'Armstrong' set for March; 'Battleship' gets May 25

After successfully introducing Transformers and G.I. Joe on the bigscreen, Hasbro is carefully crafting how it launches the next series of movies based on its popular toy properties.

The second-largest toymaker and Universal Pictures have opted not to rush forward with “Stretch Armstrong” and “Battleship,” shifting the release dates of both projects in order to capitalize on their potential at both the box office and at retail.

Hasbro last week cast “Twilight’s” Taylor Lautner to star in its action-figure adaptation “Stretch Armstrong,” which U will unspool in March 2012. Hasbro and Universal have anchored “Battleship,” based on the boardgame, to May 25, 2012.

The companies had originally eyed April 2011 for “Stretch” and July 2011 for “Battleship”; both pics are part of a six-year pact brokered with U in early 2008 that will result in at least four movies. “Monopoly,” directed by Ridley Scott; the Kevin Lima-helmed “Candy Land”; and pics based on Clue, Ouija and “Magic: The Gathering” also are in the works.

Hasbro announced the “Stretch” and “Battleship” news late Friday as it put the finishing touches on its fourth quarter earnings report, which will be released today.

Films have increasingly become an important booster to Hasbro’s bottom line. The movies are helping the toymaker secure more valuable shelf space with retailers looking for popular properties as it launches new lines of action figures and playsets.

In 2006, Hasbro sold $100 million worth of Transformers action figures, according to UBS, but moved $480 million worth of new toys tied to the “Transformers” pic when it was released the following year. That figure reached nearly $600 million last year because of the sequel.

But Hasbro needs more movies in theaters to sell more toys, especially for aging properties like Battleship and Stretch Armstrong (originally introduced in the 1970s). It also needs those films to be hits and can’t risk rushing a critical dud into theaters.

It has no films on the release schedule this year. While aisles are still filled with Transformers and G.I. Joe toys, executives at the company have realized they need at least one major pic in theaters each year moving forward.

The toymaker and Paramount had already planted a flag on July 1, 2011, for the third installment of “Transformers,” with Michael Bay once again controlling a cast of shape-shifting robots.

In light of that decision, the duo opted to take more time to turn “Stretch” into a 3D superhero actioner. Lautner is also committed to two more pics in the “Twilight” franchise. Either way, the “Stretch” deal now makes Lautner the lead in movies produced by the industry’s two biggest toy companies; he’s also attached to star in Mattel’s adaptation of its “Max Steel” spy franchise, set up at Paramount.

Brian Goldner, president and CEO of Hasbro, is producing with Hasbro’s Bennett Schneir. Imagine’s Brian Grazer is producing “Stretch Armstrong.”

Scott Stuber, who has “The Wolfman” bowing this week, is producing “Battleship” through his Universal-based Stuber Pictures. Sarah Aubrey is producing with director Peter Berg through his Film 44 banner.

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