Hollywood has had a disappointing summer at the box office, with domestic ticket sales down roughly 12% compared to the same stretch in 2016, and movie theaters certainly didn't get much help from Sony's (NYSE: SNE) The Dark Tower. The company had a potential franchise-launcher on its hands with the picture, but worldwide ticket sales of roughly $54 million after its second weekend make it clear that there won't be any movie sequels moving into production in the near future.
Sony's year at the movies hasn't been without bright spots, but were they enough to open up lasting franchise opportunities for its struggling film wing? Read on for a retrospective of Sony's 2017 movie performance so far.
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What went wrong with The Dark Tower?
Based on a popular book series by Stephen King that had plenty of compelling source material for launching an expanded movie universe and featuring a promising cast -- including Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba -- The Dark Tower was a project that seemed to tick many of the boxes for modern box office success. It didn't quite work out that way, with an opening weekend that saw the film bring in just $19.5 million domestically and $27.5 million globally, making it immediately clear that the picture would struggle to recoup production and marketing costs.
The movie reportedly carried only a $60 million production budget and didn't get much of an advertising push, so it's unlikely to be a huge money loser for Sony, but it still stands out as a significant missed opportunity for a company that's in need of hit properties in order to thrive in today's highly competitive box office climate. The film's underperformance has added to the run of disappointments for Sony, which earlier in the year was rumored to be weighing the sale of its movie and television business.
Yet despite The Dark Tower's dim box office performance, Sony's television wing will reportedly move ahead with a series based on the property.
Spider-Man performs well, but not amazingly
While Spider-Man: Homecoming's $701 million global gross (excluding China, where it hasn't released yet) might not look disappointing on its face, the performance likely comes in a bit below Sony's expectations. The film was a big critical hit -- currently boasting a 92% positive score on the review aggregate site RottenTomatoes -- and had the benefit of crossing over with Disney's hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Homecoming is still a hit, but even with stellar reviews and Robert Downey Jr. featuring prominently in the film as Tony Stark/Iron Man, it's on track to come up short of the franchise's high marks. Here's a look at how Sony's other Spider-Man movies have fared at the box office:
As long as Homecoming has a solid run in China, it will likely wind up with ticket sales in the $800 million range. That's far from a bad performance, but with price inflation taken into account, it means that Homecoming will have sold substantially fewer tickets than the first Amazing Spider-Man -- despite substantial growth in international markets in the five years between those releases.
So, while Homecoming's lower production budget (roughly $165 million) compared to the Amazing series (both north of $200 million) should make it substantially more profitable than either of those films, it's not the unqualified success it might have been.
Getaway drivers, smurfs, emojis, and horror flicks
The biggest positive surprise for Sony's 2017 movie run thus far has been Baby Driver, a comedy-action film from director Edgar Wright. The picture was made on a $34 million production budget and has managed roughly $167 million in global ticket sales so far. Sony has reportedly approached Wright about making a follow-up entry, and he seems open to the idea, so the company might have a new medium-size franchise on its hands.
The company also scored a small hit (relative to budget) with Smurfs: The Lost Village; however, the film has been the weakest sales performer in the series by far. Here's a look at the Smurfs series over time:
Lost Village had a roughly $60 million production budget (compared to $110 million for the series' first entry and $105 million for The Smurfs 2), so Sony likely expected that sales would come in lower than previous entries, but the most recent release's performance makes it unclear if future installments are worth pursuing.
What is clear is that the company didn't get a great box office run from The Emoji Movie. Sony reportedly had big expectations for the picture, which cost $50 million to produce, and saw it as a potential franchise launcher, but sequels appear unlikely with Emoji's current global ticket sales at less than $100 million.
The year has also seen a disappointing performance for Underworld: Blood Wars, the fifth, and lowest-grossing, entry in the long-in-the-tooth vampire series. Horror-flick cohort Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, on the other hand, delivered mixed results. Despite a record performance for a Resident Evil movie in China pushing the film's global total to a series high of $312 million, American ticket sales (typically the most profitable geographic segment) fell 40% from the series' 2012 entry to land at roughly $27 million. Sony is now pursuing a rebooted take on the franchise.
How's 2017 looking for Sony's movie business?
Sony's remaining big release for 2017 looks to be Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart. Unless that goes on to be a big hit, the company is looking at a year at the movies characterized by spotty performance. Spider-Man: Homecoming performed well enough and Baby Driver outdid expectations, but their respective runs were counterbalanced by would-be franchises failing to launch and diminishing sales for releases in established properties.
A greater concentration of big releases means that Sony's film segment (which also includes television productions) will post much better results than last year, but it looks like its movie studios are still falling short of their potential.
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