“That I Can Actually Call That My Job Is Awesome” – Living Viacommunity at Paramount

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

A Chicken Dinner Served Hot

When lunchtime arrived at the Jamaica orphanage, a knife-wielding worker snatched a chicken from the yard and lopped its head off, shocking the cluster of California volunteers who had stopped off at this hilltop enclave en route to Kingston from Ocho Rios.

Erin Jordan was shocked.

“That’s what they do before they get to the grocery store,” the man said. “I don’t understand why ya’ll don’t get that. But this will be the best chicken you’ll ever have.”

They roasted it over coals on the side of the road. “And you know what?” Jordan said. “It was the best chicken I ever had.”

Jordan is a manager on Paramount Picture’s corporate social responsibility team, a board member of the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California, and a veteran of volunteer efforts all over the world, from the inner cities of New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Phoenix to the favelas climbing Brazilian hillsides. It is these volunteer efforts, she says, that frame her life perspective and ground her sense of place in the world.

“Most of us have so much, and you don’t realize it until you meet people or communities who don’t have that,” Jordan says. “And if I have the time or resources to spare, I’m willing to do that.”

Erin Jordan on a 2002 mission to Bahia, Brazil, to deliver supplies to those in need.

Spreading the Lot’s Influence Beyond the Gates

Like all Viacom brands, Paramount Pictures throws its full weight behind the company’s annual Viacommunity Day (which is coming up this Friday, April 20), when thousands of employees turn their energies over to good causes all over the world.

But long before the trees are planted and the meals are served, the prep begins. For Paramount, that starts with Jordan and the rest of the studio’s corporate social responsibility team. For Viacommunity Day, the small but highly effective team coordinates up to a dozen sites around Los Angeles and supports the international teams as they develop projects. They wrangle supplies and secure permits, and organize an on-site petting zoo and a wrap party, which last year featured Keith Urban joining Paramount staff for game night.

The city-wide events disperse 600 to 800 volunteers around Los Angeles, but once the party raps up and Keith Urban goes home, the studio’s social responsibility team continues their year-round focus on education, HIV/AIDS, and sustainability through Paramount’s Green Team.

They don’t have to travel far. Santa Monica Boulevard Charter sits right across the street from the Paramount lot, in a neighborhood designated a White House Promise Zone under President Barack Obama, and it is a beneficiary of the studio’s Kindergarten to Cap & Gown mentoring program. Jordan helps organize one-to-one student-mentor literacy matches that stretch through most of the school year and in some cases across many years, following the students to junior high.

These immersive long-term engagements can profoundly impact both student and mentor. “When you have more frequent contact with a student as part of an overall plan, I feel that they see you want the best for them and you’re concerned with their success,” Jordan says. “That I can actually do that and call that my job is awesome.”

Classroom reading, kindergarten yoga, dance classes, science labs and playground games – all organized by Jordan and attended by Paramount volunteers on Viacommunity Day – further fuse these powerful student-mentor relationships with the studio’s neighbor.

Building a Better Place to Live

Los Angeles, with its 4 million people sprawled over a vast basin between mountain and ocean, is an easy place to lose yourself. Peppered among the endless tracts tucked within the spider web of freeways are oases for those who need a little help tracking themselves down again. Jordan’s work draws her to these places.

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Viacom Says “Yaaas” to Expansive First-Look TV Deal with Broad City Creators Abbi and Ilana

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following the signing of expansive first-look deals with Tyler Perry and with Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Productions, Viacom has inked a similar comprehensive development agreement with Broad City stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. The move, which crosses all Viacom networks and grants first-look rights to television content created or developed by the pair together or individually, underscores the company’s commitment to identifying and forging close relationships with the best creatives in the industry.

Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana may appear to be aimless and full of hair-brained schemes, but Abbi and Ilana IRL have proven to be stellar creator/writer/performer/director/producers,” said Comedy Central President Kent Alterman. “Their supreme focus on telling new stories, in new worlds, with new talent is nearly scary.”

The expanded partnership further fills out a Comedy Central lineup that was already bolstered by a long-term first-look deal Viacom sealed with Daily Show host Trevor Noah last month. The agreement includes a Paramount Pictures film adaptation of Noah’s bestselling autobiography, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has repeatedly expressed a commitment to better retaining homegrown talent, and the forming of these expansive cross-brand relationships with three of Comedy Central’s marquee names affirms that dedication.

The more intensive alignment with top talent is not limited Viacom’s current stars, however, as demonstrated by the expansive partnership the company signed last year with prolific writer, director, producer and actor Tyler Perry, granting Paramount Pictures first-look rights to his films and guaranteeing 90 episodes of annual content across BET and other Viacom networks beginning next year.

“By prioritizing efforts to work with the best, most versatile talent in the entertainment industry, we are better positioned to deliver must-watch content across our brands and platforms,” Bakish said at the time of the Perry announcement.

Glazer and Jacobson also announced that they will end the hilarious, quirky, two-time Emmy-nominated Broad City with its upcoming fifth season.

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Viacom’s Creative Renaissance Ignites With “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” and “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

In the last week, Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place won the domestic box office and MTV’s Jersey Shore Family Vacation rolled to the strongest unscripted cable debut in six years. The efforts provide commercial evidence of Viacom’s ongoing transformation – fueled by wide-ranging creative investments in talent, programming, and marketing.

The chart-topping numbers are especially encouraging in a media environment of ever-more-elusive audiences. The divergent paths to success of these two properties – A Quiet Place delivering something novel by elevating a horror story to a genre-busting blockbuster that appeals to all audiences, Jersey Shore Family Vacation building on MTV’s deep well of intellectual property to connect with its core demographic – underscore the way in which a creative renaissance is driving Viacom’s growth.

Marketing a near-silent film in an era of loud

Making a bet on the film’s potential playability, Paramount unveiled A Quiet Place at SXSW to great response. The highly original film immediately started compiling incredibly strong reviews. A clever marketing campaign then helped launch A Quiet Place to a $50.3 million opening weekend, good for the second-best domestic opening of 2018 (behind Black Panther). With a $17 million budget, the Platinum Dunes-produced and John Krasinski-directed film is a validation of Paramount’s reoriented slate and refreshed marketing approach under CEO Jim Gianopulos, who joined the studio last year.

“An innovative concept, with great talent both behind the camera and in front, and a savvy distribution and marketing plan led to Paramount’s biggest opening since 2016,” wrote Viacom CEO Bob Bakish in a staff memo about the film’s success.

Building strong relationships with talent has become a particular focus for Viacom under Bakish, and Krasinski, who will produce and star in the Paramount Television-produced Jack Ryan for Amazon and co-created Paramount Network’s hit show Lip Sync Battle, demonstrates the enormous cross-brand potential that forming such deep relationships can yield.  

A Quiet Place’s unique storyline – featuring a family tiptoeing through a post-apocalyptic world infested with insectoid monsters that will devour anyone who makes a sound – created an opportunity for Paramount to execute an equally original pre-release marketing plan. They delivered: moviegoers in nearly 100 theater chains caught the sonically attuned monsters devouring noisy spectators in pre-show spots, with the stern warning that “the movie theater should be A Quiet Place.” A pre-Super Bowl ad, a launch of the second trailer on Ellen, and a kick-off spot and accompanying stunts at the SXSW Film Festival primed diverse audiences for the film’s release.

“Paramount’s reconstituted management team is focused on allowing great filmmakers to make great movies, and then doing everything we can to support those movies,” said Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “In A Quiet Place, we did exactly that: We gave a talented young director license to put together something unlike anything else out there, and then threw our marketing and distribution expertise behind the project.”

Tapping an iconic property to connect with a core audience

Jersey Shore Family Vacation had less work to do in the name-recognition department, as its iconic predecessor, Jersey Shore, had long ago etched its cast into the cultural conversation. The unknown was whether this fist-pumping bunch, six years older and reunited in the beaches and bars of Miami, would still connect with audiences.

It did. The show’s nearly 10 million total viewers and 4.2 average rating in the core 18-34 demo on live-plus-three-days metrics made Jersey Shore Family Vacation the most-watched unscripted debut on U.S. cable since 2012. The original Jersey Shore had ignited a global franchise – with spin-offs in the UK, Spain, Poland and Mexico, plus the recently launched hit Floribama Shore in the U.S – and the cast’s return resonated globally, with the premiere airing in nearly 180 countries and territories.

The strong ratings complemented a seven-hour trending run on Twitter and acted as an emphatic endorsement of MTV’s revamped creative direction under President Chris McCarthy. Under his leadership, the network has grown ratings for three consecutive quarters for the first time in seven years behind a blend of revitalized franchises, returning classics and original programs.  

“MTV is about celebrating youth culture and music where talent and creativity unite to produce content that resonates across generations,” said McCarthy, who also oversees VH1 and Logo. “Jersey Shore Family Vacation and the new Floribama Shore demonstrate how MTV can harness our heritage to create programming that appeals to a mass audience while serving as a great launching pad for our new series.”

Paramount’s Downsizing Demonstrates Outsized Impact With an Environmental Media Award Nomination

*spoilers below*

In addition to Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe nominations, Paramount’s Downsizing has earned a nod from the Environmental Media Association (EMA) in its feature film category. The annual EMAs honor the most environmentally conscious works in film and television.

Downsizing posits what would happen if scientists took a drastic step to conserve the Earth’s resources. Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, a regular guy living a near-future version of the American Midwest with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), and struggling to pay the bills. To maximize their finances, the Safraneks decide to shrink themselves to five inches tall. Paul’s life in the lap of Lilliputian luxury sours once he finds out his wife has changed her mind and will not be downsizing, and subsequently divorces him.

Paramount’s film tackles heavy themes: economic disparity, political and racial inequality, and what has attracted attention from the EMA board—environmental sustainability.

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“Nothing Could Have Prepared Us For How Good This Film Is” – Critics Love Paramount’s A Quiet Place

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

When Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place opened the SXSW Film Festival last month, the reviews were deafeningly loud – and positive.

“Critics in attendance for the Austin, Texas-based film festival called Krasinski’s third feature film ‘a tight thrill ride,’ ‘a kick-ass horror flick,’ a ‘crowdpleaser,’ and a ‘technically sleek’ and ‘terrifying thriller,’” Entertainment Weekly’s Nick Romano wrote at the time.

They may want to quiet down. Set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by sonically super-powered insectoid predators that will feast on any human who makes the slightest sound, A Quiet Place’s tiptoeing world of caution and fear is no place for raving critics.

That hasn’t slowed them down. With the film opening in theaters today, the stream of enthralled reviews has turned into a deluge, most of which go something like this take by Cinemablend’s Conner Schwerdtfeger:

“… even in the face of heightened anticipation, nothing could’ve prepared us for how good this film is. Using its simple concept for maximum effectiveness, A Quiet Place blends horror with drama, and the result is a near-perfect horror film that isn’t just the best scary movie of 2018 so far; it is one of the best films of the year, period.”

The film stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed), Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. They survive by wit and prudence and patience, with sign language and with poured sand trails to walk on and within a padded living space designed to mute every sound. Hanging over their bunkered but secure-for-the-moment existence is the fact of Blunt’s pregnancy, promising the inexorable arrival of a screaming baby into a world of omnipresent sound-hungry monsters.

It’s an intriguing meta concept, and one that is masterfully executed in multiple dimensions. Here’s a closer look at the elements that A Quiet Place’s critics are shouting about:

It transcends horror

From its opening scenes, it is clear that A Quiet Place has a larger purpose than scaring audiences out of their seats (though “Every second of A Quiet Place is filled with oppressive dread…” notes GQ’s Tom Philip). In its insistent focus on Mom and Dad Abbott working together to keep their kids alive under horrific circumstances, the film is as much about the overwhelming responsibility and challenges of family life as about anything else.

“The question Krasinski tackles is what defines a family and what’s needed to preserve it?” asks Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. “’Who are we,’ asks Mom, ‘if we can’t protect our children?’ The answers are worked out with satisfying complexity and genuine feeling, proving indeed that home is where family is.”

Left to right: Noah Jupe plays Marcus Abbott, Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott and John Krasinski plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

At least part of the reason this resonates so deeply is that the survivalist couple is married in real life. “… the success of the film hinges almost entirely on the way in which real-life couple and parents Blunt and Krasinski pour their fears about raising children into their performances here,” writes Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. “As is the case with most successful, spare horror films of late, A Quiet Place has much more to say about its humans than its monsters and is especially invested in the ways families fail to communicate even their most basic needs to each other.”

Krasinski is a great director…

Krasinski the actor is familiar to a non-monster-infested America, which has been laughing along with him since the mid-2000’s heyday of The Office. Here, in his debut helming a film for a major studio, we meet Krasinski the director. We are impressed.

“Directed with first-rate visual flair by John Krasinski (who knew?), this riveting near-silent thriller exudes the despair of a broken world with the concision of a Cormac McCarthy novel folded into a simplistic B-movie premise,” writes Eric Kohn in Indiewire. “… the director’s capacity to mine suspense out of inventive scenarios (sinking in a sea of corn, or grasping for a mattress to stifle a baby’s cry) means that every new showdown comes with a few unexpected tricks.”

… supported by an outstanding cast

That one of the Abbott’s children is deaf – meaning the family can all sign fluent sign language – perhaps contributed to their survival in a world where sound is poison. That Krasinski cast a deaf actress in that role most certainly helped transform a surreal world into a believable one.

“Simmonds, a deaf actress, is as commanding here as she was in her astonishing breakthrough turn last year in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck,” writes the Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang.

The rest of the cast is just as strong. “… Blunt, Krasinski, and Jupe all contribute credible intensity to their scenes with a degree of sophistication rare for this type of material,” writes Indiewire’s Kohn.

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A Partnership Is Born: Viacom and Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Sign Feature Film, First-Look Deal

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom today announced a long-term strategic partnership with Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Productions, substantially expanding the company’s relationship with one of its most talented young stars. The deal grants Viacom first-look rights to all projects developed by Noah and his international production and distribution company across television, feature film, digital and short-form video content.

One of the first projects will be a Paramount Players film adaptation of Noah’s bestselling autobiography, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, propelling the Daily Show host into the broader Viacom ecosystem while reinforcing a key strategy of Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish to more thoroughly mine the company’s ecosystem for cross-brand opportunities.

“Working with the best, most versatile talent in the entertainment industry is a strategic priority for Viacom, which is why we are thrilled to expand our relationship with Trevor and his creative team at Day Zero with this cross-house partnership,” Bakish said. “Trevor’s creative sensibilities and ability to drive the cultural conversation around issues that matter to our young, global audiences make him an ideal partner for Viacom across every screen we serve. We are particularly proud that Born a Crime will be produced and distributed by Paramount.”

Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o will star in the film as Noah’s mother, Patricia. Liesl Tommy, a Tony nominee for her work directing Nyong’o on Eclipsed and a South Africa native, will direct the film.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 28: Trevor Noah hosts Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” premiere on September 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Viacom will also make an investment in Day Zero. “I’ve found a strong and incredibly valuable partnership in Viacom,” said Noah, who has hosted The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central since 2015 and is signed to continue hosting the show through 2022. “Our shared vision of bringing diverse cultural conversations and exciting creative projects to the forefront of the entertainment industry and to our constantly expanding audience, continues to strengthen our relationship. I couldn’t be more excited to share Born A Crime with Paramount and the very talented Lupita Nyong’o.”

The expansive partnership with Noah and Day Zero echoes a far-reaching deal Viacom signed with prolific writer, director, producer and actor Tyler Perry last year, granting the company first-look rights to feature films and guaranteeing 90 episodes of new content for BET and other networks beginning next spring.

Born a Crime is the latest project for the rapidly expanding Paramount Players, which collaborates with Viacom flagship brands Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET to develop films. The division’s other projects in development include Perry’s The List, starring Tiffany Haddish (who will host MTV’s Movie & TV Awards in June), which will hit theaters in November, and a Dora the Explorer live-action film in development with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label for a 2019 release.

Porcupines in the Petting Zoo, and More at Johnny Knoxville’s Action Point

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

With summer creeping right up, it’s time to plan your trip to the amusement park that has something for everyone: there’s a porcupine in the petting zoo, an oft-collapsing chairlift, an assortment of contraptions that explode or shoot at you, and a “ride” that appears to be a Medieval-style catapult that slings riders into the side of a barn. Good thing there’s free beer for every patron.

Unsurprisingly, this zone of dysfunctional chaos is under the purview of Johnny Knoxville, who returns to Paramount Pictures, home of his hit films Jackass and Bad Grandpa, for this homespun David-versus-Goliath tale of the scrappy little park-owner-who-could improvising to battle the new corporate megalith down the road. It’s a fight that is apparently best won with the assistance of negligent lifeguards, unstable slides and ziplines, and bears, both real and as costumed mascots.

Action Point, which will hit theaters on June 1, is directed by Tim Kirkby and stars Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Dan Bakkedahl, Matt Schulze, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Johnny Pemberton, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Joshua Hoover, Conner McVicker, and Eric Manaka.

“We’re Focused on a Return to Growth,” Bob Bakish Tells Deutsche Bank Conference

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat with analyst Bryan Kraft at the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services Conference in Palm Beach, Florida last week. In an extended Q&A session, Bakish outlined Viacom’s wide-ranging growth initiatives, from sophisticated advanced advertising products, to the opportunities in mobile distribution, to the company’s strength outside of the United States.

“We spent 2017 really stabilizing the business, and now we’re focused on a return to growth,” Bakish said. “… We articulated a three-part plan associated with that, growing share and margins in our core business, accelerating our participation in next-generation platforms and solutions, and unlocking opportunities with synergies to the core that are outside of traditional media revenue streams.”

While Bakish looked firmly toward the future, he also summarized a few of Viacom’s many recent successes: MTV is in its 10th consecutive month of growth; BET’s ratings streak stands at three straight quarters; Paramount Network launched to both critical acclaim and ratings success in January; ratings at CMT, TV Land and VH1 continue to be strong.

Here are a few more highlights from Bakish’s conversation. You can listen to the full Q&A session here.

Viacom’s diverse demographics + diverse ad products = enormous opportunity

“… all our constituencies have embraced the flagship strategy and certainly that’s true in the ad community. We’re in a very enviable position in that we serve the full spectrum of demographics, really from preschoolers all the way up to, as I said, 25-54s. … But importantly, what you have to realize about our ad business is, yes, it’s partially ads or majority ads on linear television networks … but it’s also our advanced advertising business. And that’s around instilling data-driven approaches and alternate kind of orbits versus [potential] truck [purchasers] versus men 18 to 34 in a television-centric environment, and then all the way up through actual dynamic ad insertion, which is another element we’ve added as we’ve redone our MVPD deals this year [so that] we have access to insert at the consumer level.”

A cornerstone strategy drives growth internationally

“… [Viacom’s international cornerstone strategy] started with our creation of our joint venture in India, which we did in 2007, where we went on to launch a brand called Colors and sitting here today, it’s the number one. … We then went on to acquire Channel 5 in the UK about five years ago. That’s been a homerun and we acquired Telefe in Argentina, which is number one broadcaster in Argentina about a year ago and that’s been a homerun. So, you put that all together and you have a company that grew – our international division that grew, earnings, double digits ad revenue, double-digit affiliate revenue, double-digit ancillary revenue in the last quarter and earnings, let’s say very, very strong double digits in the last quarter and continues to be on a … strong track to additional growth.”

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Paramount Honors Director and Mentor to Stars, Boom Mic Inventor Dorothy Arzner

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following a long tradition of naming buildings after pioneering women in film, Paramount Pictures has renamed its Dressing Room building after prolific director Dorothy Arzner.

The only working female director in the country in the 1930s, Arzner helmed films starring the glitterati of her day, including Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Maureen O’Hara, and Lionel Atwell; mentored the now legendary Francis Ford Coppola in his UCLA film school days; changed production sets forever with her invention of the indispensable boom microphone; and became the first woman director admitted into the Directors Guild of America.

1927: American film director Dorothy Arzner (1897 – 1979) and Alfred Gilks, her cinematographer, survey a scene as they stand by a camera on the set of her film, ‘Get Your Man’. Arzner is leaning on the camera and holding a combination megaphone and viewfinder. She was Hollywood’s only female director of the Thirties. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“We’re incredibly proud to honor Dorothy Arzner, who is one of the early pillars of Paramount’s success and an enormous part of its legacy,” said Paramount Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “As Paramount, and the industry as a whole, works to increase our efforts to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, including our film sets, Dorothy serves as a beacon for that movement in filmmaking.”

Gianopulos joined Coppola at a naming ceremony for the Melrose Avenue building on Paramount’s Hollywood lot earlier this month, where the director remembered Arzner stuffing her hungry students with crackers and teaching them the nuances of getting the most out of actors on set.

Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Gianopulos attend the Building Dedication Ceremony in honor of Filmmaker Dorothy Arzner at Paramount Pictures Studios on March 1, 2018. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages).

“You’ll make it, I know. I’ve been around’,” Arzner apparently told a forlorn and starving Coppola step-sitting on the UCLA campus.

She was right – Coppola went on to direct dozens of films, including the Oscar-winning The Godfather, one of the most iconic films in Paramount’s deep library.

Arzner’s own 19-picture filmography includes The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Bride Wore Red, and The Wild Party (on the set of which she cobbled together that first boom mic). She joins actresses Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Head, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Mae West; costume designer Carole Lombard; and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing as Hollywood legends whose names grace Paramount buildings.

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“The Fallout of All Your Good Intentions Is Coming” in Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The message is cryptic, the voice scratchy and resigned to whatever befalls him – the man in captivity has a message for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it. I wonder, did you ever choose not to? The end you always feared is coming, and the blood will be on your hands – the fallout of all your good intentions.”

This is the first full trailer for Paramount Pictures’ Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth installment in the studio’s leaping, punching, gun-fighting, vehicle-chasing adventure saga.

This time, there will be: betrayal, Paris, packed dance clubs, remote armed outposts, boats cascading through sewers, a man thrown through a bathroom mirror, and at least one game of chicken between a Hunt-driven helicopter and a semi. And plenty more.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Wes Bentley and Frederick Schmidt, will be in theaters July 27.