Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 14, 2004 at 12:40 AM
If there is one thing Universal Studios - the film studio - does best, it is creating the tentpole film. For every Van Helsing or Hulk there are two or more films, like The Fast and the Furious, The Bourne Identity, American Pie or The Mummy that do well enough to spawn sequels. And we know that movies with sequels have a better chance of becoming theme park attractions than the stand-alones do.
So what about Universal's most recent tentpole, The Chronicles of Riddick? While many people may not remember, the Vin Diesel film is actually a followup to the mostly entertaining Pitch Black, which means the Riddick character is now part of a series, which gives it a much higher profile.
But how did it do this weekend? Actually not too bad, with an opening of about $25M. Less than Prisoner of Azkaban naturally, but still impressive in a crowded summer weekend. And it only needs another $15M to beat its predecessor. Still, the reviews are mixed-to-poor and the film's budget was over $100M. A film budgeted at three times the original's box office take? Insane!
And that could hurt Universal's plans for three Riddick films. For the film would have to get great word of mouth to make back its budget, which isn't likely to happen. If the film loses money, a sequel isn't likely to happen. If there are no more sequels, a theme park attraction isn't likely to happen. Which is unfortunate, since the look of the film could make for an incredible theme.
Still, all is not lost for anyone jonesing for a sci-fi attraction. Universal has released an anime film titled The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, which could help raise interest in the series. There is also the possibility that Universal may continue the series depending on how next year's Diesel-fueled Fast and Furious sequel performs. Hollywood is still intent on turning Diesel into an action star, which may be even harder now that the more charismatic Rock is making a bid. Diesel has proven he can act in character-driven films, but throw a lot of special effects in and he turns into a sullen, overacting machine. (Watch the extras on xXx and you have to wonder why the man's so averse to displaying any of his charm on film.)
So, if Furious 3 does well, expect a new, cheaper Riddick film a year or two after that. Otherwise, no film, no ride.
IN THE OTHER CORNER...
Meanwhile, Disney is readying the next film that is supposed to take it out of the box office hole this year has been. A month ago I held out absolutely no hope for Around the World in 80 Days, but more recent commercials are much better than the early stuff. Wisely, Disney is focusing a little more on the comedy and adventure and less on Jackie Chan kicking stuff. Plus, the family-friendly aspects are being emphasized now, especially in the newer voiceovers which proudly proclaim it to be "Disney's" Around the World in 80 Days. This branding can only help, as Dodgeball and The Terminal may hog up the older crowd this weekend.
If the film does well - which is anything but certain at this point, especially with Disney behind it - could it be the attraction of the future? If the film follows Jules Verne's original plot more than it reverts to the chop-socky stuff, then there are a good 80 ideas to choose from. A standard Jackie Chan film doesn't lend to much beyond a Lord of the Violent Dance stage show.
But the film would probably have to do REALLY WELL to even get to the Blue Sky department at WDI. The budget is listed at $110M, and Disney has a habit of underestimating budgets to the press. So the film would have to do far better than mediocre tentpoles like Van Helsing ($117M so far) or Troy ($125M) and probably even better than the where-did-that-come-from Day after Tomorrow ($153M and still hanging in there). $200M would be the minimum, and I don't see 80 getting anywhere near that.
So those waiting for possible Universal attractions will probably have to wait for The Bourne Supremacy, while Disneyphiles will have to wait all the way until November for Pixar's The Incredibles, as King Arthur may be a little dark for a future in a Disney park and The Village has no chance, even if it hits Sixth Sense levels at the box office.
My two cents... Gimme yours!