Sony looks for box office hit with "This Is It"

LOS ANGELES Sun Oct 25, 2009 11:13am EDT

People line up and prepare to stay overnight at L.A. Live for the opportunity to purchase tickets for special showings of the ''Michael Jackson's This Is It'' movie in Los Angeles, California, September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

People line up and prepare to stay overnight at L.A. Live for the opportunity to purchase tickets for special showings of the ''Michael Jackson's This Is It'' movie in Los Angeles, California, September 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Heading toward its October 28 release, Michael Jackson movie "This Is It" looks like a box office winner for Sony's Columbia Pictures movie studio with one estimate saying it could make more than $600 million worldwide in a limited two-week run.

Jackson's many fans are hungry for one last chance to see their idol sing and dance on screen, and the film's makers promise an image of him that is more like the pop star who ruled the charts in the 1980s, and less like the frail paparazzi target he seemed in recent years.

Industry watchers say the unique nature of "This Is It" -- part documentary and part concert film starring a legend who is no longer living -- make it difficult to judge how successful it will be for Sony Corp unit Columbia Pictures because there are few, if any, comparisons to it.

Based on the $60 million Columbia paid to release the film, plus marketing costs, and taking into account distribution fees it will earn, industry insiders predict the film needs to make just over $100 million at worldwide box offices to profit.

Some experts said "This Is It," which opens on Wednesday in more than 3,400 theaters in the United States and Canada, could make $40 million in those domestic markets during its first five days, but that is at the low end of estimates.

A rival studio executive who asked to remain anonymous said over its two-week run the film could make $660 million globally -- $260 million domestic and $400 million internationally.

"This is a big win for Sony," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of tracking firm Hollywood.Com's box office division. "The fact that (Columbia) was able to put this kind of a deal together quickly, and that they were able to obtain the rights, speaks volumes about their ability to get things done."

Columbia has said the movie will be extended beyond its two-week run if ticket demand is high, and it plans to release the DVD for the movie in early 2010.

SONY'S BOTTOM LINE

Still, for parent company Sony, whose annual revenues total $79 billion from a range of businesses including most prominently consumer electronics, any one movie will rarely have a huge impact on the corporate bottom line, experts said.

"I'd say it's likely to be a big success, but Sony is so huge I don't believe it matters much beyond a quarter," said industry analyst Harold Vogel of Vogel Capital Management.

"This Is It" is mostly composed of video footage of Jackson rehearsing for a series of concerts in the weeks before his unexpected June 25 death from an overdose of powerful drugs.

In the following weeks, his fans paid tribute at gatherings from London to Tokyo and at a Jackson family memorial service in Los Angeles attended by about 18,000 people. Fans lined up for tickets to the movie when they went on sale in Bangkok, Munich and elsewhere, and many early screenings sold out fast.

Still, there remains some uncertainty about the box office because sales of Jackson-related products have shown mixed results since his death.

His music has seen a resurgence in popularity with Nielsen SoundScan reporting more than 5.5 million in physical album sales for the "Thriller" singer and the equivalent of more than 900,000 in online album sales.

But the October 13 reissue of Jackson's 1988 autobiography "Moonwalk" was met with more tepid reaction by consumers.

So far, the book has sold 12,000 copies at major retailers, U.S. tracking firm Nielsen BookScan said.

Online retailer Amazon.com listed "Moonwalk" at mid-day Friday as its 156th top seller, far behind such titles as 1963 children's book "Where the Wild Things Are," which was ranked 16th after the release of a movie adaptation this month.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh.)

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