The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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'The Twilight Saga' puts Summit in the mega-frachise business

November 24, 2009 | 10:35 am

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" has been exploding all sorts of box office records -- my colleague, Ben Fritz, says, for example, that it is the least expensive movie ever to open to more than $200 million worldwide. But the most important record that it's on track to break is one that might give a serious new shot in the arm to everyone in the indie film world.

New-moon-movie-poster When you factor in the original film's $383.8 million in worldwide grosses with the $700 million or more in worldwide grosses that "New Moon" could eventually roll up, Summit Entertainment will soon find itself having the biggest true independent film franchise in recent history. (By true independent, I'm disqualifying New Line, which made even more money with its "Lord of the Rings" franchise but wasn't a true independent since it was already owned by Time-Warner by the time the "LOTR" series was launched.) 

Summit's runaway success with "Twilight" is a very big deal, since -- like 'em or not -- franchises provide the building blocks for the modern movie business. With them, a studio has the money in the bank (as well as the blockbuster in the can) to help survive a lean year or a couple of costly flops. You never see any of the top execs at Warners crawling out on a high ledge, preparing to jump when the studio is pulverized by a disaster like "Poseidon" or "Speed Racer" or "Body of Lies." That's because Warners always has another "Harry Potter" or "Batman" saga sitting on the pad, preparing to launch into the box-office stratosphere. Ditto for Sony with "Spider-Man," Paramount with "Star Trek" or Disney with "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Indie studios have rarely, if ever, had the cushion of such a cozy franchise piggy bank. So when an indie studio has a bad year, it's really a bad year. The high ledge can look awfully tempting. It's why in the Miramax days, the Weinstein brothers created the genre-based Dimension division, which gave Bob Weinstein the opportunity to develop such cash cows as the "Scary Movie" franchise, the "Scream" series and the "Spy Kids" saga. Ditto for Lionsgate with its long-running "Saw" horror showcase. However, even though the six "Saw" movies have racked up an impressive $711.8 million in worldwide grosses, it's likely that Summit, with just the first two installments in its "Twilight" series, will end up leaving "Saw" in its wake. Likewise with Dimension's "Scary Movie" series, which has made $672 million around the globe.

It doesn't mean that Summit's future is secure. The studio eventually will have to prove that it's more than a one-trick pony. But for now, Summit has some pretty serious bragging rights, proving that being an indie studio no longer means you have to be a second-class power, even when it comes to playing with the big boys in the franchise game.