Entertainment Industry

Category: Universal

Harry Potter heads to Universal Studios Japan

Harry Potter has conquered the world with books and then with movies. Now he’s doing the same with theme parks.

Universal Studios Japan on Thursday will unveil plans to build the first international version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the blockbuster attraction that has drawn millions of fans to Universal’s Orlando resort and is coming to Los Angeles.

The Osaka destination -- expected to begin construction in the next few weeks with a planned opening in late 2014 and an expected cost of about $500 million -- brings Hogwarts Castle and rides including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey to the boy wizard’s biggest market outside of the United States.

The eight Potter movies grossed nearly $900 million in Japan -- more even than in his home country of Britain. Products including magic wand chopsticks have made the Harry Potter brand Japan's most successful movie-based consumer products line of the last decade.

But the book and film series are both complete, and fans who have grown into their 20s and 30s are buying fewer toys. Harry Potter is in need of a business transformation. The answer from Warner Bros. -- which owns the licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling’s books -- is theme parks. Potter has driven a stunning 68% increase in attendance at Universal Orlando and spurred visitors to spend millions on butterbeer during their visits and paraphernalia on their way out.

"This type of immersion is what the fans crave more than buying traditional merchandise," said Warner Bros. Consumer Products President Brad Globe. "Our strategy is focused on theme parks because it's a different experience. They’ve read the books and seen the movies, but now they can enter the world."

Despite the sluggish world economy, theme park owners have been investing and expanding in recent years. Market leader Walt Disney Co. is spending $4.5 billion to build a new park in Shanghai, $1 billion to upgrade Anaheim’s California Adventure Park, and $500 million on a new attraction in Orlando based on James Cameron’s hit film "Avatar."

Universal, meanwhile, has a major expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando planned in addition to the version in Los Angeles. And new Universal-branded parks are in the works in South Korea, Dubai and Russia.

"Across the board, theme park developers are doubling down on renovations and expansions," said Nima Samidi, an industry analyst at IbisWorld. "There's particularly a lot of activity in Asia because it's a fast-growing market that has a fascination with Western culture."

Revenue at Disney’s theme park unit grew 10% in the company’s last fiscal year to $11.8 billion, and Universal's was up 24% to $2 billion.

At Universal Studios Japan, which is owned by private investors including investment bank Goldman Sachs but licenses its name from the Hollywood entertainment giant, executives engaged in extensive research to gauge the public's interest in a Harry Potter attraction.

In a country of 127 million, more than 80 million tickets to Potter films have been bought and about 24 million books have been sold, giving the story of the orphan boy turned world-saving magician four spots among Japan’s top 10 all-time bestsellers.

The park also conducted surveys to gauge current levels of enthusiasm and what Japanese audiences like most about the series.

"Magical coming-of-age stories play very well in Japan, particularly when they're about the balance between ordinary life and something fantastical," said Glenn Gumpel, president of Universal Studios Japan.

Similarly themed works like the animated movie "Spirited Away" from director Hayao Miyazaki and video game series The Legend of Zelda from Nintendo are among the nation's most popular works of pop culture.

With its opening expected in under three years, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Japan will open sooner than the one in Los Angeles, despite the fact that the deal, which came out of talks that began last summer, was closed more recently.

That’s because at Universal Studios Hollywood, there's no room for expansion, meaning existing attractions must be demolished or renovated to make room for magic. As a result, it's not expected to debut until 2016.

In Osaka, meanwhile, the Wizarding World will be built alongside existing rides based on Spider-Man, "Jurassic Park" and "Jaws."

"We're already growing and expect we’ll get millions more people once we launch Harry Potter," said Gumpel, whose park drew more than 9 million people last year.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a cash cow for Warner Bros., which gets a substantial upfront free for each Universal attraction and a share of admissions and merchandise sales. In addition, Warner conducts tours of the soundstage in Leavesden, Britain, where the "Potter" films were shot.

And though there are few rival parks, outside of ones owned by rival Disney, that would be natural homes for Potter rides, the studio already has its eye on eventually launching more Wizarding Worlds.

"A lot of work goes into building these parks, so we’re probably at the limit of what we could manage at the moment," said Globe. "But if some other great opportunity for Harry Potter presents itself, we would certainly take a look at it."

In a statement, Rowling gave her stamp of approval to the newest addition to her Harry Potter empire:

"I was delighted to experience and enjoy the attention to detail, creativity and superb craft that went into the first Wizarding World in Orlando,” she said. “I am equally delighted that the same level of expertise and enjoyment will translate to the new park in Japan.”


Harry Potter Wizarding World coming to Universal Orlando

Disney to license rights to 'Avatar' for theme park attraction

Harry Potter attraction won't arrive in L.A. until at least 2016

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Promotional art for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan. Credit: Universal Studios Japan.

Comcast profit jumps 30%, with mixed results at NBCUniversal

Comcast Corp.'s earnings jumped nearly 30% in its first quarter as more customers signed up for high-speed Internet service.  But the cable Goliath also showed strength in some an unexpected quarters: the long-lagging NBC broadcast unit and Universal Pictures, which released two hit movies, including "The Lorax."

For the quarter ended March 31, the Philadelphia-based company said its net income grew to $1.22 billion, or 45 cents per share, from $943 million, or 34 cents per share, from the year-earlier period.

Comcast generated consolidated revenue of $14.88 billion -- an increase of 23%.

"I'm really pleased with our start in 2012," Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said in a Wednesday  morning conference call with analysts.  "Cable had another outstanding quarter.... We are starting to make some progress in broadcast."

NBCUniversal revenue was up 18% to $5.5 billion, in large part because the NBC broadcast network raked in $259 million in Super Bowl advertising revenue. (Excluding the Super Bowl, revenue at NBCUniversal was up 12.4%).

Roberts reminded analysts that NBCUniversal results would be volatile because of the hit-and-miss nature of movie box office and higher television programming costs. Comcast has been spending more on programming to try to lift the peacock network to profitability.

Operating cash flow at NBCUniversal was up 34.3% to $813 million compared to the first quarter of 2011.  In terms of revenue, NBCUniversal cable networks generated $2.1 billion in revenue versus $2 billion in the year-earlier period.  The NBC broadcast unit pulled in $1.85 billion in revenue (including the Super Bowl) compared to $1.35 billion in the year-earlier period. Film entertainment revenue swelled to $1.19 billion from $975 million in 2011. Theme parks generated $412 million, up from $390 million.

However, the company's operating cash flow margins were lower at cable networks due to higher programming and production costs, including those for NBA basketball. The broadcast unit posted an operating cash flow loss of $10 million, reflecting higher programming costs and higher marketing expenses to support the launch of mid-season shows, including "Smash."

"We're starting to make some progress but there is a long way to go," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "And in film, we have a much stronger slate this year." Among Universal's upcoming film titles are the big budget action film "Battleship," the dark fairy tale "Snow White and the Huntsman," and a new iteration of the successful "Bourne" series.

Comcast is the nation's largest cable television and high-speed Internet provider. It holds a 51% controlling interest in NBCUniversal. 


Top Comcast executives take a pay cut in 2011

CBS will break financial records in 2012, CEO Leslie Moonves predicts

Comcast fourth-quarter profit jumps 26%; NBC and film unit lag behind

-- Meg James

Photo: Comcast Cable company trucks in Southern California / Credit:  Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times.

Keanu Reeves' '47 Ronin' delayed until 2013

"47 Ronin" cast
Universal Pictures has delayed its big budget Thanksgiving movie "47 Ronin" amid concerns that the 3-D film and its extensive special effects won't be ready in time.

Originally scheduled to come out Nov. 21, "47 Ronin," which stars Keanu Reeves, will instead come out Feb. 8, 2013, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak about it publicly.

Universal executives were concerned they would not have a trailer ready to show this summer, when theaters are packed with audiences watching similar event movies.

Originally budgeted at about $175 million, the cost of "47 Ronin" may rise as additional footage is shot and other changes are made, according to a person close to the production who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. While rumors are swirling in Hollywood that the movie's budget has risen to more than $200 million, the person close to the production denied that.

In a year full of enormous risks for Universal including "Battleship" and "Snow White and the Huntsman," "47 Ronin" has stood out as one of the biggest gambles. Shot in 3-D by Carl Rinsch, an accomplished music video and commercial director who had never made a studio feature film, it features an entirely Japanese cast surrounding Reeves, who has not starred in a blockbuster hit  since the "Matrix" trilogy nearly a decade ago.

"47 Ronin" is a new version of a Japanese legend about a group of samurai who avenge the death of their master and then commit ritual suicide.

It was to be Universal's biggest release of the holiday season. Instead, the studio now will have no movies opening in theaters between "The Bourne Legacy" on Aug. 3 and "Les Miserables" on Dec. 14.

The only other picture scheduled to debut against "Ronin" next February is Relativity Media's "Safe Haven," an adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel. The second weekend of February was a huge one for Hollywood this year, with "The Vow," "Safe House," "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" and the 3-D version of "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace" all opening successfully.


'Battleship' ups game for studio

'Ouija' back at Universal, now with low budget

Keanu Reeves and '47 Ronin' search for 'honor, revenge and impossible love'

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: From left, co-stars Rinko Kikuchi, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu Reeves, Kou Shibasaki and director Carl Rinsch. Credit: Charlie Gray / Universal

'Tower Heist' VOD failure was 'communication problem,' says Meyer

Universal's failed attempt to pioneer early video-on-demand with its film "Tower Heist" last fall resulted from a "communication problem" between the studio and theater owners, according to Universal Studios President Ron Meyer.

Speaking Friday at a conference at UCLA's Anderson School of Business, Meyer said his company believed theater operators would be on board as it prepared to offer the Eddie Murphy comedy "Tower Heist" via VOD for $59.99 in two test markets three weeks after its theatrical release last November.

"We believed the theater owners would be supporting [us]," Meyer said to an audience of students and guests. "I can only say it was a communication problem taking place because there's a certain 'Rashomon' as to whether they agreed or didn't agree and what we agreed on."

Universal executives had believed cinema owners would accept the so-called "premium VOD" effort — which they have previously opposed for fear it would discourage theater attendance — because it was limited to about 500,000 people. But major chains including Regal Entertainment, Cinemark USA and National Amusements vowed not to play the film anywhere in the country unless the studio gave up its experiment.

Universal has no specific plans to try an early VOD release anytime soon, Meyer said, but the issue is far from dead. "Certainly it's going to be tried again ... there's no question about it," he said. "It may not be tomorrow, but it will be someday."

Meyer also spoke briefly about Universal's previously announced plans to add a Wizarding World of Harry Potter — already a huge hit at Universal's Orlando resort — to his company's theme park in Los Angeles. For the first time, he estimated when it might launch, saying "I hope it won't be much more than three years."


Universal Pictures abandons 'Tower Heist' early VOD release

Universal Studios unveils Harry Potter attraction plans for L.A.

'Tower Heist' to hit video-on-demand three weeks after theatrical debut

— Ben Fritz

Photo: Eugene Levy, Alyson Hannigan and Ron Meyer at the premiere of "American Reunion." Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images.

'Ouija' back at Universal, now with low budget

Seven months after dropping a movie project based on the board game "Ouija" over concerns about its proposed budget of about $150 million, Universal Pictures is again planning to make the picture -- but at a much reduced cost.

The studio on Monday announced it was going to target the film for release in 2013, but did not say when it planned to begin production. People familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly said the new "Ouija," which will be produced by Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity") and Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, is expected to be made for less than $10 million.

Last August, Universal executives passed on the previous version of "Ouija," which was to be directed by McG and also produced by Bay. The studio was concerned that a supernatural horror movie with such a big budget would struggle to turn a profit.

At the time, Ouija maker Hasbro, which produces films based on its toys and games, planned to pitch the project as developed by McG to other studios. That effort was apparently unsuccessful, resulting in "Ouija" being reconceived by Universal with a much lower budget. The studio plans to hire a new director as well.

In 2008, Universal signed a much-ballyhooed deal to make at least four films based on seven Hasbro game properties. That agreement was later scrapped and, prior to the news about "Ouija," only one other Hasbro movie remained at the studio: the big-budget navel warfare and alien invasion picture "Battleship," which hits theaters in May.

Blum signed a deal last year to produce low-budget movies for Universal. His first, "Vigiliandia," was produced with Bay's Platinum Dunes and recently wrapped shooting. A second film, directed by Joe Johnston ("The Wolfman," "Jurassic Park III"), begins production this week, and a third, to be produced with former Universal executive Marc Platt, goes in front of the cameras in April.


'Battleship' shows a big course change at Universal

'Ouija' latest movie scrapped over budget concerns

Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Hasbro's Ouija game. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Universal keeps peace with Redbox, spurning Warner Bros.

Universal Pictures has decided not to join forces with Warner Bros. in that studio's war with Redbox.

Universal, the studio behind "Safe House" and this weekend's "The Lorax," on Thursday announced an extension of its deal with the DVD rental kiosk company through August 2014 that will maintain the current 28-day wait from when DVDs go on sale until consumers can rent them from Redbox.

The news comes two months after rival studio Warner Bros. said it would only sell discs to Redbox if it agreed to double the length of the so-called rental "window" to 56 days. The Illinois-based company refused and is now buying Warner DVDs directly from retailers at a higher price than it would have paid the studio.

Executives at both Warner and Universal believe that delays on DVD rentals from Redbox, as well as from Netflix, incentivize consumers to buy the discs or rent films via video-on-demand. Both of those transactions are significantly more profitable to studios than kiosk rentals, which cost just $1.20 per night.

As a result, Universal had wanted to follow in Warner's footsteps and extend the delay on its movies to 56 days, said a person familiar with the thinking of executives at the studio who was not authorized to speak publicly. But Universal ultimately concluded that trying to force the issue could actually harm its bottom line, the person added.

The reason: Redbox has been successful in stocking its 35,400 kiosks with recent Warner releases such as "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas" and "J. Edgar" in as little as a week after they went on sale. Universal executives concluded that rather than seeing their movies become available in Redbox's kiosks earlier than they currently are, it was better to stick with the current arrangement.

Galen Smith, senior vice president of Redbox, said his company is still making a profit on the Warner discs it buys at retail and is prepared to continue with its current arrangement indefinitely. The company presumably would have taken the same approach with Universal, as Smith made clear that a wait longer than four weeks is not acceptable to Redbox.

"In order to have a strong relationship with a studio, we're willing to extend to 28 days, but we think that is the right amount for our business," he said.

Universal's decision is sure to frustrate executives at Warner Bros., who are tolerating a battle with Redbox that hurts their studio's bottom line because they are standing on a principle that they believe will be beneficial in the long run. If Universal had held its ground on the 56-day window, it might have increased the pressure on Redbox to cave.

Twentieth Century Fox's deal with Redbox, which also includes a 28-day delay, expires in 2013. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger recently said his studio intends to implement a 28-day delay soon as well. An agreement with Sony Pictures, which lets Redbox rent discs the same day they go on sale, expires in September.

Universal's agreement with Netflix expires in April. Warner successfully convinced Netflix to implement a 56-day delay on renting its DVDs through the mail. However, because it kept the 28-day window with Redbox, Universal may not be able to convince Netflix to accept a longer wait.


Redbox-Warner deal expires, ending 28-day delay

Redbox teaming with Verizon for digital movies service

Disney may wait 28 days before selling DVDs to Redbox, others

— Ben Fritz

Photo: A Redbox kiosk in San Rafael, Calif. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Box Office: Navy SEALs take out Perry, Aniston, Seyfried

Act of Valor" dominated the weekend box office, opening to a solid $24.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity MediaThis post has been updated. See the note below for details.

As Hollywood's A-listers prepare for the Academy Awards on Sunday, it was the Navy SEAL stars of the movie "Act of Valor" who dominated the box office.

The intense action movie opened to a solid $24.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity Media, proving by far the most popular choice for audiences.

"Good Deeds," the latest movie from writer/director Tyler Perry, opened to $16 million. It's the second-smallest opening ever for the prolific filmmaker and actor, ahead of only 2007's "Daddy's Little Girls."

"Wanderlust," a new Judd Apatow-produced comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and the thriller "Gone" starring Amanda Seyfried were both flops, opening to just $6.6 million and $5 million, respectively.

"Act of Valor," which has won plaudits for its ultra-realistic action sequences that feature the SEAL stars in training exercises, was a big bet for Relativity. The financially struggling independent studio topped other bidders by paying $13.5 million for rights to the movie produced by production company Bandito Brothers. It also committed tens of millions of dollars to an extensive marketing campaign that included four ads in and around the Super Bowl and online material targeting video game players.

But the investment appears to be paying off, as box-office receipts came in at the high end of pre-release expectations. Just as important, audiences loved the film, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That was not only true for men, who made up 71% of the audiences, but women. Strong word-of-mouth could help "Act of Valor"

Despite the softer-than-usual opening for "Good Deeds," distributor Lionsgate is optimistic the film will ultimately end up close to the average total gross for Perry's movies, about $50 million. The studio's executive vice president of distribution, David Spitz, noted that a higher-than-average Friday-to-Saturday box-office increase of 25%, plus an A CinemaScore, indicate that Perry's mostly female and African American fan base loved the movie.

The same can't be said for "Wanderlust," which had the second-lowest opening ever for a movie produced by comedy guru Apatow, ahead of the 2007 music parody "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The film about an uptight Manhattan couple who move to a commune got a CinemaScore of B-. It was financed by Universal Pictures and a fund previously managed by Relativity for around $35 million.

The weak opening for "Gone" marks the second time in a row that a film released by Summit Entertainment has opened behind one from the studio that bought it in January, Lionsgate. Audiences didn't like the low-budget film, for which Summit acquired domestic distribution rights from financier Lakeshore Entertainment, giving it a CinemaScore of just C+ from its mostly female audience.

Also notable at this weekend's box office: The Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams romantic drama "The Vow" took in $10 million and brought its total gross to more than $100 million, become the first movie released by Sony Pictures' Screen Gems genre label to do so.

The Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller "Safe House," which also opened Feb. 10, is right behind at $98.1 million.

[Updated, 11:18 A.M., Feb. 26: It was a third movie that opened that weekend, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which had the strongest performance. With ticket sales down only 32% compared with last weekend, it grossed $13.5 million, slightly more than "Safe House" or "The Vow." Its domestic total is now $76.7 million, while a strong overseas performance has helped it to a worldwide total of more than $235 million.

Liam Neeson thriller "The Grey" has become the first breakout hit from new studio Open Road Films, co-owned by theater chains AMC and Regal, surpassing $50 million this weekend.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates:

Continue reading »

Comcast fourth-quarter profit jumps 26%; NBC and film lag

The Lorax Universal Pictures
Comcast Corp. beat analysts' estimates with a 26% increase in fourth-quarter profit, but two NBCUniversal units continued to struggle: the NBC broadcast network and Universal Pictures.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the Philadelphia cable television giant posted net income of $1.29 billion, or 47 cents a share, compared to $1.02 billion, or 36 cents per share, for the year-earlier period.  Revenue climbed 3% to $15 billion.

Once again, the company's core business of providing bundles of cable TV channels and high-speed Internet service bolstered its financial results. Comcast added 336,000 Internet customers during the quarter while losing 17,000 video subscribers, demonstrating that the cable company was doing a better job holding onto its customers than it did during the recession.

But NBCUniversal continued to be a mixed bag.

The New York media company, which Comcast co-owns with industrial giant General Electric Co., generated revenue of $5.7 billion -- an increase of less than 1% over the year-earlier period.  Operating cash flow declined 6.8% to $1.1 billion for the quarter. 

Cable television networks, including USA, Syfy, Bravo and MSNBC, increased revenue 5.3% to $2.2 billion.  Broadcast TV revenue declined 3.7% to $1.8 billion -- reflecting continued ratings problems at the NBC broadcast network. 

Filmed entertainment revenue dipped 1.8% to $1.3 billion, in part because of lower home entertainment sales. Theme parks revenue climbed 4% to $498 million.

Cable networks' operating cash flow increased 15.3% to $923 million, but NBC posted an $80-million loss. The broadcast unit produced $55 million in operating cash flow in the previous-year period. Operating cash flow at Universal Pictures dropped nearly 50% to $89 million.  

Comcast said its focus for the last year was integrating NBCUniversal operations, finding the right management team and stepping up investments in programming.

"As you look out over 2012 and 2013 we are going to start to, hopefully, see some of the seeds we planted bear fruit," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke told analysts. "We've said the network is going to take us a number of years to turn around. We also think we can see some improvement in film; our film business has not been doing well but we have a very strong slate in 2012."

However, Michael Angelakis, Comcast's chief financial officer, warned analysts: "The real headwinds are programming costs."

One analyst suggested that Comcast's shiny new toy -- media company NBCUniversal and its peacock network -- could ultimately challenge the company's financials.

"Evolutionary biologists have cogently argued that the peacock's tail evolved, paradoxically, as a gigantic display of handicap," Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a report.  "Only a very healthy specimen could survive carrying around such a burden."


NBC ownership highlight's Comcast's programming investment risks

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Tennis Channel wins significant round against Comcast

 -- Meg James

Photo:  Ashley, voiced by Taylor Swift, is a character in the upcoming Universal Pictures film: "Dr. Suess' The Lorax." Credit:  Universal Pictures

'Bridesmaids' sets video-on-demand record

Last year's hit "Bridesmaids" has followed up on its box office bonanza with a record-setting run on video-on-demand, where it has been ordered 4.8 million times and grossed more than $24 million.

Universal Pictures on Wedneday took the unusual step of disclosing data on one of its movie's online rental and sales in order to tout the success of the raunchy comedy co-written by and starring Kristen Wiig. The film sold $169.1 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada last summer, making it the second most popular comedy of the year behind "The Hangover Part II."

But the movie was No. 1 online. In addition to beating previous video-on-demand rental records, "Bridesmaids" also proved popular as a digital purchase and traditional cable pay-per-view. In total, Universal said, the movie was rented or downloaded more than 7 million times across all those categories, with consumers spending more than $40 million to watch the picture.

On DVD and Blu-ray, "Bridesmaids" has generated more than $100 million in sales, a healthy figure as well.

The movie is nominated for two Academy Awards: best original screenplay for Wiig and Annie Mumolo and best supporting actress for Melissa McCarthy.


Redbox teaming with Verizon for digital movies service

Hollywood stumbles on UltraViolet launch

Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy and Wendi McClendon-Covey in "Bridesmaids." Credit: Suzanne Hanover / Universal Pictures.

Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'


This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

With the departure of "Stretch Armstrong," Universal Pictures has no plans for any more movies based on Hasbro toys beyond this summer's release of "Battleship"--marking an inauspicious end to a much-hyped deal signed four years ago.

In February 2008, Universal struck an agreement with Hasbro to produce at least four films derived from seven games and toys: "Battleship," "Candy Land," "Clue," "Magic: The Gathering," "Monopoly" "Ouija," and "Stretch Armstrong."  The arrangement was touted as a significant one for Universal, which had fewer well-known franchises than rival studios.

At the time, the deal was widely mocked by some in the entertainment press as a sign of Hollywood's desperation to make movies based on games and toys with no story rather than betting on original ideas.

"Hasbro's portfolio of products...offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness," Universal then-Chairman Marc Shmuger said at the time.

Many of Universal's planned but since scrapped movie projects looked to be high-profile at the time. Ridley Scott was attached to direct "Monopoly," while McG was to helm "Ouija" and "Twilight" star Taylor Lautner was to play the title role in "Stretch Armstrong," with Brian Grazer producing.

But since former marketing and production presidents Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley were named chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the studio in late 2009 (replacing Shmuger and partner David Linde), the Hasbro projects have slowly fallen by the wayside.

"Battleship" was the notable exception. The approximately $200-million production, which mixes naval warfare with an alien invasion, was directed by Pete Berg ("Hancock" and "Friday Night Lights") and opens in May.

Under the agreement, Hasbro paid all costs to develop the projects. But Universal had to pay the toy company a penalty of $5 million for the properties it did not turn into movies.

All of the remaining six projects are now being developed by Hasbro, which maintains an office on the Universal lot but essentially acts as an independent producer with the ability to set up movies at any studio.

"Our deal with Universal has evolved over time, but there's still a lot of interest in our projects out there," said Wayne Charness, senior vice president of corporate communications for Hasbro.

The toy company announced Monday that it has set up "Stretch Armstrong" with independent studio Relativity Media, which intends to release the movie in April of 2014. Lautner is no longer attached to star.

Hasbro already has two properties at Paramount Pictures that were set up before the Universal pact: "Transformers," which has become one of Hollywood's biggest movie franchises, and "G.I. Joe," for which a sequel will be released this June after the original did decent business in 2009.

[For the Record, 6:40 p.m, Jan. 30: An earlier version of this post incorectly said Universal paid Hasbro a separate penalty for each movie it did not make, including $5 million for "Ouija."]


'Ouija' latest movie scrapped over budget concerns

'Harry Potter' Wizarding World coming to Universal Hollywood

Ron Burkle buys Relativity Media stake from Elliott Management

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures


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