The solid $69.3 million box-office debut of “The Last Airbender” has, for now, ended dour pre-release speculation about director M. Night Shyamalan’s career.
But did the pricey $150 million PG fantasy film perform well enough to accomplish Paramount’s primary goal of launching a multi-film franchise that can be leveraged for merchandise sales?
The jury is still out, with Paramount officials not commenting Tuesday when asked about a possible sequel.
Rival-studio officials, however, think Paramount needs more data in order to make a decision.
“They’re probably going to wait to see what their mid-week numbers are and how big a drop it has this weekend,” said one official.
A week-to-week drop of 50 percent or less would bode well for a film that was reviled by virtually every critic in America. Although, Paramount will likely have to struggle to sustain “Airbender’s” 3D screen count this weekend, with Universal’s “Despicable Me” entering a multi-dimensional exhibition market that also includes “Toy Story 3.”
“They had a good opening, but they’re probably going to want to wait for a worldwide number before going through with a sequel,” added another rival-studio distribution executive.
Certainly, solid international play would help, too, although “Airbender” – which rolls out to a small number of countries this weekend, including Russia, France and Taiwan – won’t be completely unfurled abroad until late-September.
Still, based on the studio’s decision to greenlight a follow-up to “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” last year, continuing on with “Airbender” – an adaptation of Viacom sibling cable channel Nickelodeon’s hit “Avatar” cartoon series – would seem likely.
“G.I. Joe” was produced for $175 million and opened to slightly less than “Airbender” over its first five days last August ($67.1 million). Reviews for “Joe” were poor, although not quite as bad as they were for “Airbender.”
“‘Airbender’ pretty much proved it’s review proof,” noted a rival-studio official. “And Paramount is a studio that needs franchises.”