The 14 Best Indie Movies of 2018 So Far

The year is far from over, but there are already several movies in theaters worthy of celebration.

Yes, we know: It’s only May! There are eight months and many more movies coming out this year. However, the end of the year is a tricky time to survey the best movies released over the previous 12 months, since there’s often so much to consider. As an alternative, we’ve decided to get a jump on the process and keep you posted as the list keeps growing. Below, you’ll find our current favorites among the films that have either opened theatrically this year or become available on other platforms (yes, Netflix releases count). We see a lot of movies early, primarily on the festival circuit, and so we’ve included films at the end of our list that are “on deck” for inclusion — but only if we know for certain that they’re coming out this year.

Want to gripe about our choices or suggest others? Drop us a line at editors@indiewire.com.

1. “The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci’s Soviet satire takes the “In the Loop” and “Veep” creator’s scathing tone into “Dr. Strangelove” terrain with a madcap look at scheming despots jockeying to take over the country. (Review)

2. “Annihilation

Alex Garland’s heady sci-fi thriller wasn’t a theatrical hit, but it deserved attention for following up on “Ex Machina” with another mesmerizing look at the nature of human identity. (Review)

3. “Paddington 2”

The latest exploits by the furry city slicker outmatched expectations with a heartfelt adventure about theft and incarceration, mining more universal poignance out of the material than even fans of the children’s books could have anticipated. (Review)

4. “The Rider”

Chloe Zhao’s Cannes-acclaimed tale of a South Dakota bronco rider recovering from an accident is a delicate, understated achievement. (Review)

5. “A Quiet Place”

John Krasinski’s mostly silent monster movie is a riveting survival story that owes as much to its intricate sound design as the script itself. (Review)

You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s film

“You Were Never Really Here”

Alison Cohen Rosa | Amazon Studios

6. “You Were Never Really Here”

Lynn Ramsay’s existential hit man drama is a poetic look at a broken man (Joaquin Phoenix, never better) who finds some measure of comfort in his gunslinger skills. (Review)

7. “Disobedience”

Sebastián Lelio’s British drama finds two former lovers (Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, in peak form) rekindling their romance under the constraints of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where their relationship is considered taboo. It’s a tender, moving look at forbidden love. (Review)

8. “Zama”

Argentine master Lucrecia Martel tackles her most ambitious subject to date with this eerie and darkly funny look at a Spanish diplomat adrift in Colonialist Latin America. (Review)

9. “Thoroughbreds”

Cory Finley’s delightfully vicious debut is a pitch-black comedy about two rich, white, teenage girls who discover that empathy is the only thing they can’t afford. “American Psycho” meets “Heathers” (in broad strokes, anyway), this twisted chamber piece offers a blistering portrait of privilege gone wild. (Review)

10. “Love After Love”

Andie MacDowell gives the performance of her life in Russell Harbaugh’s stunning drama about a family dealing with the way things change after someone dies, and also the ways in which they don’t. Like a traditional melodrama that’s been thoroughly filleted and then pounded flat, “Love After Love” bristles with an honesty that few films about grief have ever found the strength to show. (Review)

“Love After Love”

11. “Foxtrot”

Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s brilliant followup to his debut “Lebanon” takes a seemingly dreary story of loss and crafts a wonderfully unexpected hodgepodge of insights into intergenerational Israeli frustrations. (Review)

12. “A Fantastic Woman”

The other great Sebastián Lelio film from this year, the Oscar winner features first-time actress Daniela Vega in a breakout role in the rare movie about a trans person that — for better or worse — feels of its time, and not at least a half-step behind. (Review)

13. “Lean on Pete”

A searching, violently unsentimental coming-of-age drama about all the things we have to offer one another, Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete” isn’t the kind of heartwarming indie that its opening moments might lead you to expect. Sure, it’s a boy-and-his-horse story, but it’s also the kind of film that only the creator of “45 Years” could make. (Review)

14. “Isle of Dogs”

At heart, for all of the Wes Anderson wizardry, this is just a very simple story about a boy and his dog. And the dogs he meets while trying to find his dog. And maybe also the lady dogs those dogs want to hump. And don’t forget about the vast robot conspiracy that’s threatening to doom them all. (Review)

On deck: “The Tale” (May 26; HBO), “Hereditary” (June 8), “Eighth Grade” (July 13), “Mandy” (Summer TBD) “Madeline’s Madeline” (August 10), “Relaxer” (Summer 2018), “We the Animals” (August 10)

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‘Annihilation’ Director Alex Garland Speaks Out on Screwing With Genre and Studio Panic Attacks

When asked at SF FILM what “Annihilation” is: “I don’t give a shit,” Garland replied. “It’s itself as much as possible.”

The brainy 47-year-old son of a British political cartoonist, Alex Garland made his name with novels “The Beach” and “The Tesseract” before moving on to a tortuous relationship with Hollywood. After Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Danny Boyle’s movie version of “The  Beach” (Fox), Garland turned to screenwriting on two original grim visions of the future for Boyle and Fox Searchlight, zombiefest “28 Days Later” and sci-fi space trip “Sunshine,” both starring Cillian Murphy, followed by 2012 comic-book flop “Dredd” (Lionsgate).

Backed by Focus Features, Garland’s stunning directorial debut “Ex Machina,” a tense sci-fi three-hander starring Oscar Isaac as a genius robot designer, Alicia Vikander as his wily femme bot, and Domnhall Gleeson as the gullible man who falls for her, was inexplicably rejected for theatrical release and was taken on by A24. Focus president Peter Schlessel lost his job when the movie scored $25 million domestic and two Oscar nominations (including Garland’s screenplay and a win for VFX).

Ex Machina

“Ex Machina”

A24

Skydance Media and Paramount backed Garland’s next film, the $55-million “Annihilation,” which ran into a management change at the studio. Paramount dumped the movie in 2,012 theaters on February 22 without much fanfare and sold off most foreign distribution rights to Netflix. So far the well-reviewed sci-fi fantasy adventure starring Oscar Isaac as the only government operative to emerge from “The Shimmer,” a hostile encroaching alien environment, and Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny as volunteers who go back in, has earned just $38 million in North America.

On Saturday, Garland, who is in San Francisco working on FX series pilot “Devs,” participated in a wide-ranging conversation with USC professor Tara McPherson at SF FILM’s Creativity Summit. Check the highlights, in alphabetical order, below.

Alex Garland and Tara McPherson at SF FILM.

Adaptation

“Annihilation” is “a loose adaptation” of “The Southern Reach” trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, said Garland. His career also includes a faithful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go,” while British comic book “Dredd” focused on the lead character played by Karl Urban.

“By the time I had done those, I understood that when you do an adaptation you have to make a decision about what is the thing you are adapting,” he said. “If the first one was a neurotic, slavish adaptation, the second one was zeroed in on a character. And the most defining thing about [the novel “Annihilation’] was its atmosphere; the specifics of plot were not as crucial. Tone was very important. I didn’t reread the book, which was a dreamlike, slightly hallucinatory novel. I did an adaptation of my memory of the novel, a slightly odd conceit.”

Karl Urban in “Dredd.”

The theme that fascinated Garland was “the nature of self destruction,” he said. “I have five people enter an existential space that’s getting bigger and closer. All of them have self-destructive tendencies. Is it that only self-destructive people enter, or are we are all self-destructive? Almost nobody commits suicide, but everybody is self-destructive. When I realized that everyone I knew had self-destructive impulses, that interested me. It has something to do with the relationship between construction and destruction. Anyway, as an atheist, my belief system as to how we happen to be here is: Evolution is a product of mutation. It all makes sense. There’s a changing and a breaking.”

Audiences

One way Garland distances himself from the difference between what he intended to write and public reaction is to see audiences as participants who bring their own perspectives.

“All narratives presented to audiences are doing a 50/50 deal,” he said. “Half of the narrative, in a way, is provided by an audience member and their subjective agenda and how they feel about the world … it is important to give audiences credit. There is something frustrating about the number of films so explicit in themselves … there is nothing to think about when you leave the cinema, nothing to discuss. I find that makes the films truly forgettable in a literal way. What are you remembering or continuing to turn over? Anyway, it’s not good to treat audiences with contempt in a continuous, reflexive way. How could that be a good thing?”

Auteurs

Garland began as a comic-book artist, and views filmmaking as a group effort “with the shared sensibilities of the people I’m working with. We have a shared intention, everybody is bringing their version of that intention. What you have is framed and shot as arranged by the DP and VFX, a group of people in concert asking themselves what is beautiful and what has been done before. I write the script and disseminate it to people, some of whom I’ve worked with for 20 years. I spread it out, see what people think.”

Garland doesn’t believe in the auteur theory “as something innately desirable or admirable. Is Wes Anderson an auteur? Yes, he is. His fingerprint is everywhere. Are there auteurs who think they are auteurs? There are very few authors.”

He especially decries the possessory credit. “A film from the name of a director is almost always untrue and always extremely offensive to the people involved in the filmmaking who are being ignored by the vanity of the director,” he said. “It is what it is. If a DP was not an important part of the creation of the aesthetic of the filming, why would production companies fight over DPs?”

He also objects to directors’ “spurious notions created about what is right and wrong,” such as whether to shoot digital or on film, or use practical effects vs. VFX. “They are used as badges of honor. It doesn’t make any sense. We are working in a medium where you use the options that are correct for that project. If ‘Ex Machina’ was shot on film, I don’t think it would make it any better.”

Data mining

Garland denies any particular prescience in “Ex Machina,” which some have suggested as a window into the Facebook data-mining future. “It’s never been a secret,” he said. “We know. [What] is more interesting is not the notification what data is harvested and used by tech companies, but amnesia. We drift through it and forget. You have a president who is now more able to survive an election campaign than in a previous era. Amnesia is part of it. Nothing has consequence. It’s always worth remembering what shit we can get up with.”

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Gender

“Annihilation” is focused on five women who, without much fuss or comment, don military gear and enter The Shimmer, knowing they may lose their lives. Garland refused to be engaged in a debate about gender. Like any group of people, some are more competent, flawed, or heroic than others. “‘Annihilation’ is deliberately about the absence of an argument,” he said.

Garland feels strongly that people are not born with an understanding of everything, whether it’s gender or any sort of social issue. “As you get older, you think about things more and learn more.” As for gender, “I can see an evolution in thought processes. I leave myself the right to make mistakes and get things wrong. I hope I will, like anyone else, think about those things. I’m a little bit worried about crystallizing arguments, and making it part of a thought process. What pisses me off about Twitter is the way it locates people to thoughts that may have been glancing.”

His own use of gender in his books and films is “part of a process and it isn’t fully defined at any point,” he said. “It’s a big issue at the moment because of #TimesUp and the pay gap, all of which are correct.”

He does admit to playing around in “Ex Machina” with gender and where physical objectification resides. “It poses a question to a young man character and the audience,” he said. “‘Does this female-appearing robot have an interior life?’ At a certain point, the robot makes herself look more and more like an attractive woman in her early 20s. The moment of objectification has happened. When the robot does indeed turn out to have an interior life, the audience and the young man are surprised.”

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Genre

For Garland, genre is a “complicated term. You could call something science fiction, which could range from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘2001.’ They are terribly different kinds of films, there’s something problematic embedded in that.”

What is “Annihilation”? “I don’t give a shit,” he said. “It’s sort of science fiction and horror. It’s itself as much as possible. Argh.”

Still, he acknowledges that genre can be useful in a short-form, fast-moving medium like film. “Genre is shorthand,” he said. “Things that might take a long time to explain, in genre you can do quickly. People understand the tropes of that genre. These are like free gifts, in terms of how quickly you can set something up or unfold something, also establishing terrain. When people then have expectations of gifts, you can subvert the beats. I’m 47; I grew up in the transition from hippies to punks. Something about subversion I’m attracted to. One of the things genre gives me is the ability to fuck with it.”

Studios

He may have burned his bridges at the Hollywood movie studios. “They are often enthusiastic about when they decide to make the film,” he said, “because they feel virtuous: ‘Yes, we are encouraging non-franchise cinema, and have a go.’ And then you deliver it and they have a panic attack.”

He cited his last three films, “Dredd,” “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” as all “rejected by the studio on their delivery, or sections within the studio. The reason the studios get anxious is because you then have a very limited audience.”

Television

Unsurprisingly, Garland is moving to television with an FX pilot order for one-season series “Devs,” a San Francisco tech story about what happens when you put big data and powerful processing power together, which he has compared to “Ex Machina.”

While acknowledging the occasional ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Get Out,” Garland said he views TV as a long-form medium. “TV is the home of adult drama,” he said. “TV is broadly much more welcoming. In the 1970s you had ‘Taxi Driver’ in the cinema, and now you have ‘Breaking Bad’ in the home. You deliver a narrative, and the people you’re delivering it to want you to do it.”

The Best Animal Movie Characters of the 21st Century, From Black Phillip to Bunzo

Chaos reigns when you live deliciously.

We here at IndieWire care deeply about animals. So much so, in fact, that we racked our brains, debated among ourselves, and got into shouting matches over the relative merits of our favorite four-legged movie characters (okay, maybe not that last part).

A few ground rules came into play when whittling down our selections. Live-action animals made the cut, as did CGI creations in live-action films; fully animated productions, however, did not (sorry, Dante from “Coco”). We’ve been blessed with many great cinematic creatures in recent years, some of whom are no longer with us. Lucky, then, that their work is immortalized onscreen.

20. Marvin, “Paterson”

Marvin Paterson

There are many reasons why Jim Jarmusch’s remarkable “Paterson” shouldn’t have worked, but principal among them is its heavy reliance on an actual performance from an English Bulldog. The story of a bus-driving poet (Adam Driver) from New Jersey, the film follows the soulful rhythms and artistic pursuits of his regimented daily routine. A huge part of that routine involves his dog Marvin (Nellie, pulling off the gender switch with ease), whose deadpan comedic timing is pure Jarmusch, as the way she reacts, emotes and plays off an uber-sincere Driver is pure gold. As Paterson (Driver) is thrown off his routine the film’s heart lives in the subtle shifts, many of which are perfectly punctuated by Nellie, in a performance that fully earned its Palm Dog at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. —Chris O’Falt

19. The horse, “The Turin Horse”

The Turin Horse

This elegant two-hour 26-minute black-and-white movie starts with the first of about 30 very long takes. A huge old workhorse doggedly pulls a man and a heavy cart along a rough road in a howling gale. His muscles strain. He plows forward. He’s tired but he keeps going, eventually pulling into a barn where the driver (János Derzsi) and his middle-aged daughter (Erika Bók) unhitch and settle him. The decrepit animal eventually refuses to eat as the winds continue to rage in the bleakest of landscapes. When the horse gives up, it means the end for the farmer and the woman, who are subsisting on a shot of plum brandy and a boiled potato a day as their well runs dry. At age 56 in 2011, Hungarian Tarr declared that this black-and-white tone poem to despair would be his last. (He directed documentary short “Muhamed” in 2017.) —Anne Thompson

18. The spider, “Enemy”

Enemy ending spider

“Chaos is order yet undeciphered” is the epigraph that opens Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy,” not that it’s much help with what’s surely the most bizarre penultimate shot of any movie in recent memory: Jake Gyllenhaal walks into his bedroom and discovers that his wife has transformed into a giant, cowering tarantula. Fin. Images of spiders recur throughout the film, providing just enough thematic breadcrumbs to be confident that this eight-legged metaphor has a perfectly good reason for being there. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less terrifying to find the massive arachnid curled up into the corner like it’s just been caught in a lie. For arachnophobes, this will probably be the most traumatizing thing they’ve seen on screen since “Arachnophobia” (and at least that movie was gracious enough to warn us with its title). But even those viewers who aren’t scared of spiders are likely to be jolted by Villeneuve’s cheeky kiss-off, which leverages a familiar fear in order to access a number of much deeper ones. —Michael Nordine

17. The goats, “Manakamana”

Manakamana goats

Aside from being one of the purest, unadulterated modern views of humanity, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s masterpiece of a documentary has an air of mystery to it. Every time the cable car emerges from the darkness of the platform and out into the sunshine high above the Himalayan valley, it’s a surprise who the next companions will be on this ride. Some of the most memorable passengers on this cinematic journey are a group of goats. We never know their names, where they’re going, or what their eventual fate is. Just seeing them taking up this small space, climbing over each other and bleating in the direction of something off-screen cements this as a celebration of the rhythms of living things, not just humans. It’s a snapshot in time, on film, and the fact that they’re largely oblivious about what’s happening makes it all the more sweeter a segment. —Steve Greene

16. Seabiscuit, “Seabiscuit”

Seabiscuit

The namesake thoroughbred in “Seabiscuit” was composited from 10 equine actors, among them Popcorn Deelites and I TwoStep Too. Together, their sprinting, eye contact, and whip-endurance helped the adaptation of Lauren Hillenbrand’s bestseller pick up seven Oscar nominations. Writer-director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” “The Hunger Games”) paired Tobey Maguire — as sullen, semi-blind jockey Red Pollard, long ago abandoned by his parents — with a cantankerous stable-occupant deemed too old small to win big. Both rider and racer sustained career-threatening injuries, yet they still triumphed over the fearsome, Triple Crown winner War Admiral. That 1938 contest, considered one of the high points in American sports history, was welcome entertainment for a nation emerging from the Great Depression, bracing for World War II. —Jenna Marotta

‘Sherlock Gnomes’: Paramount’s Struggle at Box Office Continues

Paramount Pictures’ latest release, “Sherlock Gnomes,” fell flat with a $10.6 million opening against a $59 million budget. Critics panned the sequel to 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet,” while audiences gave the film a B+ on CinemaScore, a below average mark considering that most family animated films receive an A or A- from opening night audiences

This is the latest disappointment for distributor Paramount Pictures, which struggled to find a hit over the past few years under its late former CEO Brad Grey and has seen its annual studio market share plummet as a result. Grey had been ousted as head of the studio shortly before his death in May during a power struggle with the family of Viacom owner Sumner Redstone.

The Melrose studio was sitting high in 2010 and 2011, grossing over $1.9 billion in back-to-back years. But after losing Marvel Studios properties to Disney, Paramount has only exceeded $1 billion in North America just once in the past six years, finishing no better than sixth among all studios since 2012.

Also Read: ‘Black Panther’ Earns Record $108 Million in 2nd Weekend, Hits $400 Million Domestic

The studio’s last unqualified success came in November 2016 with its Oscar-nominated sci-fi film “Arrival,” a $47 million film that grossed $203 million worldwide. But 2017 was littered with bombs and underperformers, leading to the studio’s worst annual domestic total since the turn of the century with $534.3 million and a 4.8 percent market share.

Among the flops were the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” which only made $169 million worldwide against a $110 million production budget before marketing costs, and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” which got bad reviews from critics and audiences alike and finished in the red — grossing $52.8 million against a $68 million budget.

Other films underperformed domestically and needed foreign revenue to make a profit. “Baywatch,” for example, contributed to the lowest Memorial Day weekend revenue in nearly 20 years and grossed just $58 million domestically against a $69 million budget. However, the film did make nearly $120 million overseas. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage,” an $85 million action film, only grossed $48.8 million domestically, but made $301 million overseas, including $164 million in China.

Also Read: ‘Black Panther’ to Hit $500 Million Worldwide, Beats ‘Avengers’ Wednesday Record

And the studio’s biggest tentpole franchise, “Transformers,” is in big trouble after its latest installment, “The Last Knight.” The reported budget for the blockbuster was a whopping $217 million, but the film only made $130 million domestically and $605.4 million worldwide. That’s by far the lowest total for any “Transformers” sequel, with the domestic total representing a 47 percent drop from that made by the series’ 2014 installment, “Age of Extinction.” With two more “Transformers” films in the works and a spinoff, “Bumblebee,” slated for release this holiday season, this isn’t good news for what was once one of Hollywood’s most profitable and critic-proof franchises.

Along with these flops that were greenlit in the final years of his run, Brad Grey’s Paramount also took a risk with avant-garde, auteur-driven films that weren’t exactly crowd pleasers but were hits with critics. That led to “Arrival,” but it also led to Paramount’s last release before “Sherlock Gnomes” — “Annihilation,” a sci-fi horror film that has yet to make back its $40 million budget with a $31.4 million cume.

“Annihilation” was praised as a remarkable follow-up for “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, with a cast that reflects the demand for diverse Hollywood roles —  Natalie Portman plays the leader of a team of female scientists on a deadly mission with supporting performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson. But audiences didn’t like the film’s enigmatic tone and ambiguous ending, giving it a C on CinemaScore.

Also Read: ‘Annihilation’ Is a ‘Lavish, Magnificently Unnerving Visual Feast’ and 8 Other Transcendent Reviews

In some respects, “Annihilation” is similar to another risky Paramount release, Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” which grossed $44.5 million worldwide against a $30 million production budget. While “Annihilation” doesn’t go to the nightmarish, taboo-breaking depths that “mother!” does, both films are ambitiously made by directors with a unique style that challenges audiences and wows critics — at least a smattering of them in the case of “mother!”

As the final films of the Brad Grey era are released, Paramount will try to right the ship under their new CEO and former 20th Century Fox head, Jim Gianopulos. The studio is still building its slate under his leadership, with planned releases including the “Cloverfield” spinoff “Overlord” this Halloween and a 2019 slate that includes a remake of “Top Gun,” a sixth “Terminator” film, a seventh “Transformers” film, and film adaptations of the ’90s kids’ TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and the video game series “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

Paramount also says that it is planning to have more films with diverse casts and crews in the future. A spokesperson for the studio told TheWrap last month that it intends to hire more female directors for its projects, something that Gianopulos wanted to make a priority under his leadership.

In the short term, Paramount will look to the “Mission: Impossible” series to bring better summer numbers than “Transformers: The Last Knight” did. The sixth installment of the spy series, “Fallout,” will be released in late July, three years after its predecessor, “Rogue Nation,” made $682 million worldwide and $195 million domestic.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Sherlock Gnomes’ Film Review: Elementary Sequel Takes a Teeny, Tiny Step Up

‘Annihilation’ Is a ‘Lavish, Magnificently Unnerving Visual Feast’ and 8 Other Transcendent Reviews

‘Annihilation’ Film Review: Natalie Portman Anchors Woolly, Weird Sci-Fi Saga

Paramount Marketing Chief Defends ‘Mother!’ Wide Release: ‘We Wanted It to Go Off Like a Bomb’

‘mother!’ Releases ‘Atrocious’ New Poster and Even Fans of the Film Hate It

Paramount Pictures’ latest release, “Sherlock Gnomes,” fell flat with a $10.6 million opening against a $59 million budget. Critics panned the sequel to 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet,” while audiences gave the film a B+ on CinemaScore, a below average mark considering that most family animated films receive an A or A- from opening night audiences

This is the latest disappointment for distributor Paramount Pictures, which struggled to find a hit over the past few years under its late former CEO Brad Grey and has seen its annual studio market share plummet as a result. Grey had been ousted as head of the studio shortly before his death in May during a power struggle with the family of Viacom owner Sumner Redstone.

The Melrose studio was sitting high in 2010 and 2011, grossing over $1.9 billion in back-to-back years. But after losing Marvel Studios properties to Disney, Paramount has only exceeded $1 billion in North America just once in the past six years, finishing no better than sixth among all studios since 2012.

The studio’s last unqualified success came in November 2016 with its Oscar-nominated sci-fi film “Arrival,” a $47 million film that grossed $203 million worldwide. But 2017 was littered with bombs and underperformers, leading to the studio’s worst annual domestic total since the turn of the century with $534.3 million and a 4.8 percent market share.

Among the flops were the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” which only made $169 million worldwide against a $110 million production budget before marketing costs, and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” which got bad reviews from critics and audiences alike and finished in the red — grossing $52.8 million against a $68 million budget.

Other films underperformed domestically and needed foreign revenue to make a profit. “Baywatch,” for example, contributed to the lowest Memorial Day weekend revenue in nearly 20 years and grossed just $58 million domestically against a $69 million budget. However, the film did make nearly $120 million overseas. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage,” an $85 million action film, only grossed $48.8 million domestically, but made $301 million overseas, including $164 million in China.

And the studio’s biggest tentpole franchise, “Transformers,” is in big trouble after its latest installment, “The Last Knight.” The reported budget for the blockbuster was a whopping $217 million, but the film only made $130 million domestically and $605.4 million worldwide. That’s by far the lowest total for any “Transformers” sequel, with the domestic total representing a 47 percent drop from that made by the series’ 2014 installment, “Age of Extinction.” With two more “Transformers” films in the works and a spinoff, “Bumblebee,” slated for release this holiday season, this isn’t good news for what was once one of Hollywood’s most profitable and critic-proof franchises.

Along with these flops that were greenlit in the final years of his run, Brad Grey’s Paramount also took a risk with avant-garde, auteur-driven films that weren’t exactly crowd pleasers but were hits with critics. That led to “Arrival,” but it also led to Paramount’s last release before “Sherlock Gnomes” — “Annihilation,” a sci-fi horror film that has yet to make back its $40 million budget with a $31.4 million cume.

“Annihilation” was praised as a remarkable follow-up for “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, with a cast that reflects the demand for diverse Hollywood roles —  Natalie Portman plays the leader of a team of female scientists on a deadly mission with supporting performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson. But audiences didn’t like the film’s enigmatic tone and ambiguous ending, giving it a C on CinemaScore.

In some respects, “Annihilation” is similar to another risky Paramount release, Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” which grossed $44.5 million worldwide against a $30 million production budget. While “Annihilation” doesn’t go to the nightmarish, taboo-breaking depths that “mother!” does, both films are ambitiously made by directors with a unique style that challenges audiences and wows critics — at least a smattering of them in the case of “mother!”

As the final films of the Brad Grey era are released, Paramount will try to right the ship under their new CEO and former 20th Century Fox head, Jim Gianopulos. The studio is still building its slate under his leadership, with planned releases including the “Cloverfield” spinoff “Overlord” this Halloween and a 2019 slate that includes a remake of “Top Gun,” a sixth “Terminator” film, a seventh “Transformers” film, and film adaptations of the ’90s kids’ TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and the video game series “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

Paramount also says that it is planning to have more films with diverse casts and crews in the future. A spokesperson for the studio told TheWrap last month that it intends to hire more female directors for its projects, something that Gianopulos wanted to make a priority under his leadership.

In the short term, Paramount will look to the “Mission: Impossible” series to bring better summer numbers than “Transformers: The Last Knight” did. The sixth installment of the spy series, “Fallout,” will be released in late July, three years after its predecessor, “Rogue Nation,” made $682 million worldwide and $195 million domestic.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Sherlock Gnomes' Film Review: Elementary Sequel Takes a Teeny, Tiny Step Up

'Annihilation' Is a 'Lavish, Magnificently Unnerving Visual Feast' and 8 Other Transcendent Reviews

'Annihilation' Film Review: Natalie Portman Anchors Woolly, Weird Sci-Fi Saga

Paramount Marketing Chief Defends 'Mother!' Wide Release: 'We Wanted It to Go Off Like a Bomb'

'mother!' Releases 'Atrocious' New Poster and Even Fans of the Film Hate It

Film News Roundup: Natalie Portman’s ‘Annihilation’ Gets Theatrical Release in China

In today’s film news roundup, “Annihilation” gets a China release, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is set for October and Holliday Granger teams with Alia Shawkat in “Animals.” DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENTS Skydance Media has reached an agreement with Vision Film Entertainment to distribute Natalie Portman’s science-fiction thriller “Annihilation” in China in April. Skydance Media controls the China […]

In today’s film news roundup, “Annihilation” gets a China release, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is set for October and Holliday Granger teams with Alia Shawkat in “Animals.” DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENTS Skydance Media has reached an agreement with Vision Film Entertainment to distribute Natalie Portman’s science-fiction thriller “Annihilation” in China in April. Skydance Media controls the China […]

‘Annihilation’ Targets Spring Theatrical Release In China

While Netflix took all offshore rights to Alex Garland’s Annihilationthat left China as the only territory with a foreign theatrical release. Today, the pic’s co-producer/financier Skydance Media announced an agreement with Vision Film Entertainment (HK) to distribute the Natalie Portman sci-fi thriller in the Middle Kingdom during April. Skydance controls the China distribution rights for Annihilation.
The pic based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach…

While Netflix took all offshore rights to Alex Garland’s Annihilationthat left China as the only territory with a foreign theatrical release. Today, the pic’s co-producer/financier Skydance Media announced an agreement with Vision Film Entertainment (HK) to distribute the Natalie Portman sci-fi thriller in the Middle Kingdom during April. Skydance controls the China distribution rights for Annihilation. The pic based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach…

‘2001,’ 50 Years Later: Kubrick’s Classic Showed How ‘Annihilation’ Could Have Been Profitable

It’s not the audience that’s changed, it’s Hollywood’s theatrical patience.

Alex Garland’s smart sci-fi film “Annihilation” inspired a great deal of consternation, but not a lot of box office. More than anything, however, the film’s release may speak more to the impatient state of studio moviemaking.

For some, it showed Hollywood still is unwilling to back genre films with female protagonists, especially the smart, diverse scientist kind. Paramount took heat for cold feet, having unloaded most of the film’s rights to Netflix — reportedly after unfavorable test screenings — and then assembling a half-hearted marketing campaign behind the film’s theatrical release. The Guardian critic Guy Lodge put it bluntly: “Was ‘Annihilation’ too brainy for the box office?”

It’s been 50 years since Stanley Kubrick practically invented the cerebral sci-fi film with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but does “Annihilation” really prove that modern audiences only go to theaters for spectacle, not for smart? Like “Annihilation,” reviewers in April 1968 said Kubrick’s film was heady, bleak, and slow. However, there were key differences between their releases, all of which boil down to time and patience that today’s studios just don’t have.

Stanley Kubrick on the set of "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Stanley Kubrick on the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Productio/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“Annihilation” was dumped on more than 2,000 screens opening weekend, but “2001” had a slow rollout even by 1968 standards. After mixed reviews and opening-week results in early April (it’s worth noting Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated that same week), Kubrick sliced 19 minutes from the film. Distributor MGM still stood behind the ambitious project by striking 100 70mm prints across the country, along with key international cities, for a roadshow that stretched into fall, when the film received a wider 35mm release in regular theaters.

Time even affected critical opinion. Although critics and cinephiles immediately praised “Annihilation,” initial response to “2001” was lukewarm at best. Pauline Kael called it “monumentally unimaginative,” the New York Times said it was “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring,” and the great Andrew Sarris said the terribly grim film failed because “it is much too abstract to make its abstract points.” Over time, Sarris and others changed their opinions of the film, which would go on to to consistently rank in the Top 10 films of all time.

Finally, “Annihilation” was labeled a box-office bomb after three days in release, making only $11 million in its opening weekend. “2001” slowly built an audience to become the highest-grossing film of 1968, bringing in $57 million — or $397.8 million adjusted, more than “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

So while the response to brainy sci-fi may seem to have changed, it’s exactly the same: These films take time, which the multi-platform world has in short supply. “Annihilation” must compete for an audience with thousands of entertainment options literally at their fingertips, and Hollywood is unwilling to invest time in building an audience.

It wasn’t long ago that “smart” TV series faced a similar conundrum. A show’s fate tied directly to its premiere ratings, followed by the ability to maintain a high percentage of what often was diminishing returns. In the last 10 to 15 years, that patience paradigm shifted from the theaters to the home. When HBO’s “The Wire” (2002) or AMC’s “Mad Men” (2007) faced extremely low ratings and buzz in their first seasons, the networks didn’t blink. They believed the shows would find audiences worthy of them, and were justly rewarded with what became cornerstones to their libraries — not unlike what “2001” meant to MGM. It should surprise no one to learn that Garland’s next heady sci-fi narrative will be found on FX, not the big screen.

Annihilation

Natalie Portman and director Alex Garland on the set of “Annihilation” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Peter Mountain

Content with the potential to be an enormous network hit, or a theatrical blockbuster, has always been finite. Only certain types of shows and movies have concepts that justify the tens of millions in P&A needed to create its largest audience as soon as it opens. As the digital entertainment landscape continues its radical shifts, they only underline something that’s been true since at least 1968: Just because a film doesn’t fit the tentpole model doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable. Can distributors take advantage of this, and build a theatrical model that dares to deviate from tentpole practices? That’s a question for Hollywood, not for the audience.