When the sexual misconduct scandals surrounding Harvey Weinstein erupted last year, the collateral damage was extensive. Among the debris were several movie titles that Weinstein Co. had produced or acquired for distribution but whose fate was suddenly thrown into question.
Almost a year later, the majority of these titles are still stuck in limbo, either without a distributor or still without a domestic release date, despite being completed. The fallout isn't limited to Weinstein properties. Other movies that have been orphaned amid the MeToo movement include the latest films by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.
For domestic distributors, these titles represent a tricky and, in some cases, insurmountable marketing challenge. With Hollywood still in the grip of sexual misconduct scandals involving prominent figures, distributors have to weigh the cost of releasing these movies against the potential publicity backlash that could scare audiences away. The result is that some of these titles may never see a U.S. theatrical release.
"You effectively have an asset that you can't exploit. There's a scarlet letter on it," said Elsa Ramo, an entertainment attorney whose expertise includes independent film sales.
The legal hurdles are especially complex for Weinstein Co., whose assets were acquired by the private equity firm Lantern Capital Partners in July in a bankruptcy sale. Among the Weinstein movies that Lantern acquired were three unreleased titles: "The Current War," "The Upside" and "Polaroid."
The deal didn't include two other titles that Weinstein Co. had previously committed to distribute — the New Testament-themed drama "Mary Magdalene" and the Robert De Niro comedy "The War With Grandpa." The latter two titles are currently without U.S. distribution but have found overseas distributors for some territories.
The fate of a sixth Weinstein acquisition, the World War II drama "The Man With the Iron Heart," remains murky. Lantern reportedly is still working on a possible agreement with producers.
At least one of the stalled films, the horror movie "Polaroid," looks as if it will head to Netflix. Streaming and other digital-only releases offer an increasingly attractive distribution option for these titles because they provide a revenue stream minus the media attention that comes with a traditional theatrical release.
Amazon Studios has a conundrum on its hands with Allen, whose latest movie, "A Rainy Day in New York," is without a release date. Amazon bankrolled the project and was set to distribute the movie as part of its highly touted deal with the filmmaker that was announced in 2015.
But since then, leadership has changed, with studio head Roy Price stepping down last year in a sexual harassment scandal. And Allen, of course, has his own issues. He was accused by Mia Farrow in 1992 of molesting their daughter Dylan.
Rumors have circulated that the movie won't be released theatrically, but a spokesperson for Allen disputed that.
Polanski's most recent movie, "Based on a True Story," was acquired for North American distribution by Sony Pictures Classics last year. But the specialty film label has shelved the French-language thriller indefinitely, with no plans for a domestic release. The movie has already been released in Europe and other territories through different distributors.
The filmmaker is still a fugitive from U.S. justice, having fled the country in 1978 at the height of a statutory rape case. Adding to the film's baggage is that Sony Classics acquired it in a partnership with Brett Ratner's RatPac Entertainment. Ratner was accused last year by six women of sexual harassment and misconduct.
For distributors, a name-brand director can represent a major liability if the filmmaker is associated in any way with scandal.
"If you have an iconic director, you can't hide that fact," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. "The higher profile of the person involved, the greater risk to the marketing, because if they are the main attraction, how do you market around that?"
But distributors can face significant financial exposure if they choose not to release a movie. In a typical deal, a distributor pays a fixed amount called a minimum guarantee for the right to release the title in theaters and on other platforms, such as streaming. In the indie and foreign film markets, minimum guarantees typically range from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million. On top of that, distributors will negotiate box-office revenue sharing as well as various fees related to the release, including what is known as "P&A" — prints and advertising expenses related to copies of the movie.
An increasing number of film distributors are exploring the idea of introducing morality clauses into their contracts, according to Marc Simon, a partner at Fox Rothschild, where he advises entertainment clients on acquisitions.
"Now with MeToo," he said, "we have distributors saying that they will put it into the contracts."