Universal Pictures’ rough box office opening with “The Mummy” and Warner Bros.’ ups and downs this past month with “Wonder Woman” and “King Arthur” were points of discussion at the 2017 Produced By Conference, with producers giving their take on what’s going on this summer season.
Doug Belgrad, CEO of 2.0 Entertainment, says he believes the decision to announce “Dark Universe,” Universal’s cinematic universe with horror icons, before the release of “The Mummy,” has played out in a way that Universal may not have expected.
“I don’t think it was their intention to advertise it,” Belgrad said, “Their intention was to make a good movie that would light a fuse that would allow them to do things with ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ and other movies they could weave into this forged universe. I also suspect they’re going to be upset with how the media presented this as a failure before it had a chance to reach the audience.”
The summer box office has been filled with big peaks and valleys so far this year, with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Wonder Woman” continuing to bring in comic book movie-loving audiences. But other titles, like sequels to the “Alien” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises, have faced diminished returns. Warner Bros. has experienced both ends of this turbulent season, starting the summer with a major bomb in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” followed by a smash hit with “Wonder Woman.”
Belgrad believes that part of this is because digital media has allowed audiences to form their opinions about a movie well before it comes out, and urged the producers in attendance to take into account how the movie is presented to media as well as with audiences.
“20-25 years ago … there was a cynicism among studios that if you could cut a trailer or a TV spot, you could feed them anything. That has gone away. Now, quality matters more than anything,” he said. “But now, with social media and critics, there is an intermediary between your movie and the audience.”
“You have to make sure you understand how you’re telling the story of what your movie is to journalists and social media because it helps people think about what it is your movie has become.”
Belgrad thinks that despite these box office struggles, studios won’t exit their “arms race” for profitable IP that can become the must-see movie of the weekend. He noted that even labels within the extremely successful Disney system like Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures are competing to keep up with Marvel and Lucasfilm.
As for production studios outside the Big Six, Belgrad believes that there is promise for producers who can package low-risk, mid-budget titles for big studios to release between their in-house event films. He pointed to financially successful, award-winning, mid-budget projects like “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land” and “Arrival” as examples of movies that can succeed outside the tentpole blockbuster model.
“I’m doing a lot of research of the average, negative cost of films in that mid-range, and the economics are pretty compelling.”