Nurturing the niche: Dimension Films

The Weinstein Co.’s first pics have hit the market, but Bob Weinstein continues to feed a stream of new franchises and sleepers to what has been a money train for the duo: Dimension Films.

When it was part of Miramax, the genre arm delivered eye-popping profits with the “Spy Kids” and “Scary Movie” franchises. In fact, as the brothers Bob and Harvey were wooing Wall Street, it was Dimension that caught many investors’ eyes.

While sequels to “Sin City” and “Scary Movie” are in the pipeline, the Miramax-free Dimension is programming an ultracompetitive summer season with a dose of unknown titles and sequel hopefuls. They include “Pulse,” a remake of a Japanese horror pic set for July, which stars Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”), Christina Milan and Ian Somerhalder (“Lost”). Also in the works for a summer rollout is the vidgame adaptation “DOA: Dead or Alive.”

Although the titles are unproven in what will be a summer of derivative fare, “No one knew what the hell ‘Scream’ was,” Bob Weinstein says, referring to the 1996 Dimension pic that raked in $103 million at the domestic B.O.

The company also plans to bring back Billy Bob Thornton (“Bad Santa”) to star opposite Jon Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite” in “School for Scoundrels,” which Bob Weinstein sees as a comedy on the order of “Wedding Crashers.” The pic, which has been moved from a summer rollout to a fall release, is by “Starsky & Hutch” helmer Todd Phillips and follows a dejected traffic cop who enrolls in a “confidence building” class. He gets more than he bargained for when his professor exhibits some unusual teaching methods.

The company also is high on a horror adaptation of the Stephen King short story “1408,” from “Derailed” helmer Mikael Hafstrom and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

When the brothers were at Disney, Miramax got much of the ink and prestige, but Dimension proved to be a solid performer. Dimension released 54 pics, and 46 were profitable, Bob Weinstein says, adding, “That’s a pretty good track record.”

But the Weinsteins could not capitalize on videogame and other ancillary potential when it didn’t suit Disney’s plans. So with a new cast of execs in place — including exec veep and head of production Richard Saperstein and senior veep of production Matthew Stein — Dimension naturally is looking to launch franchises after Robert Rodriguez hung up his “Spy” series, “Scream” died off and the “Scary Movie” series moves into its fourth effort.

“We are coming in with the mentality that every picture has its own business plan,” Bob Weinstein says.

Their first rollout was on Christmas Day, with the Aussie horror pic “Wolf Creek,” which grossed $16 million domestically. (Dimension, which also had world rights on “Wolf,” wrapped up horror helmer Greg McLean’s follow-up, “Rogue.”)

Next up is “Scary Movie 4″ on April 14. The latest in the off-the-wall satirical franchise — which has so far raked in $338 million domestically — takes aim at properties such as “War of the Worlds,” “Saw” and “The Grudge,” as well as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil.

In his years running the genre division, Bob Weinstein kept a loyal stable of directors and talent, such as Rodriguez, who created both “Spy Kids” and “Sin City” for the division. And he’s turning to them to come up with the next big ideas with sequel potential.

In addition to a “Sin City” sequel for next year, Rodriguez is working on “Grind House,” for which he and Quentin Tarantino will each helm a 75-minute horror tale. Pic is now nearing production in Rodriguez’s hometown of Austin, Texas.

Each tale will be separated by faux ads and trailers that will feature big-name talent and direction by other helmers, like Eli Roth. And the trailers may even include kernels of ideas for future “Grind” films. “It will be a totally new experience, and a whole step above,” Bob Weinstein says. Subsequent installments could be blaxploitation pics or kung fu movies.

Being fast-tracked for a Christmas release is “Superhero!,” from “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” guru David Zucker, currently in Canada finishing “Scary Movie 4.” Goosing the pic’s comedic material is the wave of comicbook-hero blockbusters including “Spider-Man 3,” “X-Men 3″ and “Superman Returns.” Bob Weinstein doesn’t spare his enthusiasm over the pic’s prospects. “We were looking for our next franchise,” he says, “and I thought this was fantastic.”

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