July 17, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY’s State of the Studio: Sony


We’re continuing our review of how Hollywood has been faring this summer on a studio-by-studio basis.  We’ve taken looks at Disney, Warner Bros, and Paramount, and today our crosshairs are trained on Sony.

So are a lot of other crosshairs.  Sony has been in the news this summer for all the wrong reasons.  Major investor (through his Third Point hedge fund) Daniel Loeb has publicly urged the company to spin off a chunk of its entertainment business as a separate corporate entity, because he feels the high risks of the movie and music business are pulling down the rest of Sony.  The summer results will only fuel that argument, and may also jeopardize the longtime management of co-chairs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, Marketing Chairman Jeff Blake and Columbia Pictures President Doug Belgrad.

GRADE:  C-minus



Estimated Cost (including Worldwide Marketing):  $300M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $59M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $155M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $214,000,000

The cost of being in business with a mega-star can be a bruising one.  Sony has had a long, profitable relationshp with Will Smith (the Men In Black series, Hancock, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, etc), and so they signed on to this doomed effort.  It was worse than a vanity project for Smith–it was a vanity project for Smith’s son.  And unlike Disney with Johnny Depp, Sony doesn’t even have a commitment for future MIBs to show for its trouble.  (In fact, Smith’s next movie Focus is at Warners.)  The only vaguely positive spin to be put on this is that Smith’s international appeal is still relatively strong, with foreign results almost triple what the movie did in the US.


Estimated Cost (inc Worldwide Marketing):  $150M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $93M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $6M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $99,000,000

The international release of This Is the End has barely started, and its overall profitability will be determined by how that fares.  But it’s still the best news Sony has had all summer, a modestly budgeted (just $30M in production costs), moderately risky super-in-joke of an original comedy from first-time writer/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that’s paid off handsomely.  It would be great to think that studios would learn something from the fact that The End has outgrossed both of the studio’s hugely budgeted action movies over the past few months, but that’s likely to happen sometime after the apocalypse.


Estimated Cost (inc Worldwide Marketing):  $300M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $65M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $20M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $85,000,000

Foreign release is also just underway here, and it’s possible that as with After Earth, overseas audiences will be much more receptive than Americans were (although less likely, given the very specifically US storyline).  But even if the movie can find its way to $300M worldwide, it’ll still be the most confounding flop of the summer.  It seemed on paper as though the studio had done everything right, with a Die Hard-cloned plot, Channing Tatum seemingly the hottest male lead in the business, Jamie Foxx coming off the smash hit Django Unchained, and the director of The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and 2012.  Reviews were mixed, but there were plenty of critics (this one included) who considered it a good time.  And yet nobody showed up.  Although it was the second White House attack movie of the year after Olympus Has Fallen, being second in the market hasn’t been fatal in the past (Armageddon crushed Deep Impact in the battle of asteroid spectacles).  What went wrong?  It’s the kind of failure that sends Hollywood executives to their antidepressants of choice.


Estimated Cost (inc Worldwide Marketing):  $200M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $52M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $2M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $54,000,000

The good news is that Grown Ups 2 opened well, reversing Adam Sandler’s recent trend and even barely outgrossing the original Grown Ups (by $1M when final weekend numbers were in).  The less good news is that with an $80M production budget and the amounts due to Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company, even if Grown Ups 2 can match its predecessor’s $271M worldwide box office–hardly a sure thing, since sequels tend to be more frontloaded–there isn’t a lot of profit to be had here.  Still, a marginal success is a lot better than After Earth and White House Down.


THE SMURFS 2 (7/31)

Things should improve for Sony over the rest of the summer.  The first Smurfs movie may have made some of us want to rip out our eyeballs, but it still brought in a remarkable $564M worldwide.  Even a moderate decline would still be a smash hit.


From Sony’s Tri-Star division.  Original and pricey sci-fi spectacles are always a risk (look at Pacific Rim), but Matt Damon and Jodie Foster starring in the new film by Neal Blomkamp, who last gave Sony the surprise hit District 9 ($210M worldwide on a miniscule $30M production budget), provide high-class auspices and plenty of promise.


The Screen Gems division’s step into the world of YA would-be franchises.  It isn’t a sure thing–not to pick on Warners, but look at Beautiful Creatures–but when these franchises click, they print money, so it’s worth the risk.


What did I say about pulling out my own eyeballs?  A cheap concert movie opening on Labor Day Weekend, the slowest holiday of the year, aimed at a very specific demo, has little risk.



Sequel to the $243M worldwide animated success, which was also a notable hit on homevideo, should provide a solid return.


Sony hopes this is both Oscar bait and a moneymaker, with star Tom Hanks and director Paul Greenglass (of two Bourne smashes and the brilliant United 93) combining for a real-life thriller about pirates–and not the lovable Johnny Depp kind.

CARRIE (10/18)

The Screen Gems remake of the horror classic sounded promising already, with A-list stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, and director Kimberly Peirce.  Today, though, it got some additional glad tidings, because Paramount has postponed its 5th Paranormal Activity movie to January 2014, giving Carrie the Halloween horror market to itself for now.


David O.  Russell’s follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook has a dream cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Robert DeNiro, Louis C.K.), but its Abscam storyline probably marks it as more of a specialty box office item (and potential awards magnet) than a blockbuster.


George Clooney’s latest film, however, is designed to lure both critics and audiences–an Ocean’s Eleven with historical heft, if you will, about hiding art masterpieces from the Nazis during World War II.  Another amazing cast list, with Clooney joined by Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin.  This could hit the end-of-year bullseye for adult audiences looking for sophisticated entertainment… or it could go nowhere.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."