RPT-'R.I.P.D.' continues Hollywood's summer of big budget bombs
By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, July 22 (Reuters) - Universal Pictures' sci-fi action comedy "R.I.P.D." and Dreamworks Animation's "Turbo" opened with a thud in North American theaters this weekend, continuing a Hollywood streak of weekly box office bombs for films that cost more than $100 million to make.
"R.I.P.D.," starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, cost $130 million to make and tens of millions more to promote. It opened with ticket sales of $12.8 million, seventh among films in theaters this weekend, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com.
The $135 million "Turbo," which was distributed by Fox , collected $21.5 million in its first weekend, a distant third behind the horror film "The Conjuring" and also behind "Despicable Me 2," which continues to do well in its third week in theaters.
"There are always going to be films that are green-lit two years ago that aren't going to make it," Nikki Rocco, president of Universal's distribution unit, said of "R.I.P.D." "There are always going to be times when films just don't work. It's nothing new."
Still, analysts say the misfires could prompt a parade of film writedowns for studios - a black eye for an industry that prides its public image nearly as highly as its private jets and summers in Europe. Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Anthony Wible says Disney will likely be forced to take a writedown for the Johnny Depp western "The Lone Ranger," and Sony for the sci-fi adventure "After Earth" with Will Smith.
Cowen and Company analyst Doug Creutz says a writedown is possible as well for "Turbo," which he wrote in a July 17 report could drop his estimated earnings for the company to $0.25 per share in 2013 from his current $0.72.
"It's a little early. "We have a ton of summer play time left," Chris Aronson, who heads Fox's domestic distribution unit, said about "Turbo." The film got lofty scores from test audiences under age 25, he said, "which bodes very well for playability since that's our target audience."
Aronson said that Fox expects the film to sell well overseas, usually a strong market for Dreamworks' films.
Writedowns are "fairly subjective," said Robert Willens, a tax and accounting consultant and former Lehman Brothers managing director. Studios assess the likelihood of a film recovering its costs through future foreign, digital and other sales before making the decision to write down the film.
The prospects for a writedown are still unclear for Sony's "White House Down" and for "Pacific Rim," which was distributed by Warner Brothers but produced by independent Legendary Entertainment, which financed 75 percent of its $190 million budget.
Both films have yet to fully roll out in foreign markets.
Representatives for Disney, Sony, Universal and Legendary had no comment.
An unprecedented crush of big budget summer films this season is the major reason for the crash and burn of so many films, said Janney Montgomery's Wible.
"There are just too many films in theaters and they cost too much, it's pretty simple," Wible said. "And there are more of them this summer than ever."
"Turbo," for instance, will be harmed because it is one of five animated films released over an 11-week period, said Cowen's Creutz, including a sequel to Sony's 2011 hit "The Smurfs" on July 31.
It's already being whacked by Universal's animated film "Despicable Me 2," has played so well that it is siphoning off viewers from animated films, Creutz said.
The big budget bombs come even as the summer box office is up 9.9 percent, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's box office division.
Those films are losing out to smaller budget comedies that are targeting the same demographic of moviegoers - teenage boys and young men, he said. Among this summer's hits are stoner comedies "The Hangover Part III" and "This is the End." Sequels such as Universal's "Fast and Furious 6" are also doing damage among the same moviegoers.
Hollywood marketing executives also say the plot for "White House Down" - the taking of the White House by terrorists - is much the same as "Olympus Has Fallen," distributed in March by independent Film District.
"After Earth" is similar to the plot of the April release "Oblivion," Tom Cruise's sci-fi post apocalyptic movie, they say, and the cartoonish villain creatures in "R.I.P.D." are reminiscent of those in Sony's "Men in Black" sequel "MIB3" last year.
"When people pay their hard-earned money, they like to see something new and different," Dergarabedian said.
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