‘Monster Trucks’ Crashes, Burns in Tough Start for Paramount

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The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend was a disappointment for Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures and a triumph for 20th Century Fox.

Paramount’s “Monster Trucks,” a $125 million production that might have spawned a series, opened with weekend sales of $10.5 million in North American theaters, researcher ComScore Inc. estimated in an e-mailed statement Sunday. Fox’s “Hidden Figures,” a film about three black women whose scientific work helped launch John Glenn into orbit, generated an estimated $20.5 million to place first for a second straight weekend.

It’s a tough start for money-losing Paramount after several disappointments last year. Bob Bakish, the new chief executive officer of studio parent Viacom, said last month he sees “a lot of potential” in Paramount, which his predecessor weighed selling. This year’s slate of 11 films includes a “Transformers” sequel and a “Baywatch” revival with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

"It’s a struggle,” Tony Wible, analyst at Drexel Hamilton LLC who has a hold rating on Viacom stock, said in an interview last week. Industrywide, Paramount is up against “a very competitive film slate. Even if you have a good franchise it’s hard.”

That’s the challenge for a studio that’s grown more dependent on the “Transformers” and “Mission: Impossible” series. Last year, Paramount’s remake of “Ben Hur” bombed and the studio produced disappointing box-office sales from the latest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Star Trek” pictures.

“The top leadership at Viacom is allocating more time there trying to turn it around,” Wible said. Picking the right projects and bolstering the film choices is what is needed, he said, adding he’s concerned that the last “Transformers” film lost traction with fans.

“Monster Trucks” was conceived by Paramount’s previous production head Adam Goodman, who got the idea from his son. The film focuses on a high-school senior who finds a creature that can crawl inside his monster truck and act like an engine. Rob Lowe and Danny Glover are among the featured actors.

The film was announced in 2013, with Paramount touting the potential for toy sales. The release was delayed several times last year. In September, the studio reported a $115 million writedown of an unreleased movie -- widely reported to be “Monster Trucks.” The movie was expected to generate $10 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters over the four-day holiday weekend, according to analysts at BoxOfficePro.com.

“Monster Trucks” is part of a family focused, animation business Paramount is trying to grow, but got just 27 percent positive reviews, according to aggregator Rottentomatoes. Other highlights of Paramount’s year will be a new installment of the “xXx” featuring Vin Diesel and a sequel to “World War Z.”

“Hidden Figures” was forecast to generate $22 million from Friday to Sunday, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. The movie was adored by critics, who gave it 93 percent positive reviews. 

“At the end of the movie you feel darn good about the human spirit, and that set it apart,” Chris Aronson, head of domestic distribution at Fox, said in an interview Friday. “I think people do want that.”

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