Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement to helm Logan Lucky, and the moment should have been met with some more fanfare than what we got this past weekend. Anyone who knows the story of Logan Lucky's production knows that this was an odd duck of a film in terms of how it got made. Even more absurd is the fact that the bar the film had to theoretically cross to become a success was absurdly low. So why the hell is Logan Lucky's supposed failure so upsetting, and why is it such an important hill to fight on? Quite simply, because it signals some grim stuff for the future of Hollywood, now that we see the results of Soderbergh's experiment.
This ode to Americana, NASCAR, and thievery was supposed to represent "getting it right," and proving that if a filmmaker who's versed in what they're doing has top-to-bottom control of the machine, it'll produce something fans are more likely to see. By making a movie that isn't tampered with by studio hands at all, and by someone who's been proven to please the masses (see Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy as an example), this was to be the future for auteurs who want to step outside of the tentpole factory and make something personal. (Read this piece in the L.A. Times for more details on how Soderbergh circumvented the Studio System in getting Logan Lucky into theaters.) In turn, this could have inspired other projects that would push the boundaries of independent filmmaking, and create a more diversified portfolio of films that play like a blockbuster, but are made for so much less.
But, with no one showing up for Logan Lucky on opening weekend, the question left lingering in the air is, "Why bother with an experiment like Logan Lucky if nobody will see it?" While there's no sleep to be lost over losing money, as Soderbergh made similar deals that Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets had with shoring up its production costs ahead of time, it's the lack of profit that will undoubtedly put future _Logan Lucky-_type projects on the "maybe" pile. Let's face it, despite franchise tankers like Transformers: The Last Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the tentpole business is still healthy and kicking. Wonder Woman proved that, and even before the summer had begun, Disney cashed a huge check named Beauty and the Beast, which happens to still be the top-grossing film of the year. So if you want to keep seeing remakes and sequels, you're fine. But if you want to see filmmakers let loose like they did in Logan Lucky, you're probably going to have to wait for a little.
Surely, Steven Soderbergh won't let it push him off course, as he's only in it to make his own movies the way he wants to, and sell them the way he feels they should be sold. But there's one big problem: who's going to distribute the films for him? Bleecker Street is a smaller studio, and while they surely have no problem releasing smaller films, if they don't see a healthy enough return to entice them to come back, that's more money that Soderbergh will have to shell out to distribute. This could lead to smaller distribution next time out, which will only kill the chances of making a profit even further. If Logan Lucky was deemed a failure, then anything less than that will surely be seen as abysmal, confining Steven Soderbergh to a reputation of indie flops.
It's hard not to think that thanks to the third place finish for Logan Lucky, there's a chance we'll lose Steven Soderbergh to retirement again. Even worse, we'll probably be seeing less risky films of its ilk. Movies come and go, but voices like the one that brought us sex, lies and videotape, The Limey, and Ocean's Eleven, are hard to come by. To movie fans who wanted to see this film succeed, bringing more vibrant and out-there films to the multiplex, this is frustrating as anything. But to the studios that are more concerned with bringing in record-breaking profit drivers, this news couldn't be better. Which is a real shame, because if a major studio was partnered with Soderbergh, with even just a slightly higher profile ad campaign throughout the summer, this could have been a more successful film that could have helped the studio system reform their image. Everyone could have won, and now, that possibility feels even further from our collective grasp.
What can you, the potential fans of truly independent filmmaking, do? Well, you can go see Logan Lucky in theaters now, and throw some dough to the good ol' boys trying to knock over the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Or, you could see anything else, and just try to block out how a really fun flick with Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, and an assortment of other fine folks may have died on the vine. It's all up to you, folks.