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Universal Bucks Blockbuster Trend–and Wins

Universal Bucks Blockbuster Trend--and Wins

One of the many revelations from the Sony hack leaks is the studio’s own awareness of the downside of being able to spend your way out of problems –without solving them. Look at the arc of the “Spider-Man” franchise, or Disney’s history of sky-high budgets on Jerry Bruckheimer flicks like “Prince of Persia.”

Then there’s Universal, which in 2014 bucked the Hollywood studio trend by releasing wide a series 15 movies–all budgeted under $70 million, reports Scott Mendelson in Forbes–that nonetheless made record profits for the studio. It should be noted that while movie studio chiefs Ron Meyer and Donna Langley can claim credit for this strategy and its execution–along with departed co-chairman Adam Fogelson–new Comcast/Universal executive Jeff Shell cannot. 

It has been conventional studio wisdom for some time that the bigger the budget (and the more established the franchise), the more money the movie will make on a global basis. Well, in 2014 the overall box office has declined by some 6 %. Especially domestically, many sequels underperformed. And Universal’s 15 singles and doubles (some like Luc Besson’s “Lucy” were pickups) worked like a dream –even without tentpoles “Fast and Furious 7,” “Minions” and “Jurassic World,” all slated for 2015. Only “Dracula Untold” and “Non Stop” cost more than $40 million.

“Lone Survivor” didn’t have to win Oscars to score $149 million worldwide. Sure, some like Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” were badly reviewed box office flops, obviously. But with ancillaries and reasonable budgets, they did not kill the studio’s bottom line like last year’s costly duds “47 Ronin” and “R.I.P.D.,” which ate up some of the upside from blockbusters “Fast & Furious 6” and “Despicable Me 2.” 

See Forbes’ figures, below:
Lone Survivor ($149 million worldwide, budget: $40 million)
Ride Along ($153m/$25m)
Endless Love ($34m/$20m)
Non-Stop ($222m/$50m)
Neighbors ($268m/$18m)
A Million Ways to Die in the West ($86m/$40m)
The Purge: Anarchy ($110m/$9m)
Lucy ($458m/$40m)
Get On Up ($31m/$30m)
As Above/So Below ($40m/$5m)
A Walk Among the Tombstones ($53m/$28m)
Dracula Untold ($212m/$70m)
Ouija ($72m/$5m)
Dumb and Dumber To ($116m to date/$35m)
TBD: “Unbroken (budget: $65 million)
Take note studios: you don’t have to do it the old way. Let Marvel do what it does best. 

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