Warner's Gangster Squad movie could see changes after Colorado shooting

LOS ANGELES Sun Jul 22, 2012 10:31pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Warner Bros. studio is rethinking its plans for the film "Gangster Squad" in light of a scene featuring a movie-theater shooting, but beyond that Hollywood executives expect little fall-out from the mass killing at a Batman screening on Friday in Aurora, Colorado.

Officials at Time Warner Inc-owned Warner Bros. are expected to meet on Monday to discuss whether to remove or edit the "Gangster Squad" shooting scene, or to change the September 7 release date for the film starring Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling, a person familiar with the discussions said.

On Friday, Warner Bros. yanked "Gangster Squad" trailers after a gunman killed 12 and wounded 58 at a midnight premiere of another Warner film, "The Dark Knight Rises." Trailers had included the scene in which men open fire with machineguns on an audience in a movie theater.

Warner Bros. has scaled back promotions for "The Dark Knight Rises," canceling a Paris premiere and calling off appearances by the cast in Mexico and Japan. Weekend box office results for the Batman movie came in slightly below projections, but the movie still grossed an estimated $162 million in the United States and Canada for the third-best opening weekend ever, according to Hollywood sources.

Industry experts said moviegoers were likely to move on quickly from the shooting and studios would proceed mostly as planned. Theaters tightened security over the weekend to reassure customers and one chain imposed new rules on costumes.

Upcoming releases that feature some violence are set to debut on schedule. "The Bourne Legacy," a new movie in the action series that stars Jeremy Renner in the role made famous by Matt Damon, is set for August 10. A remake of 1990 science fiction movie "Total Recall" will reach theaters on August 3.

"The immediate reaction is to go to some dark place when something like this happens. By Monday that's forgotten and the business of releasing a movie takes over," said one person familiar with the studios' thinking.

Especially for big-budget films, studios like to stick with planned openings as they spend tens of millions of dollars to raise awareness in advance. Filmgoers don't dwell on isolated incidents for long, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia marketing chief who now heads the Sausalito Group consulting firm.

"The public's attention span is not that long for such tragedies, and they won't make the connection the further it fades into their memories," Sealey said.

Ronn Torossian, chief executive of New York-based 5W Public Relations, agreed that the public "has a very short-term memory" of news events and said the Aurora shooting would not leave a long-term impact on film promotion. "Reality shows have had tragic suicides and other incidents, yet reality shows continue," he said.

EERIE RESEMBLANCE

"Gangster Squad" presents some unique issues due to the theater shooting scene, which bears an eerie resemblance to what transpired in Colorado. Sticking with the September 7 release date would require the film's stars to do press interviews in the next week or two and face questions about the scene and the shooting.

The studio could decide to go ahead with the debut but cancel the usual round of celebrity interviews and advance screenings typically used to generate early buzz about a movie.

A Warner Bros. spokeswoman had no comment on Sunday.

Another studio, News Corp's 20th Century Fox, had to regroup earlier this year following the national uproar over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

Fox had already started promoting a Ben Stiller comedy called "Neighborhood Watch." After Martin's killing, the studio removed from theaters posters and a trailer for the film and changed its name to "The Watch." That movie opens on Friday.

Crowds still turned out for "The Dark Knight Rises," the finale in a popular Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale.

Hollywood sources estimated that the movie would finish the weekend with $162 million from U.S. and Canadian theaters. That would rank as the third-highest opening weekend of all time, behind the $207 million record set by superhero movie "The Avengers" in May and the $169 million for last summer's finale in the "Harry Potter" series.

Many fans of the Batman series had bought tickets through advance sales ahead of the Aurora shooting.

Still, the "Dark Knight" opening appeared lower than box office watchers had forecast before the shooting, suggesting that some moviegoers decided to stay home in light of the incident. Ahead of the weekend, projections for the first three days ranged from $170 million to $198 million.

The major movie studios withheld their usual boasting about movie ticket sales on Sunday in light of the incident. Warner Bros. said it would provide "Dark Knight" figures on Monday, and other studios also were expected to release tallies for their movies at that time.

One studio, 20th Century Fox, did let reporters know that animated sequel "Ice Age: Continental Drift" set new records in international markets. Ticket sales since its late-June opening reached $442.7 million, the studio said in an e-mail. The film is now the highest-grossing film in Argentina and Uruguay after four weeks in theaters, and scored the highest opening in history in Venezuela.

(Editing by Dale Hudson, Jonathan Weber and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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