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More misses than hits for Warner

Warner Bros.' biggest hit of 2014, "The Lego Movie," was based on a well-known children's toy line
'Godzilla' the studio's only traditional franchise film of the summer, has taken in $400 million worldwide

Summer hasn't technically begun yet, but Warner Bros. may already be itching for a vacation.

Hollywood's biggest film studio has started the season with a rare series of setbacks. First, Warner Bros. released the Adam Sandler-starring "Blended," which has grossed a disappointing $45 million worldwide since bowing May 23. Then the studio delayed hoped-for blockbuster "Jupiter Ascending" just six weeks before it was to be released.

Now, its most recent film, "Edge of Tomorrow," recorded a weak $28.7-million domestic opening over the weekend. The sci-fi action picture, which stars Tom Cruise and cost $178 million to produce, finished No. 3 on the weekend behind fellow newcomer "The Fault in Our Stars" and the blockbuster "Maleficent."

"I think all we can control is to make great movies with the best, most talented people," said Greg Silverman, Warner's president of creative development and worldwide production. "If we do that consistently, we've always proven that you win in the end."

The studio's summer slate looked risky from the start because it was lacking in big franchises. In years past, Warner Bros. relied on action films and comedies based on tested intellectual property — such as comic books or toy brands — which tends to be a safer bet at the box office.

"Godzilla," the studio's only traditional franchise film of the summer, has performed well since being released May 16. The picture, which stars Bryan Cranston, has taken in about $400 million worldwide.

Although they feature A-list stars, films such as "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Blended" are inherently riskier than sequels or other projects with brand recognition, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at entertainment data firm Rentrak.

"People always talk about the lack of originality in Hollywood, but by and large people don't show up for those original films," he said. "Audiences now are so conditioned — they almost expect there is going to be a brand they know and love and understand before they plunk down their money."

Warner Bros.' biggest hit of 2014, "The Lego Movie," was based on a well-known children's toy line. The film has taken in more than $460 million worldwide.

The studio has gone through other recent rough patches and bounced back.

Warner Bros. started last year by releasing five films in a row that underperformed at the box office, including "Jack the Giant Slayer," a roughly $195-million production that flopped.

The studio's 2013 fortunes improved considerably over the summer, when it released a handful of big sequels and pictures based on iconic intellectual property, including "The Hangover Part III" and "Man of Steel."

Warner Bros. ultimately finished the year No. 1 in box-office market share. The studio has finished first or second in market share in nine of the last 10 years.

Silverman said that Warner Bros. would not shy away from making new films that it hopes have franchise potential.

"You have to have a mix of original and branded material," he said. "This studio has such a rich history of creating franchises and I don't want to give up on that."

With a budget of $178 million, and marketing costs of tens of millions of dollars more, "Edge of Tomorrow" has a long way to go in order to become profitable. But the studio is touting a strong opening weekend overseas as reason for optimism. The movie, which was co-produced by Village Roadshow Pictures, has grossed $110.2 million internationally.

Bruce Nash, president of film industry research firm Nash Information Services, said that "Edge of Tomorrow" could be helped by the strong reviews it has received. But he believes the movie's "absolute peak" at the domestic box office is $100 million.

"It's not impossible — 'Edge' could play through the summer," he said.

The movie's opening weekend performance in the U.S. and Canada was in stark contrast to the successful domestic debut of "The Fault in Our Stars," an inexpensive film based on a popular young adult novel. The 20th Century Fox movie beat analysts' expectations by taking in about $48 million. The domestic gross of "Edge of Tomorrow" was in line with experts' predictions.

Dergarabedian said that the success of "The Fault in Our Stars" and Walt Disney Studios' Angelina Jolie-starring "Maleficent" illustrate the value of appealing to female audiences.

"The paradigms are shifting," Dergarabedian said.

Warner Bros.' next film, "Jersey Boys," opens June 20. The project, based on the hit musical of the same name, was directed by Clint Eastwood. The film was inexpensive to make, but according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, it could gross in the range of $10 million over its debut weekend.

"Tracking is really all over the place in terms of accuracy," said Silverman, adding that audiences have responded positively to the film in advance screenings. "Early word is really good."

In July, Warner Bros. will release "Tammy," a comedy starring box-office draw Melissa McCarthy. The studio has high hopes for the picture, which is based on a script co-written by McCarthy.

Meanwhile, "Jupiter Ascending" was supposed to have premiered July 18. Warner Bros. delayed the $150-million sci-fi epic, directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, so that it could have more time to work on the project's visual effects. The film will now be released in February.

"Obviously, moving 'Jupiter Ascending' is disruptive to their summer, no question," Nash said. "But they still have 'Tammy' coming out in July — they have a lot of chances to catch up."

The studio's other forthcoming high-profile releases for the year include "Horrible Bosses 2" and the final film in "The Hobbit" trilogy.

Both are sequels to hit movies — and in line with a strategy outlined by Silverman.

"To get to a sequel you have to make a great original movie," he said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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