece of intelligent and entertaining feel-good studio programming.

We shouldn't have to choose only between righteously angry political screeds and (at best) metaphorically-inclined blockbuster action fantasies. It is both the kind of audience-pleaser that could end up as a major Oscar player and the kind of movie that ends up being tagged as "the enemy" (like The Blind Side). To be fair, I'm sure Universal would be thrilled with even 1/2 of The Blind Side's $257 million domestic and $309m worldwide cume. With the caveat that I still enjoy The Blind Side on its own terms (for that matter, I still think Precious is terrific), this isn't a white savior pic.

It's a buddy comedy, one that tells a true-life tale that reverses the Driving Miss Daisy template. Mortensen plays a job-to-job patriarch who takes an eight-week gig to drive around Ali's cultured, refined and refreshingly eccentric concert pianist as the musician goes on a tour in the heart of the Deep South. Yes, there is peril involved, and the title references a guide to hotels and restaurants along the way that will safely serve black people. Green Book is the kind of film that ends up legging it for weeks because it's good and because it works as a consensus choice for large groups and family movie outings.

It's not a cartoon, a horror movie, a superhero flick or a musical biopic. Like The Blind Side, it has the potential to be the kind of movie that may not be everyone's first choice, but rather than choice that everyone in the group can agree upon. Paramount is hoping that their Mark Wahlberg/Rose Byrne foster care dramedy Instant Family (opening wide on Nov. 16 and which I have yet to see) fits that definition as well, and I imagine that Paramount is hoping that Universal doesn't take my national sneak preview suggestion to heart.

However, with essentially nothing opening between Thanksgiving and Dec. 14, and with much of the year-end stuff conventionally franchise-y faire (Aquaman, Bumblebee, Mortal Engines, etc.), there may be room for two variations on Blind Side or Wonder between mid-November and mid-January. Sure, I might argue that something should move from Thanksgiving (which is super crowded) and that Dec. 14-to-Dec. 25 blitz and instead open in those first two weekends of December, but the absence of early December biggies may allow the Thanksgiving flicks (Creed II, Ralph Wrecks the Internet, Green Book and Robin Hood) to leg out accordingly. That might not help the Christmas biggies, but I digress.

We're still looking at an Oscar race comprised of A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, Black Panther, The Favourite (which is a nasty delight while also being Lanthimos's most overtly mainstream release yet) and Alfonso Curon's Netflix original Roma. As hoped for, the bulk of the major Oscar contenders will likely be comprised of major studio fare, and yes I count Focus Features (which is, like Universal, owned by Comcast) and Fox Searchlight as arms of a bigger major studio operation. Universal knows Green Book is a buzzy winner, and they are banking on a big per-theater average and strong word-of-mouth to power the film into its national Thanksgiving debut.

© Forbes. Images © Universal.