Remember CBS Films? The movie division Les Moonves launched so that Showtime would have some movies after Paramount pulled out of its deal with the pay cabler?
Well it’s still around and planning a slate of movies starring Harrison Ford, Jennifer Lopez and Vanessa Hudgens. CBS Films plans to release its first movie, the Harrison Ford one, next April. But success for the upstart division won’t be easy.
The division plans to release mid-range projects, budgeted below $50 million. And while there are a few recent examples of films with that budget that have succeeded: Baby Mama, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Gran Torino (all of which were cited by CBS films head Amy Baer in Variety‘s profile of the division), there are even more movies made every year for that much money that bomb—including plenty of films with the same background as the ones CBS Films is producing:
- Their Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson action drama Faster is being directed by Gridiron Gang’s Phil Joanou. Gridiron Gang was made for $30 million and only grossed $41.5 million at the box office, making it one of the losers in Sony and Universal’s Gun Hill Road co-financing deal with Relativity Media.
- Another movie in development at CBS Films is Susannah Grant’s “I’ll Be There,” based on a Korean box-office hit. We love Susannah Grant’s movies, but the Oscar-nominated writer hasn’t had a hit at the box office since Erin Brockovich. Her highly underrated directorial debut Catch and Release only grossed $16 million on a $25 million budget and The Soloist, which she penned, isn’t doing much better. To date it’s only grossed $25.1 million in the U.S. on an estimated budget of $60 million.
Baer also seems to be unaware (or unwilling to admit) that the entertainment industry is in trouble.
“The movie business is recession-proof,” she tells Variety. “Going to the movies has become the diversion of choice. We are just staying the course and slowly building a diverse slate of commercially appealing films. Fortunately, our movies are financed by CBS, so we’re not affected by a credit crunch.”
First, dwindling DVD sales and rental rates prove that the “the movie business” is not recession-proof, not to mention the difficulty of many studios and producers to raise money in this credit-crunched environment. For some reason, yes, people are still going to the theatre, but no exec should think that the “movie business is recession-proof.”
Second, Baer says, “Our movies are financed by CBS, so we’re not affected by a credit crunch.” Apart from what we just pointed out with respect to the credit crunch, CBS isn’t doing so hot financially right now either. Last quarter, the company posted a net loss of $55.3 million compared to a profit of $244.3 million during Q1 2008.
Also, network-launched movie divisions don’t have the best track record: CBS and ABC launched film divisions in the ’80s, but they were eventually shut down.
We hope CBS Films succeeds, but there are a lot of factors working against it.
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