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Doug Liman Is Right: ‘Road House’ Should Totally Be in Theaters

Just consider us Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) to Doug Liman’s John Dalton (Patrick Swayze). Get your popcorn ready.

All IndieWire needed was a two-minute, 48-second trailer to declare the director 100 percent right about his “Road House” remake being tailor-made for movie theaters. Liman’s larger point, presented in a first-person essay on Deadline touting the importance of theatrical, is also correct — but it seems to be especially accurate for this film, which he’s already touted as possibly his best effort to date.

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The trailer, released on Thursday, opens with a many-on-1 (the one is protagonist Jake Gyllenhaal) parking lot brawl. It then takes it to the cage; some of the matches are sanctioned, others are definitely not. Later comes the many bar fights, some gunplay, an alligator attack, a high-speed Ferrari chase, arson, a head-on boat collision, and Conor McGregor going nutso with a golf club. (A driver, specifically, which must have a shaft made of pure tungsten.)

In other words, “Road House” is an absolutely perfect movie-theater movie. Also worth noting: the film is now set to open the SXSW Film Festival, a slot that has proven to be a) very friendly to blockbusters (ranging from “Bridesmaids” to “Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and b) a must-attend event for film fans who like to see their features in giant movie palaces alongside other film fans.

Instead, it will be watched on screens ranging from cell phones to maybe 85-inch TVs. The average movie-theater screen is about 660 inches or so. (864 inches for IMAX and other PLFs.) With Amazon Prime Video adding ads on January 29, “Road House,” like “Reacher” and the rest of the streamer’s content, may be interrupted — or at least preceded — by toilet-paper commercials.

The “Road House” reimagining, bowing March 21 on Prime Video, has the look of a theatrical blockbuster, the director and the star of several of those, and the pedigree. What Liman’s take would not have is stiff box-office competition.

Due to the 2023 writers and actors strikes, the first quarter of 2024 is so sparse in terms of theatrical releases that Disney is putting Pixar animated films from 2020 (“Soul”), 2021 (“Luca”), and 2022 (“Turning Red”) into theaters. Disney won’t have a new movie in theaters, “The First Omen,” until April.

Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020) is also going back into theaters; WB (and Legendary) are also putting Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” (2021) back into IMAX as we all await the delayed “Dune: Part Two.” Early estimates forecast the 2024 box office will be down $1 billion overall from 2023.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885406o)Doug LimanEdge Of Tomorrow - 2014Director: Doug Liman3 Arts EntertainmentUSAOn/Off SetEdge Of Tomorrow
Doug Liman on the set of “Edge of Tomorrow”Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

An executive at one major theater chain told IndieWire that “everybody would play” Liman’s “Road House” — adding, “in a second” — if it were made available to them under normal exhibition terms. A source at a second exhibitor added that, generally, “more movies in more theaters is always better.”

A second source praised Amazon for its recent theatrical engagements on films like “Air,” Saltburn,” “American Fiction,” and others. “Given the thin slate — not to mention the success many films originally intended for streaming have found at the box office — ‘Road House’ absolutely would’ve been a worthy entry at the multiplex,” a third told us. “Exhibitors would love a star-driven remake of a beloved cult film right now.”

So what is Amazon’s rationale with “Road House”? Well, they’re not really saying — we tried. Part of problem is that definitely Amazon doesn’t really need the box office bucks. (The original “Road House” made about $61 million at the worldwide box office in 1989; profitable, but probably an initial disappointment. Ironically — or not — home video, for which we are including cable, rectified that.)

The $1.6 trillion company (in market cap) is second in the world only to Apple. It is no coincidence that Amazon and Apple are the only two companies unconcerned with their video-streaming services, Prime Video and Apple TV+, respectively, turning a profit. Amazon Prime, like Apple for its own services package, will take the subscribers instead.

If you ask Liman, the screwjob is mostly because Amazon are a bunch of lying, thieving bastards. OK, so he didn’t quite go that far, but it is generally the gist of Liman’s argument.

The “Swingers” and “Go” director says he signed up to make this “Road House” for MGM as a theatrical release — and then Amazon bought MGM for $8.5 billion. Amazon reassured Liman (and the rest of the industry) it was very committed to theatrical; its actions, he says, prove otherwise.

ROAD HOUSE, Kelly Lynch, Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott, 1989, (c)United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection
Kelly Lynch, Patrick Swayze, and Sam Elliott in 1989’s “Road House”©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

In November 2022, Bloomberg reported that Amazon planned to spend more than $1 billion annually toward making, distributing, and marketing 12-15 theatrical films. Hogwash, says Liman. (He probably didn’t use “hogwash.”)

“Amazon has no interest in supporting cinemas,” Liman wrote in his guest column. “They turned around and are using ‘Road House’ to sell plumbing fixtures.” Liman is referring to Amazon.com’s gigantic e-retail business; later in his essay, he went with “toasters.” Just pick a product out of a hat, really. (Hats! Amazon sells lots of those.)

IndieWire reached out to Amazon MGM with a request for comment on Liman’s essay, but we did not immediately receive a response.

Liman believes he has all the answers; he certainly has plenty of praise for his new product, calling his film “fantastic, maybe my best.” He says “Road House” tested higher than his other hits, including “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and the “Bourne” movies. Liman called the “Road House” action sequences “ground-breaking,” and wrote that Gyllenhaal “gives a career-defining performance” — not that any awards ceremonies could recognize one without a theatrical release.

And although Liman wrote that Amazon initially gave him the ol’ “we’ll see” on distribution, the straight-to-streaming release of “Road House” was never really in question. So Liman asked executives to allow him to sell the film to another studio that would give it a theatrical run, a request Amazon denied.

Liman wrote that he initially planned to “silently protest” the issue by no-showing the “Road House” SXSW premiere. Liman has been anything but silent; as he put it, “If I don’t speak up about Amazon, who will?”

We will, Doug. We will.

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