NBCUniversal Studio Chief Donna Langley on ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Wicked’ and the Future of Movies

Paramount Global may be a direct competitor, but NBCUniversal Studio group chairman and chief content officer Donna Langley will be disappointed if the media giant goes away.

“It’s sad,” Langley said at the Kering Women in Motion talk at the Cannes Film Festival, noting that a sale of Paramount means there will be fewer Hollywood studios. “These companies have been great and I’m a big believer in this competitive landscape — kind of ‘all boats will rise. There’s enough to go around.’ I like having healthy competitors; it’s much more fun and interesting and it’s just best for the business.”

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Paramount has been entertaining offers in recent months, with companies like Skydance and Sony circling the studio. Langley is hopeful that the deal will be finished by the end of the year. “It’s enough already reading about this,” she said. “No one really knows what’s happening.”

And today it may be Paramount on the auction block, but when she looks at the media landscape, Langley sees more mergers and sales on the horizon. “Consolidation is inevitable,” Langley said. “It will happen.”

Langley, who was interviewed by Variety‘s co-editor-in-chief Ramin Setoodeh, gave updates on some of Universal’s biggest films and franchises. Though she insists there’s “still gas in the tank” of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, Langley suggested that Dom Toretto and his crew may be getting a tune-up after the eleventh film in the series opens in 2026.

“Where we go next is a question,” Langley said. “We may pivot another time and bring it back to the streets of L.A. and maybe make it a more intimate story.”

Langley also implied that there could be a possible television or streaming spinoff for the series. NBCUniversal successfully launched shows based on hit movies like “Pitch Perfect” and “Ted.”

“‘Fast and Furious’ is a good one,” Langley said after Setoodeh asked what other films could inspire similar programming.

Speaking of “Pitch Perfect,” Langley also discussed developing the next generation of women directors to follow behind the likes of Elizabeth Banks — who first produced, then directed those movies and went on to helm “Cocaine Bear” at the studio.

“Well, there’s one right here in the audience,” Langley said, pointing to budding director (and Oscar-nominated actor) Salma Hayek Pinault in the front row. “It’s an exciting time. We just made a film with A.V. Rockwell, ‘A Thousand and One,’ and the film was really well-received … There’s Emerald Fennell – just so many great next generation filmmakers out there.”

She also saluted organizations such as Sundance for developing programs that focus on helping women directors continue their careers beyond making just one film “because there’s a huge drop off there,” she explained. “The proliferation of streaming and the volume of things that are made, has given more opportunity, but it’s never going to be enough and we have to keep pushing.”

This November, Universal will release “Wicked,” a big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about the early life of the Wicked Witch of the West. It will be a faithful transfer from stage to screen. “The movie is the show,” Langley, who has been listening to its signature anthem “Defying Gravity” on loop, said. She also believes that the musical, which looks at themes like ostracization prejudice, is sadly relevant. “It’s 20 years old, but the themes are as resonant today as they were 20 years ago,” Langley argued.

The NBCUniversal chief was candid about the challenges facing the theatrical movie business, which has struggled to regain its stride in the wake of COVID. Domestic ticket sales are down 20% this year and the global box office is suffering an even sharper decline. “We don’t really think we’re going to recapture [pre-pandemic levels],” Langley said.

She noted that the 2023 actors and writers strikes, which led to months-long production shutdowns, have exacerbated the situation because there are now fewer movies hitting theaters.

“There’s just less volume going through the marketplace at the moment,” Langley said. “If there’s not too many things to go see, you lose the habit…we need volume to come back. We need more movies and great movies in the marketplace.”

But even in a challenging marketplace, some movies still manage to reach blockbuster levels of business. Take Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which Universal released last July. The three-hour historical epic about the dawn of the atomic era became an improbable summer sensation, grossing nearly $1 billion globally and sweeping the Oscars. It proved that people will turn up in big numbers to see a serious story, well told.

“There are no rules in cinema,” Langley noted. It worked, she argued, because “it was epic and it was also very deeply emotional.”

But not every film deserves a sequel. After Setoodeh jokingly asked if there would be an “Oppenheimer 2,” Langley exhaled deeply.

“Let’s hope not,” she said.

Angelique Jackson contributed to this report.

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