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After foreign haul, 'Battleship' faces choppy seas

Posted: May 5, 2012 3:20 a.m.
Updated: May 5, 2012 3:20 a.m.

In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Tadanobu Asano, left, and Taylor Kitsch are shown in a scene from "Battleship." “Battleship,” a Universal Pictures movie based on the Hasbro Inc. board game, has survived an armada of tomato-throwing critics and chugged to $170 million in ticket sales overseas.

 

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Battleship," the first in a string of movies based on Hasbro board games, has survived an armada of tomato-throwing critics and chugged to $170 million in ticket sales overseas.

Yet it faces choppy seas as it steams toward its U.S. debut on May 18. What might sink "Battleship" is competition from other hotly expected blockbusters, including the superhero adventure "The Avengers," which opens Friday, and Sony's long-awaited "Men in Black III," which rolls out May 23.

"It could drown in amongst all of those big titles," says Blake Howard, director of Australian review site Castleco-op.com.

He says the movie's "popcorn escapism" was good enough to succeed in a regular year. This summer, it has unusually tough competition.

The hit-or-miss fate of a given Hollywood big-budget movie doesn't normally matter that much. Media company analysts discount the studios as too volatile to be given much credit inside large conglomerates.

But "Battleship" is the first board game movie since "Clue" tanked in 1985. It's a barometer for the appetite of audiences for a handful of other Hasbro board game movies, including Universal's own "Ouija," due out next year, as well as "Risk" and "Candy Land," which are in the works at Sony Corp.'s movie studio.

Universal Pictures took the unusual step of releasing "Battleship" in international markets five weeks before its U.S. debut. Part of that was to avoid competing with "The Avengers," the Disney/Marvel movie that brings together "Iron Man," ''The Incredible Hulk" and other superheroes from previous films. It also wanted to give a wide berth to European Cup soccer starting June 8.

The overseas haul for "Battleship" goes part way to justifying its reported $209 million price tag. But after subtracting splits with theater owners and marketing costs, it is estimated to need about half a billion dollars at box offices to turn a profit.

That's tough given the competition. In a little more than one week, "The Avengers" snagged $304 million abroad, far more than "Battleship" did in three weeks. "The Avengers," fuelled by gushing reviews and a fan base that has been building since "Iron Man" in 2008, could break the domestic opening weekend record of $169 million.

Both movies squarely target the young males that make or break Hollywood movies in the all-important summer movie season.

"Battleship" has mixed momentum coming to the U.S. Just 48 percent of critics on review site Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review, compared with 93 percent for "The Avengers." The most generous critics have still heaped cynicism on the board-game tie-ins, such as a scene in which American soldiers use a grid to fire blindly at alien ships in a strained nod to the board game.

"The only thing to do is raise the white flag and surrender to the film's awesome silliness," writes British reviewer Jason Best with the What's On TV website.

American patriotic militarism is accepted overseas, but not relished, and international audiences appear to have overlooked a heavy dose of it in "Battleship" to get their special effects-laden action movie fix. It probably helped that a Japanese co-star, pop icon Rihanna and a disabled veteran helped the American hero save Earth from outer-space invaders.

"I think it literally just comes down to: People like explosions and action movies abroad," says Oliver Lyttleton, a U.K.-based writer for The Playlist blog.

He believes that won't prevent the movie from losing money. "I don't think we'll see a Battleship 2."

Executives from Hasbro Inc. and Universal, a division of Comcast Corp., declined to comment ahead of the domestic release.

The movie represents the hopes of both companies for a big franchise, a series that sells billions of dollars in toys and tickets, the way "Transformers" did for Hasbro and Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures.

Given the results so far, a more realistic benchmark for "Battleship" is "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." The Hasbro toy-inspired movie from 2009 generated $300 million in ticket sales worldwide, about half of it overseas. That was good enough to spawn a sequel, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," which hits some overseas theaters June 21.

"Battleship" also doesn't have to be as big as Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter" to become a bankable franchise. If it makes some money, it could add to Universal's relatively successful series, such as the "Bourne" and "Fast Five" movies.

"If they have three really strong franchises and a bunch of other movies in their slate that are going to perform well, that's absolutely fine," says Paul Dergarabedian, the box office president of Hollywood.com.

But he added, "in order to warrant the investment of a franchise built around it, it's going to have to do quite well here in North America."

 

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