Nikki Rocco, Universal’s domestic distribution president, has rescued all of her pets. Her wheaten terrier, Molly, came from the organization New Leash on Life. “I was just coming back from ShowEast,” recalls Rocco. “It was love at first sight.”
The 44-year-old industry veteran — who learned the sales ropes from Lew Wasserman and has overseen the release of the company’s biggest successes, from “Meet the Fockers” to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — has saved a number of movies, too.
This year’s surprise hit “Bridesmaids,” she admits, could have been just another summer movie. “But the smart move of being out in front of everything else paid off in spades,” she says. “And being ahead of all the other R-rated comedies (‘The Hangover’ sequel came out just two weeks later) was most important.”
Similarly, Universal’s fifth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” series, “Fast Five,” was released at the end of the April and is currently the fifth highest grossing film of the year. “We expanded the franchise out of the normal season,” says Rocco. “They don’t have to be in just June or July.”
But, she admits, bold moves don’t always work out. “The Change-Up” and “Cowboys & Aliens” were both disappointments. As for the latter, she says it’ll still make $100 million, and the shared risk (with DreamWorks and Relativity) “made it quite a responsible bet for us.”
In an age when critics claim Hollywood doesn’t support new ideas, Rocco contends, “we deserve some credit for aspiring to bring these filmmakers together and do something very unique and different.”
She says the biggest challenge for the business remains 3D. While Universal’s 2010 summer 3D blockbuster “Despicable Me” was a success, Rocco says, “the jury is still out on whether 3D will work.”
Title: President, domestic distribution, Universal
Role models: “Ron Meyer (for) his work ethic and intelligence about this business. When I was just getting started, it was (editor-turned-Universal exec) Verna Fields. My mother was also a role model.”
Career mantra: “I’ve always said our business can be a 52-week business. If you have really good movies, you can release them anytime of year.”
Leisure pursuits: “I play golf and I have a group of friends unrelated to the industry and I love that. And I love to cook.”
Philanthropic passion: Boys and Girls Clubs, Roy Rodgers Motion Picture Pioneers Fund, L.A. Children’s Hospital.