Studio Report Cards: Universal Grows Some Green Shoots

Studio Report Cards: Universal Grows Some Green Shoots

After a disastrous 2009, studio established momentum with “Despicable Me” and will likely end the year on a high note with “Little Fockers”

Fourth in a series of studio report cards from TheWrap; also included:

FOX: For Fox, a Hot Start to 2010 Goes South
LIONSGATE: Stallone, 'Exorcism' Fuel Lionsgate's Low-Cost Hit Streak
SONY: Sony Bets on Originals in Franchise-Heavy Market

DISNEY: For Disney, Big Hits Came With Big Bills

Universal
Grade: C+
It was a rebound year for the U, which managed to establish an animation business with one movie ("Despicable Me"). But downer performances by "Scott Pilgrim," "The Wolfman" and "Green Zone" gave the studio a dismal grade. We gave them a bump for effort.

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The good thing about a really bad year? Even if the next one isn't great, it can still be a huge improvement.

That dynamic worked in Universal's favor, as the studio — starting 2010 under the reigns of a new executive regime led by chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley — sought to rebound from a disastrous 2009.

Universal marketing co-president Eddie Egan told TheWrap that 2010 was a "transition year."

During 2010, the studio still had to live with the slate choices made by former co-chairs Marc Shmuger and David Linde, both ousted in October 2009.

"We had some difficult pictures, made some difficult decisions and had some high hopes that didn't pan out," Egan added. "But overall, I think our team has gotten into a great rhythm."

Of course, transition years can be hard, as evidenced by the failures of the "Wolfman" reboot, Edgar Wright's youth comedy "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and the Matt Damon thriller "Green Zone."

But beyond "Green Zone," there were some green shoots, with the huge success of the Christopher Meledandri-produced "Despicable Me" — which grossed $540 million worldwide theatrically, putting Universal in the 3D animation game virtually overnight.

"Despicable Me" took in another $25 million on Tuesday in its first day of disc and download release.

That film cost the studio just under $70 million to make, keeping in line with the budget consciousness of Fogelson's regime.

Universal now has Meledandri's Illumination Entertaiment working on a sequel, as well as the Easter Bunny-themed "Hop" (voiced by Russell Brand), due out April 1.

"We needed 'Despicable Me' to work in order to launch a new animation business, and it did," said Egan, who also defended the much-maligned performance of the pricey, Ridley Scott-directed Russell Crowe epic "Robin Hood," which grossed more than $318 million worldwide.

Comedy-wise, "Get Him to the Greek" was also a modest success, generating $91.4 million worldwide on a $40 million production investment, while the third leg of the Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro "Fockers" franchise is expected to generate as much as $70 million over the upcoming holiday weekend.

With Universal 2011's slate kicking off with Ron Howard-directed Kevin James/Vince Vaughn comedy "The Dilemma," and also featuring another "Fast and the Furious" installment, the Steven Spielberg-produced/Jon Favreau-directed "Cowboys and Aliens," the Judd Apatow-produced Kristen Wiig comedy "Bridesmaids" and Illumination's "Hop," the studio is expecting a little bit more than just "transition" next year.

"No film is a sure bet, but we think we've found a way to produce the films we're passionate about in a way that also makes financial sense," Egan said.