July 12 (Bloomberg) -- Solid reviews and Internet buzz are lifting box-office forecasts for “Pacific Rim,” the first big solo project by producer Thomas Tull, who is trying to build an independent studio with its own cast of monsters and heroes.
The July 9 premiere in Los Angeles, along with Internet chatter led by Twitter praise from Kanye West, has raised projections for today’s opening and weekend sales for the film, a $180 million thriller about gigantic invading sea creatures. That suggests Tull will avoid a major loss and possibly break even, according to Phil Contrino, an analyst with Boxoffice.com.
“Word of mouth is going to be pretty strong,” said Contrino, who raised his weekend forecast to $41 million from $35 million. “And it’s got this plot that’s set in multiple countries.”
“Pacific Rim” marks a major step for Tull’s Legendary Entertainment LLC. The “Dark Knight” series, his biggest movies, were led by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. With this picture, Tull is trying to establish an enduring fan base for fighting robots called Jaegers and their lizard-like foes, the Kaiju. Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., said worldwide sales may total $400 million, a sum that’s split with cinemas. Rottentomatoes.com, a website that aggregates reviews, gives it a 72 percent positive rating.
“In this business, you are either a true believer in what you’re doing or you’re not,” Tull said at a June 18 briefing. “If you play from a place of fear, you won’t get anywhere. As a fan, I want to see stories that are engaging and not regurgitated.”
Today’s opening coincides with Tull’s announcement this week that Legendary will end its affiliation with Warner Bros. at year-end and align with Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures.
The five-year deal includes movie and TV production as well as possible theme-park ties with Universal Studios, all part of Tull’s efforts to create his own intellectual property and consumer brands. On his own, he has made just one film, the Jackie Robinson bio-pic “42.”
In “Pacific Rim,” humans pilot giant robots in hand-to-hand combat with huge invaders from the sea. Director and co-writer Guillermo Del Toro uses 3-D effects to highlight the skyscraper size of the fighters in a tribute to classic Japanese monster movies. Legendary bore 75 percent of the production budget, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Warner paid the rest and is distributor.
“Pacific Rim” will probably need to succeed overseas and in home entertainment to earn a profit. Barton Crockett, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets in New York, estimates a $32.2 million U.S. opening, not much more than last weekend’s $29.2 million for “The Lone Ranger,” Walt Disney Co.’s big summer flop.
“Pacific Rim” took in $3.6 million in late night screenings yesterday, according to a statement by Hollywood.com Box-Office today. That’s the same amount generated by such screenings of Brad Pitt’s “World War Z,” a zombie movie that went on to take in $66.4 million in its weekend debut.
Contrino forecasts $135 million for the full run in U.S. and Canadian theaters, saying favorable reviews make it possible the number might go higher. Success may hinge on revenue outside the U.S., he said.
“Overseas could be the savior,” Contrino said.
Warner and Legendary may have erred in creating ads that resembled Michael Bay’s “Transformer” films, a series based on toys and known for thin plots and crude humor.
Many potential moviegoers are unaware of the movie’s character-driven storyline, said Jeff Gomez, chief executive officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a New York-based firm that advises studios on film marketing.
Ad budgets for big summer movies can run from 40 percent to 50 percent of the production cost, said Gomez, who didn’t have specific figures for “Pacific Rim.”
The film, targeting the young males who made the “Dark Knight” movies into blockbusters, has won praise from critics who could pull in a wider audience. It’s also leading advance sales on Fandango.com, according to the movie-sales website.
“The extinction of mankind has loomed again and again over Hollywood blockbusters the past couple of years, though never anywhere near as entertainingly as in ‘Pacific Rim,’” Lou Lumenick wrote in the New York Post. “I loved, loved every second.”
In his Tweet, rapper West dubbed the picture “one of my favorite movies of all time.” Hideo Kojima, creator of the “Metal Gear” video games at Konami Corp., also gushed over the picture, calling it “the future of entertainment.”
Such praise helps. “World War Z,” troubled by cost overruns and re-shoots, was considered a probable flop in the weeks ahead of its opening. Helped by critics and word-of-mouth praise, the movie from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures has taken in $373.2 million in worldwide sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
Del Toro earned an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay for the dark 2006 fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which he directed. His credits also include the “Hellboy” films, based on a comic-book character, and the horror film “Mimic.”
With the dark setting and emphasis on characters in “Pacific Rim,” Del Toro said he was trying to avoid making a typical summer action film.
“I wanted to make a movie that differentiated itself from anything else,” Del Toro said at the June 18 briefing. “I didn’t want the movie to look or feel like an action movie of the summer, you know, soldiers kicking ass, basically looking like a car commercial or recruitment commercial for the Army.”
A loss on the film would be little more than an embarrassment for Tull. Given his record of picking winners at Warner Bros., one movie won’t derail his ambitions.
“If ‘Pacific Rim’ is less successful than Thomas Tull hopes, it won’t change their long-term plan,” said Lindsay Conner, an attorney specializing in entertainment finance at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP. “It will simply be a bump in the road.”
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