Legendary Pictures Announces Godzilla 2 and King Kong Project at San Diego Comic-Con!!
(Courtesy of: Forbes)
Since it was at $498.7 million on Sunday following a robust $6.95m debut in Japan, Godzilla has presumably passed $500m at the worldwide box office. By most standards, the Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner, Inc.) and Legendary Pictures release is a pretty solid hit. The Gareth Edwards film cost $160m to produce and has now earned 3.125x its budget in theatrical alone. The film earned mostly strong reviews and Mr. Edwards snagged himself a Star Wars picture off of the film’s $196m worldwide debut weekend. But by one very specific standard, one that I was watching all summer, it has fallen short. Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla sold less tickets in America than Roland Emmerich‘s Godzilla. This odd factoid only highlights the odd concept of Legendary Pictures seemingly charting its tent pole future with Universal (Comcast Corporation) with something a reborn monster mash.
I had a piece specifically dealing with the box office performance of the newest Godzilla versus the 1998 version in the back of my head for awhile now, but I was waiting until the new film crossed $500 million worldwide. Said milestone was passed within days of a couple major Comic-Con* announcements, which means I had to do some quick big-picture expansion. Warner Bros. announced that Godzilla 2 was absolutely happening and Gareth Edwards was returning to direct as soon as he was done with his Star Wars spin-off. Then, Legendary and Universal announced a King Kong prequel entitled Skull Island for November 4th, 2016. Couple that with the already announced Pacific Rim 2 and the monster-filled Warcraft adaptation and, as Dorothy Pomerantz noted on Saturday, Legendary is basically establishing itself as a major producer of expensive old-school monster movies. But the monster movies we’ve seen, outside of the somewhat lightning in a bottle Jurassic Park series (Universal is indeed dropping Jurassic World next June), haven’t exactly been “monster” hits.
The biggest such film outside of the first two Jurassic Park films, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, is still (inexplicably) considered a box office bust despite grossing $550 million worldwide on a $207m budget back in 2005. I’ve said for nine years that the film was the victim of insane expectations that compared it to Titanic, but the conventional wisdom is still that the critically-acclaimed remake was a box office under-performer (I just watched it and our rave reviews in 2005 are still accurate). Back in 1998, Godzilla was absolutely expected to rule the summer movie season. But the Roland Emmerich film received horrible reviews and its $44 million Fri-Sun debut (the biggest of the year) and $74m Wed-Mon debut (one of the biggest six-day totals in history at the time) was viewed as an instant disappointment for Sony.
The $130m production ended up with $136m domestic and $379m worldwide, just under 3x its production budget in an era when marketing didn’t necessarily cost as much as the film itself and when DVD was just emerging as a powerful secondary post-theatrical revenue stream. Godzilla 2014 technically made more money, it actually ended up selling less tickets (23 million) than the 1998 version (29 million) in America. Not accounting for any 3D/IMAX bump, Godzilla 1998 grossed $236m domestic when adjusted for 2014 inflation while its worldwide inflation-adjusted total would be around $675m not accounting for 3D or IMAX bumps or even the obvious expansion of overseas markets over the last sixteen years.
Godzilla 1998 was a flop for grossing $379 million worldwide and Godzilla 2014 is a big hit for earning $500m+ in 2014, even though the earlier film sold fewer tickets than the newer film both here and abroad. Now when discussing inflation in situations like this, it is always important to remember that today’s audiences have lots more competition for their entertainment dollars than they did back in 1998. It’s still a telling sign of the shifting expectations and shifting scales of what qualifies as a hit film in this day-and-age as well as the advantage of being perceived as an underdog versus the preordained top dog in a summer box office race.
Also of note is that this new Godzilla was obscenely front-loaded in America, barely earning back double its $93 million opening weekend ($199m and counting). The critics mostly applauded and most hardcore fans approved, but the swiftness of its domestic box office seems to imply that the general audience either care or didn’t care for what they saw. Pacific Rim was more passionately received by geek-centric critics than by general audiences. The film opened with $37m and ended its domestic run with $101m. It is only getting a sequel because it earned $309m overseas, including $111m in China alone. Audiences aren’t exactly loving these mega-budget monster movies. Even if they are willing to try it once (Clash of the Titans with $493m), they aren’t necessarily going twice (Wrath of the Titans with $305m).
Or (speculation alert) maybe Pacific Rim is getting a sequel (and an animated series, natch) as part of Legendary’s overall battle plan, an attempt to create a somewhat unified monster-mash brand with Universal to go along with the studio’s attempt to revive their classic 1930′s horror icons (Dracula, the Mummy, etc.). Universal doesn’t have its own superhero/sci-fi franchise, Fast & Furious may be done after this current installment, and blockbuster fortunes are not made with the likes of The Bourne Legacy.Perhaps, along with cheap comedies and Illusion animated features, Universal wants to be the home of tent pole monster movies, ones that offer the potential for an interconnected universe.
Whether or not all of these disparate properties will eventually form some kind of interconnected universe is a question yet-unanswered (Godzilla is still with Warner Bros. so I wouldn’t expect a Godzilla vs. King Kong anytime soon), there exists the potential for any number of monster mash-ups. We may very well see not just an interconnected universe involving the classic Universal monsters but something akin to a King Kong Comes To Jurassic Park or At the Pacific Rim Of Madness mash-up (“The only thing that can stop Bourne… only hunts on a full moon!”). But the risk is that Legendary is betting its future as a tent pole producer on a genre that hasn’t been all-that-popular with general audiences, at least to the extent that the budgets will arguably demand.
Can Mr. Edwards do that when A) Mr. Edwards’s original was (wrongly) criticized for not having enough monster mayhem and B) Godzilla 2 is set to have three new iconic monsters (Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah) for the title monster to fight? And will Skull Island be considered a big enough hit if it “only” grosses the same $217m domestic/$550m worldwide as Peter Jackson’s wrongly derided King Kong? Can Guillermo del Toro produce a cheaper and more mass audience-pleasing Pacific Rim 2 for April 2017? Legendary and Universal are taking a very real risk in basing their tent pole future in the likes of King Kong.
But with great risk obviously comes the potential for great reward. The modern-day comic book superhero film was arguably on its last legs, fated to begin with Blade and end with Nolan’s Batman trilogy when Marvel Comics jump-started the genre with Iron Man in 2008. If Legendary can either keep the budgets at or below $150 million or deliver giant monster smack downs that play as well with general audiences as the geek-friendly crowds (hint: movie stars), the box office results may be, well, legendary. It will be interesting to watch over the next several years. Now we wait and see who directs Skull Island (Joe Cornish is rumored as of today) and who gets to play Monthra (I, as always, suggest Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib is the nation's only weekly radio program dedicated to a serious discussion of and about popular culture. Broadcasting each Monday from 5:00 to 5:30 PM EST on WNJC-1360 AM Philadelphia (www.wnjcradio.com/), Fictional Frontiers taps into its reservoir of experts, contributors, and insiders...bringing you the best from film, television, comic books, literature, and other entertainment mediums.
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