If the film business is akin to playing poker, two Hollywood studios are making bets on a hand they haven’t yet been dealt.
Lionsgate and Sony Pictures have announced release dates for sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” two highly anticipated movies that will be released in March and July 2012, respectively. “Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire” has been scheduled for November 2013, while the sequel to the “Spider-Man” reboot will hit theaters in May 2014.
Scheduling movies three years in advance — let alone before production has been greenlighted — is unusual but not unprecedented in Hollywood, where claiming prime release dates for tentpole movies has become a fiercely competitive chess game.
With the exception of multi-movie series filmed simultaneously, such as the upcoming pair of “Hobbit” pictures, industry veterans can’t recall studios ever dating the second movie in a series before the first is released. Historically, sequels aren’t scheduled until the first movie proves its box-office mettle.
Because Hollywood studios are relying on big-budget event movies with worldwide appeal for more of their revenue as they produce fewer mid-budget dramas and comedies, none wants to risk missing out on the best release date. As a result, movies are being scheduled further in advance. Aside from two historically slow weekends in early June, the summer 2013 schedule is already full.
“These are aggressive moves, but there are a handful of weekends every year that studios with gigantic movies are gunning for,” said Jim Gallagher, a consultant who was previously president of marketing for Walt Disney Studios. “Lionsgate and Sony are signaling that they will spend whatever it takes to make the first films successes because they are already setting up these franchises.”
“Hunger Games,” based on the bestselling young adult book trilogy, has been hyped as the next “Harry Potter” or “Twilight.” It’s thus no coincidence that Lionsgate scheduled “Catching Fire” on the same date — the weekend before Thanksgiving — that several “Potter” and “Twilight” movies had $100-million-plus openings.
After the coffee. Before deciding that coming up with something new for this every day is harder than it looks!
No "Hangover" means a hangover. The Wall Street Journal is the latest to weigh in with an analysis of the summer box office. Looking at the glass half full, revenues were up. On the half-empty side, that's because tickets for 3-D movies boosted prices and in reality attendance was off about 3%. Although that doesn't seem like a huge figure, summer is Hollywood's most important season and drops in attendance are big news. "The two things this summer was missing were a huge surprise hit and a weekend," Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures told the WSJ.
Rebuilding the franchises. When Sony was having trouble getting a Spider-Man movie together that would keep Tobey Maguire and everyone else involved happy, it decided to start over from scratch. Warner Bros. did the same thing years ago with the Batman franchise and more recently with Superman. The Los Angeles Times looks at Hollywood's latest obsession: rebooting. Are those behind reboots being creative or just showing their utter lack of creativity. Guess what? If it pays off, it doesn't really matter.
Evil ready to take residence. Here's a prediction: "Resident Evil: Afterlife" will be the biggest new movie at the box office this weekend. Of course, it's the only film opening wide. Because it's in 3-D and this will be a slow weekend, projections are that the Sony-distributed horror flick should take in about $25 million. Summit, meanwhile, figures it can drain a little more blood out of the box office and is re-releasing "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." Analysis and projections from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.
Will it really be an event? NBC is hoping a promotional push for its new drama "The Event" has just enough mystery to lure viewers in and not so much that it confuses potential viewers so much they decide to skip it. These days, getting a big opening number is much more important than it was a decade ago, and NBC officials know that if they can't grab viewers right out of the box, there won't be much of an event. At the same time, they need to also convince viewers (like this one) that they will stick with the show. There's nothing people hate more than investing in a show that's gone after a month. The pilot for "The Event" grabbed me, although there are a few tweaks producers could make that would make it less confusing. I need to see the second episode before deciding if it is DVR worthy. More on NBC's promotional strategy from the New York Times.
Job opening. The writers and producers of "The Office" will take their time figuring out who will replace Steve Carell in the NBC sitcom after this season. The Hollywood Reporter says episodes will focus on various characters that could end up with the big office after the Michael Scott character hits the road for good. Of course, there will still be lots of speculation that the show will bring in a new character. My advice, not that anyone is asking, is to stick with the cast you have, and if it becomes clear that something new is needed in the mix, bring it in. Truth is, "Cheers" never needed to replace Diane with Rebecca. I know, Sam Malone is the more apt comparison, but hey, Ted Danson didn't go anywhere, so that won't work -- and it's Friday, so leave me alone!
Fine line between reporting and illegal snooping. News Corp. and its chief, Rupert Murdoch, are catching a lot of heat for accusations that one of his British tabloids broke the law in its efforts to get information on celebrities and members of the royal family. The New York Times did a comprehensive story last Sunday, and now the Associated Press reports on the aftershocks.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Kenneth Turan on "I'm Still Here," Casey Affleck's "documentary" on Joaquin Phoenix.
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A few days after Sony Pictures said it was postponing production on "Spider-Man 4" because of creative concerns, the studio on Monday said it was sending the entire franchise in for a major overhaul without star Tobey Maguire or director Sam Raimi involved.
Sony said the next Peter Parker film will also be released a year later than originally scheduled, with the fourth installment in its blockbuster franchise (worldwide gross to date: nearly $2.5 billion) now set to premiere in the summer of 2012.
In a backstory twist reminiscent of the evolution of "Superman" into "Smallville," the studio said in a statement that the new web-slinger film will focus "on a teenager grappling with both contemporary human problems and amazing super-human crises." The movie is being written by James Vanderbilt, whose credits include "Zodiac" and "The Rundown." The new film, which does not yet have an announced star or director, will be produced by "Spider-Man" veterans Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad of Marvel Studios.
"This is a bittersweet moment for us because while it is hard to imagine Spider-Man in anyone else's hands, I know that this was a day that was inevitable,” Matt Tolmach, president of Columbia Pictures, said in a statement.
“Working on the Spider-Man movies was the experience of a lifetime for me," Raimi said in a statement. "While we were looking forward to doing a fourth one together, the studio and Marvel have a unique opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction, and I know they will do a terrific job."
Added Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment: "We’re very excited about the creative possibilities that come from returning to Peter's roots."
The last "Spider-Man" movie was released in May 2007. It's not the only setback for the arachnid crime-fighter. A "Spider-Man" Broadway musical (in which Sony is an investor) has been delayed by creative and financial problems, and with a budget in excess of $50 million is the most expensive musical in theater history.
Update (11 PM): For more on why "Spider-Man 4" is being revamped -- including why a proposed $230 million budget wasn't enough for director Sam Raimi -- and what its delay means for Sony Pictures, see the story in tomorrow's Times.
Photo credit: Melissa Moseley for Columbia Pictures
The Los Gatos company struck a deal with premium movie service Starz Entertainment that will allow Netflix subscribers to watch such mainstream movies as "Spider-Man 3," "Ratatouille, "No Country for Old Men" and "Superbad" on demand online.
The agreement represents a milestone for Netflix, whose online film offerings have, until this point, been limited to what would be charitably described as "niche" offerings, heavy on sophomoric humor ("National Lampoon's Pledge This!"), horror ("BloodRayne II: Deliverance") and art-house fare ("My Summer of Love").
That's because the premium cable services -- HBO, Showtime and Starz -- pay big money to lock the rights to distribute Hollywood movies, once they've left theaters and been released on DVD. These contracts keep recent releases off fledgling Internet movie services once they enter this exclusivity period, known as the pay-TV window.
"We have 100,00 movies on DVD and 12,000 movies to stream," said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, noting the disparity between the company's physical and digital catalogs. "The biggest gap is television exclusivity."
The Starz agreement helps to narrow that gap. Netflix subscribers who have unlimited plans, which start at $8.99 a month, gain access to the 2,500 movies and other video offerings from Starz as part of the package.
"This solves a huge problem for Netflix, because so much of the criticism about the instant-watch feature is it's just cruddy content," said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst for researcher Parks Associates.
The streamed Hollywood offerings, however, are limited to two major studios: Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures. Netflix's online service won't have access to movies from Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount or Universal because they have deals with other cable services.
As the producer of the highly profitable "Spider-Man" franchise, Laura Ziskin has helped make Sony Pictures zillions over the last six years from the three superhero movies that amassed $2.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales, not to mention tens of millions more in DVD, merchandising and television proceeds.
But when Ziskin asked Sony to contribute money to her Stand Up to Cancer fundraiser, her home studio turned down her pitch. If Major League Baseball could pitch in $10 million, surely Sony along with the other Hollywood studios could collectively match that, figured Ziskin, herself a breast cancer survivor.
"We hoped that because we were an entertainment industry endeavor that the studios would have made a big financial donation, but they didn't," says Ziskin, who worked for more than a year with a group of women that included CBS News anchor Katie Couric and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing to pull off a star-studded one-hour prime-time telethon with Meryl Streep, Jack Black, James Taylor, Lance Armstrong and other celebs that was simultaneously broadcast Sept. 5 by ABC, NBC and CBS.
In the show's early planning stages, Ziskin met with Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton and movie boss Amy Pascal to ask if the studio could provide her with technical support and manpower. No problema, they said. But, when it came to her request for Sony to write a check to the charity -- problema.
"The studio chose not to give money, but we tried to be as helpful as we could by giving Laura office space and all the technical support she needed to make the event successful," Lynton said when asked about the incident.
So, let's get this straight. The studio that just announced that it hopes to make two more "Spider-Man" sequels, which will easily cost more than $500 million in production costs, can't spare a cool couple million for a worthy cause?
Though disappointed, Ziskin says she was very grateful that Sony "supported me totally in the endeavor," giving her not only offices, camera equipment and other in-kind contributions including support in helping build the charity's website, but also time off from making movies for a year to put the show together. "That was no small thing," she says.
Peter Parker is swinging back into the muliplex—but not for a while.
“Spider-Man” producer Laura Ziskin said the fourth installment in the web-slinging superhero series is tentatively scheduled to arrive in May 2011.
In remarks Thursday to theater owners from California and Nevada, Ziskin said there was no finished screenplay, but that she and Sony Pictures were hopeful “Spider-Man 4” could be ready in three years’ time.
The first three movies comprise one of the most successful franchises in modern Hollywood history, grossing a combined $2.5 billion worldwide. Neither star Tobey Maguire nor director Sam Raimi is yet committed to work on the next installment. But Sony has paid Marvel to renew its rights.
Before she tackles the next “Spider-Man,” Ziskin is producing a one-hour fundraiser for cancer research that will be shown commercial-free on ABC, NBC and CBS on Sept. 5.
Ziskin, a cancer survivor, showed the several hundred exhibitors a new theatrical public service announcement directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club”) that promotes Ziskin’s cancer cause, Stand Up to Cancer.
Image: Courtesy Columbia Pictures