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Warner Bros. Studio Post-Robinov: Do They Need a Strategy Reboot?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 11, 2014 at 4:48PM

The risk of changing management is that new executives face a steep learning curve. Some figure out the rules of the game fast enough to keep their jobs. Others--see Gail Berman at Paramount, Rich Ross at Disney--do not.
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Kevin Tsujihara
Kevin Tsujihara

The risk of changing management is that new executives face a steep learning curve. Some figure out the rules of the game fast enough to keep their jobs. Others--see Gail Berman at Paramount, Rich Ross at Disney--do not.

Blunt and Cruise fight skittery aliens in 'Edge of Tomorrow'
Blunt and Cruise fight skittery aliens in 'Edge of Tomorrow'

When Warner Bros. chief executive Jeff Bewkes pitted three senior managers against each other to win the job of running the studio, he lost his top TV and film execs. And that was after he let go of the film studio's Alan Horn to favor the rise of Jeff Robinov. Warners eventually lost him too after digital exec Kevin Tsujihara won the studio prize. In retrospect, the sage and mature Horn may have provided an important managerial buffer for the gifted but mercurial Robinov. Now Horn is steering a strong course at the Disney studio, and Robinov's talents will serve the Sony brand.

So Tsuijihara banked on his own bench at the movie studio, promoting a trio of executives, Warner production head Gary Silverman and New Line's Toby Emmerich and marketing and distribution chief Sue Kroll. They were supposed to be running Warners together, but Silverman seems to be taking the lead. The studio is not happy with The Hollywood Reporter scribe Kim Masters' latest studio report in the wake of the disappointing summer returns on Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore's "Blended" ($39.2 million worldwide) and the opening of Tom Cruise epic "Edge of Tomorrow" ($29 million domestic, $111 overseas). She points out that tracking for Clint Eastwood's period musical "Jersey Boys" (June 20) is low, and the studio is suffering from a lack of franchises now that "Harry Potter" and Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" are no longer holding up the slate. 

Still to come are Zack Snyder's "Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice" (May 16, 2015) and JK Rowling is prepping new material for the studio for November 2016. The rest of the summer lineup look modest: New Line's Melissa McCarthy vehicle "Tammy" (July 2) and tornado thriller "Into the Storm" (August 8) plus Chloe Moretz teen drama "If I Stay" (August 22).

Isn't Warners following the same tentpole strategy engineered by Horn and Robinov? And didn't the departed exec greenlight this year's movies, from monster hits "Godzilla" ($395 million worldwide) and "Lego" ($462 million worldwide) which were perfectly executed and marketed for the global audience, to "Edge of Tomorrow," which earned the best reviews of Cruise's career? Yes, but the movie looked too familiar, given its elements, and you had to see it to appreciate its merits. (I'm waiting for word-of-mouth to kick in.) And "Tomorrow" may have cost too much ($178 million). And all the studios may have to revise their tentpole strategy.

It's telling that the new management saw fit to push back the Wachowskis' $150-million "Jupiter Ascending" from July 18  to February, probably seeking to avoid two write-offs in one quarter. 

Bewkes banked on Tsuijihara partly because he needs to make the right moves in today's challenging and changing digital landscape. But running a studio takes experience. 

This article is related to: Warner Bros./New Line, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. , Edge Of Tomorrow, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Box Office, Box Office


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.