Russo Brothers on Netflix shelling out $200 million for The Gray Man: ‘It almost killed us’

The Gray Man is touted to be Netflix’s most expensive action thriller. It begins streaming on July 22.

Anthony and Joe Russo like to go big. In 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, the directing brothers shocked fans when they erased half the global population and allowed their Marvel superheroes to fail. The next year, they raised the stakes with the three-hour Avengers: Endgame, a film that made $2.79 billion at the global box office, the second-highest figure to that point.
And now there is The Gray Man, a Netflix film that they wrote, directed and produced. The streaming service gave them close to $200 million to trot around the world and have Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans portray shadow employees of the CIA who are trying to kill each other.
“It almost killed us,” Joe Russo said of filming.
One action sequence took a month to produce. It involved large guns, a tram car barreling through Prague’s Old Town quarter and Gosling fighting off an army of assassins while handcuffed to a stone bench. It’s one of those showstoppers that get audiences cheering. The moment cost roughly $40 million to make.
“It’s a movie within a movie,” Anthony Russo said.
The Gray Man, which opened in select theaters this weekend and will be available on Netflix on Friday, is the streaming service’s most expensive film and perhaps its biggest gamble as it tries to create a spy franchise in the mold of James Bond or Mission Impossible. Should it work, the Russos have plans for expanding the Gray Man universe with additional films and television series, as Disney has done with its Marvel and Star Wars franchises.
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But those franchises, while turbocharged by streaming and integral to the ambitions of Disney+, are first and foremost theatrical enterprises. The Gray Man is coming out in 450 theaters. That’s a far cry from the 2,000 or so that a typical big-budget release would appear in on its opening weekend. And the film’s nearly simultaneous availability on Netflix ensures that most viewers will watch it on the service. Films that Netflix releases in theaters typically leave them much faster than movies from traditional studios.
“If you’re trying to build a franchise, why would you start it on a streaming service?” asked Anthony Palomba, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who studies media and entertainment trends, specifically how consumers’ habits change.