Uncharacteristically for the usually consistent studio, Sony has been caught on a roller coaster ride the past couple of years. Where will it end? Back up on high, like 2012? In a deep dip like this year? Or somewhere in between? Looking at the slate of films already on the schedule for the next few years, the third option seems most likely.
That Sony has several different distribution arms allows them to release about two dozen films each year, and right now there are 12 movies from Columbia/ Tristar alone with firm 2014 release dates. With few big budget films on the schedule, it’s as if Sony saw the bad fortune of 2013 coming. While it’s impossible for this summer’s box office failures to have an effect on movies already scheduled, it appears as if the mid-range spending of the good years is once again corporate strategy.
It should seem counter intuitive then that Sony’s first two films of 2014 both have estimated budgets around $100 million. First is the reboot of Robocop (a co-production with MGM) which lands in theaters February 7 and stars Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, and a host of others. While Robocop is just one of a host of franchises in the company’s war chest, this attempt to revive a moribund series after two decades is admirable.
Pompeii follows two weeks after. The latest from Paul W.S. Anderson—the mastermind behind Resident Evil and one of the foremost devotees of 3D filmmaking—is a love story set in the days leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Before scoffing at the thought of Sony spending so much money on a story like that, it’s worth pointing out two things. First is the astonishing fact that Anderson’s movies have made over $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office; second, the studio is only distributing the film and therefore not on the hook for any of its $100 million production budget. Constantin Film and FilmDistrict are footing the bill, leaving TriStar to put it in theaters. Any risk Sony might have is lessened further by the inevitably solid opening the film will enjoy, especially since it’s currently the only major release to come out that weekend.
The only other release on Sony’s 2014 slate with an eyebrow-raising budget is the no-brainer Amazing Spider-Man 2. Of all franchises on which to bet big, Spider-Man has proven to be one of the safest. ASM 2 occupies the first weekend of May, a spot now practically reserved for Marvel movies. While the actual budget is under wraps, the first in the series cost a reported $230 million but made over three times that in worldwide ticket sales. Therefore it’s safe to assume the sequel’s budget is similar. If the general rule that big budget sequels perform better than the first in the series holds true, it would mean Sony could count on domestic grosses north of $262 million. Even if ASM 2 brings in a conservative $250 million, it would still be responsible for getting the studio a quarter of the way to a billion dollar in total box office; a mark it sorely missed in 2013.
With the exception of those three films, general production spending is much leaner for the rest of the 2014 slate.
The only movie to hit theaters between Pompeii and ASM 2 is Heaven Is For Real, a sub-$15 million family film starring Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly, which hits theaters in April. It’s the kind of in-between film that seems always to appear in springtime, right before the nonsense of the summer movie season begins. Once it does though, and ASM 2 establishes dominance right off the bat, Sony will eschew its 2012 – 13 strategy that put a string of budget-busting blockbusters into theaters. Instead it will follow up ASM 2 with 22 Jump Street in June, and the dark comedy Sex Tape, from the director and stars of Bad Teacher, on July 2.
That’s right; a tentpole and a pair of mid-range comedies is all we can expect next summer. How mid-range are these comedies? 21 Jump Street cost $42 million to make, earned $138 million domestically, and $200 million worldwide. Since Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are now even bigger stars who demand bigger paychecks, and original Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller will return, a budget between $50 – $60 million makes sense. Likewise, Bad Teacher cost roughly $20 million to make, while bringing in $100 million domestically and over $215 million worldwide. Sex Tape brings back director Jake Kasdan, stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, and also features Jack Black. While not strictly speaking a Bad Teacher sequel, it does feel like a spiritual one, so even if the first film’s budget increases by $10 – $20 million, it’s not terribly outlandish.
Only after Labor Day does the studio poke its head out, first with the small sports biopic, When The Game Stands Tall, a cheapy with a cost of less than $15 million. After that come a pair of films with very high hopes attached. September26 sees the release of The Equalizer. Based on the 1980s TV series, the Denzel Washington-starrer is a surefire attempt at a new franchise. Two weeks after that comes The Interview, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedic follow-up to This Is The End. The two movies cost less than $100 million combined, and each have built-in audiences eager to see Denzel kicking butt or the latest shenanigans from Rogen, Goldberg, and star James Franco.
The week before Halloween sees the horror-comedy Kitchen Sink—a meta-titled offering that finds teenagers, vampires, and zombies calling ceasefire in a war for world domination in order to repel an alien invasion. High hopes are in order once again for the final two offerings on Sony’s slate. The David Ayer-directed Fury, a World War II tank thriller starring Brad Pitt which opens November 14; and the remake of the musical Annie that stars Quevenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz. The former’s budget is around $70 million, the latter $50 million.
So that’s an even dozen, and while there is only one absolute sure thing in the bunch, there aren’t any that ring alarm bells. There’s no White House Down or After Earth on this slate, which means that the studio either learned a lesson over the past nine months or 2013 was something of an anomaly, just like 2012, when three enormous, and enormously successful, franchises hit theaters in the same year—a piece of luck with astronomical odds. The boom of 2012 won’t happen again any time soon, so any soberly-managed company would plan accordingly.
Why won’t it happen again any time soon? It’s all a matter of timing. Spider-Man, the studio’s second-largest franchise, has already been greenlit for two more sequels, complete with release dates. Amazing Spider-Man 3 will come out June 10, 2016, and number four will be in theaters May 4, 2018. We won’t see the 24th installement of the Bond franchise until November 2015, when Daniel Craig returns for his fourth go-round as Agent 007. That means Bond 25 won’t see the light of day until 2017 or 2018.