Big year for Sony ups ante

Motion Picture Showmanship Award

In 2006, it seemed like Sony Pictures had the golden touch.

It hit an all-time high with 13 films opening in first place domestically for a record U.S. cume of nearly $1.7 billion. And two Sony films, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Casino Royale,” combined for worldwide grosses of more than $1.3 billion.

As a result, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman-CEO Michael Lynton and co-chair Amy Pascal will receive the Motion Picture Showmanship kudo at the ICG Publicists Awards.

Key factor, both say, was presenting a widely diverse slate of event films and niche entries, including “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “The Pink Panther,” “Monster House,” “RV,” “Gridiron Gang,” “When a Stranger Calls,” “Click,” “The Holiday,” “Silent Hill,” “Underworld: Evolution” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

For Pascal, the most gratifying of all was “Pursuit.” “Everything worked well last year, but here was a movie that was on a serious topic, so to see how well it’s done has been delightful,” she says.

For Lynton, 2006 represented a bit of redemption following a rough year for the biz.

“We stopped hearing the conversations about how people had stopped coming to the movies and stopped buying DVDs,” he says. “It basically backed up our conviction that we’re in a fundamentally strong business in which people will come if you give them movies worth seeing.”

Now, of course, the pressure’s on to make 2007 even stronger. Besides starting with solid “Pursuit” performances domestically and internationally, Sony could see plenty of pop from “Spider-Man 3,” now in the final prep stages for its May 4 worldwide launch. Other notable titles include action thriller “Ghost Rider,” comedy sequel “Are We Done Yet?,” murder mystery “Perfect Stranger,” CGI toon “Surf’s Up” and Adam Sandler’s “Reign Over Me.”

Another Bond pic is slated for 2008, plus “Angels and Demons,” the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code” — both pics with huge international potential. Both “Casino Royale” and “Da Vinci” took in 70% of their worldwide grosses from outside the United States, where markets such as China, Russia and South Korea are expanding at explosive rates.

“The ability of films to perform internationally is something that we’re relying on more and more,” Pascal admits.

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