2015 Film Essays

His Blazing Automatics: What the Release Date Push for Jeff Nichols’ ‘Midnight Special’ Means


I woke up to some disappointing news the other morning when I saw a headline stating that Jeff Nichols’ upcoming Midnight Special, originally slated to open on November 25 of this year, had been moved by the studio to March 18, 2016. No specific reason was given, however the biggest reason seems to be that Warner Bros. is also opening the fantastic looking Creed the same day and doesn’t want either film to cancel each other out. That’s fair, as Ryan Coogler is another filmmaker I want to see succeed. The more I think about it though, the more I think it’s a good move for both Midnight Special and Warner Bros. in general.

We don’t know much about Midnight Special other than it’s about a father and son on the run, it’s being compared to classic John Carpenter and that it stars Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon (a Nichols mainstay), Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks and Adam Driver. All of those things have me giddy with excitement for the film, as Jeff Nichols is one of the best working filmmakers, and with only three films under his belt, he’s already stablished himself as an unmistakable voice in American cinema. With Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud, it’s clear that he’s a director who intimately understands how to depict working-class life in a truly authentic manner. To say that I was looking forward to Midnight Special is a severe understatement.

In 2013, Mud opened during the spring as well on April 26. It made $21 million domestically with a $10 million budget. While neither are big numbers, the film was technically a success and saw a return that was double its budget. Seeing how well it did, perhaps Warner Bros. wanted to repeat the springtime success that Mud saw, but on a larger scale.

The move likely doesn’t have much to do with VFX work. If you watch Nichols talk about Take Shelter — his film with the most effects thus far — he notes that most of them are done practically first then slightly enhanced by computer graphics. After all, enough of Midnight Special has been finished for Nichols to show footage at Cannes this year (people were raving), so it’s unlikely that it needed too much more time in post. The release date move also gives the film a chance to hit up some fall festivals to increase the hype, similar to how Mud premiered at Cannes before seeing a release the following year.

Most importantly, it seems the change doesn’t speak negative of the studio’s confidence in the film’s ability to succeed. While they did take it from a prime holiday release, Warner Bros. still left it in a spot where it will have a great chance to do well. After all, they are scheduling it a week before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If putting an original piece of genre filmmaking (from an indie auteur) in the same space as a gigantic blockbuster doesn’t communicate confidence in the film, then there isn’t much else that will. This move shows that Warner Bros. believes Midnight Special can play ball with the biggest of their roster. The studio is looking to have a huge month come March, and while Dawn of Justice will be doing the economic heavy lifting, they have Nichols as a strong cleanup hitter to appeal to the arthouse and genre crowd. Midnight Special was perhaps my most anticipated film of the year, but I know Nichols will make it worth the wait. I didn’t have a most anticipated film of 2016, but I do now.

His Blazing Automatics is a weekly column by Dylan Moses Griffin, who has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.