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Should Universal Bet $200 Million on Branded Battleship?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 13, 2010 at 11:39AM

Partly I blame the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise--based on Disney's e-ticket theme ride--for the current Hollywood mania for branding entertainment. If a title doesn't mean anything to anyone, the studios don't want to have to market something from scratch. They're allergic to it. Too much risk.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Partly I blame the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise--based on Disney's e-ticket theme ride--for the current Hollywood mania for branding entertainment. If a title doesn't mean anything to anyone, the studios don't want to have to market something from scratch. They're allergic to it. Too much risk.

So they go in search of known titles that might have an established following. But do videogames, theme park rides and board games have fans? Did Clue? Prince of Persia? Does Battleship? What does that title mean? Two enemy fleets of destroyers and air craft carriers try to locate each other's ships and submarines? The reason why comic books, plays, TV shows and remakes make more branding sense is that they boast established characters and worlds that resonate with fans. That's what is so clear at Comic-Con. Writers created those enduring personalities and universes.

But Battleship? Pirates of the Caribbean worked as a movie franchise because someone had the genius to cast Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Of course producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writers Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot, director Gore Verbinski and ILM did their damnedest to make the rest of it work. Take away Captain Jack...

Now everybody thinks they can chase a tentpole with an established title. So what does Battleship have?

One million units sold, director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom), a $200-million budget and a start-date in a few weeks with a no-name cast fighting digital aliens. It does not inspire confidence. (Universal is high on alien attack movies: Skyline opens November 12.) Universal chairman Adam Fogelson tells THR: "It's a big bet like many, many big bets from many studios."

Stakes are high for the studio, which started to reverse its box-office fortunes this summer with the animated 3-D hit Despicable Me, but the $80-million Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which opened Friday, is unlikely to turn the ship around, at a time when buyer Comcast is watching closely.

This article is related to: Genres, Studios, Stuck In Love, In Production, Sci-fi, Action, Universal/Focus Features, Screenwriters


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.