What’s next for Sony in wake of ‘After Earth’?

In the aftermath of the weak $27-million opening for Sony Pictures Entertainment’s “After Earth,” all eyes are turning to the studio’s upcoming slate of films, which could help soften the blow of the film’s disappointing bow.

Sony had expected the sci-fi thriller — which features Will Smith and stars the actor’s son Jaden — to open in the range of $35 million to $40 million. But the film finished No. 3 on the weekend, behind blockbuster “Fast & Furious 6" and fellow newcomer “Now You See Me.”

While a Sony executive told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that the studio felt good about “After Earth’s” potential with overseas audiences, the company will look to the domestic bows of several high-profile films in the coming weeks to improve its summer. After releasing just two films prior to “After Earth” in 2013, the studio enters a critical stretch with five pictures opening from June 12 to Aug. 9.

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“We have an outstanding slate through the remainder of this year and we still feel strongly about the prospects for ‘After Earth’ as it opens overseas in the coming weeks,” said Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer.


Up next for Sony is the comedy “This Is the End,” which stars Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and James Franco. The film, which cost $32.5 million to produce, will be released June 12 — two days before Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated Superman picture “Man of Steel” unfurls.

Because “This Is the End” is still two weeks away from release, industry tracking has yet to paint a clear picture of the film’s opening-weekend potential. As of Thursday, some pre-release audience surveys had the film opening with a three-day run of as little as $12 million, while others indicated it could debut with closer to $30 million.

Other upcoming films slated for release by Sony include the action movie “White House Down” (June 28), the comedy “Grown Ups 2" (July 12), the 3-D family film “The Smurfs 2" (July 31) and the sci-fi drama “Elysium” (Aug. 9).

Besides “After Earth,” the only other movies distributed by Sony in 2013 were April’s “Evil Dead,” which took in $54 million domestically, and March’s “The Call,” which grossed $52 million.

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The disappointing opening performance of “After Earth” shouldn’t impact the long, fruitful relationship between Will Smith and Sony. The studio, a unit of Tokyo-based Sony Corp., has made such Smith vehicles as “Men in Black 3,” and “Hitch,” and “The Karate Kid,” which the actor produced as a vehicle for son Jaden.

It’s a partnership that will continue. It was announced in January that Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, had collaborated with rapper Jay-Z to develop an “Annie” remake with Sony. Overbrook also has other titles in development at Sony, including the Hurricane Katrina drama “The American Can” and the Bible tale “The Redemption of Cain.”

Marketing for “After Earth,” which was co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, heavily featured the elder Smith, even though his son is the lead actor in the film. The movie, which cost about $135 million to make, was panned by critics, scoring a 12% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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The movie could make up ground overseas, where Smith’s movies consistently deliver at the box office. As the L.A. Times reported Sunday, of the nine films the star has appeared in over the last decade, just two turned in stronger box-office performances domestically than abroad.

“We’re going to have a chance to show ourselves very quickly, because 60 foreign markets launch next week and we feel good about our international prospects,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president, on Sunday. “It has to do well overseas, certainly. But I do think we’ll reach our goals.”

The weak “After Earth” bow comes on the heels of a call by a prominent Sony shareholder to separate the company’s entertainment assets from its electronics business.

Investor Daniel Loeb, whose hedge fund Third Point Capital owns about 6% of Sony, called for an initial public offering of Sony Entertainment Inc. in a letter hand-delivered to Kazuo Hirai, Sony’s president and chief executive, on May 14. The Sony Entertainment group includes film and television studio Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Sony Music Entertainment.

Speaking at last week’s All Things Digital technology conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Hirai said that Sony is taking “a serious look” at the Loeb proposal.

Times staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.


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