Instant Analysis: What Does "Inferno" Flopping at the North American Box Office Mean for Sony?

By Markets Fool.com

Image source: Sony.

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Sony's (NYSE: SNE) weekend release Inferno cratered at the U.S. box office with just $15 million in ticket sales -- coming in at second place behind Lions Gate Entertainment's (NYSE: LGF) Boo! A Madea Halloween, which managed $16.7 million in its second weekend. Prerelease tracking had suggested Inferno, the latest in a trilogy of movies based on books by author Dan Brown, would pull in between $20 million and $30 million in ticket sales. With such a weak opening, the picture now looks on track to do somewhere around $40 million in American sales.

While stateside performance looks to be very disappointing for Sony, Inferno is performing solidly overseas, with $132 million in sales two weeks after its first opening.

Despite stronger international performance, the movie will come up far short of the last adaptation, Angels and Demons, which was released in 2009 and went on to do roughly $486 million in ticket sales, and even further short of 2006's The Da Vinci Code, which grossed $758 million worldwide.

Does it matter?

Based on budget allotment, Sony appears to have had much lower expectations for Inferno than previous entries in the series, so the picture's weak American performance does not look to have a big impact on the company. Inferno had a production budget of roughly $75 million, which is well below the $150 million budget for Angels and Demons and the $125 million budget for The Da Vinci Code. Using the rough guide that a movie needs to earn 2.5 times its production budget in order to recoup costs, the picture will likely end up near the breakeven point thanks to overseas performance.

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While Inferno's lackluster ticket sales won't have a big impact on Sony's bottom line, they do start to seem more significant in light of a string of recent movie disappointments at the company. Sony is looking to its movie wing, along with its video game and image sensor segments, to drive its turnaround effort. But so far, only its PlayStation business is delivering consistently strong results.

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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Lions Gate Entertainment. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.