Tragic Deepwater Horizon Disaster Debuts As High Dollar Disaster Film

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In Hollywood, films like “Deepwater Horizon” are not supposed to exist. When a movie’s production budget climbs past $100 million, the money usually flows to superheroes, sequels or remakes. Not to a film based on the last hours of a doomed oil drilling rig whose fiery demise led to one of the largest environmental disasters in American history. “I give Lionsgate a ton of credit to bet a large amount of money on a story that is definitely going against the grain of what Hollywood is doing right now,” said the veteran producer who shepherded “Deepwater Horizon.” “It took a lot of guts. And they never blinked.” Creative and business decisions like these help explain why, when “Deepwater Horizon” arrives in theaters on Sept. 30, it will be a star-driven disaster film promising audiences a life-affirming experience. When the opening weekend nearly always delivers the ultimate verdict on a big-budget movie’s financial success (or failure), “Deepwater Horizon” offers a case study in why we get the multiplex choices we do. Even for a studio admirably taking an expensive chance, there’s such a thing as too much risk. On the night of April 20, 2010, a series of explosions ripped through the Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, following the blowout of an oil well thousands of feet below. In the ensuing maelstrom, 11 men died and dozens more were injured, while millions of barrels of oil were soon spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Eight months later, The New York Times published a detailed reconstruction showing how the rig’s defenses had failed amid a cascade of calamities, missed signals and paralysis and how the crew had desperately – and at times heroically – tried to save the ship and then themselves. The article got Hollywood’s attention. Erik Feig, then a top executive with Summit Entertainment (which was acquired by Lionsgate in 2012), said he spied potential in a story of people from different backgrounds toiling at complicated jobs, under extreme pressure and sometimes with different agendas. Then, when everything seemed to go wrong at the same time, in the worst way possible, many of them banded together to help one another survive. “BP executives had literally shown up on the rig to give a safety award on the day the rig blew up,” said Mr. Feig, who is now the co-president at Lionsgate’s motion picture group. “That’s truly the definition of tragic irony.”