Lionsgate warns investors about losses

Has little impact on Wall Street

Lionsgate will have worked up a mighty appetite for a hit by the time “The Hunger Games” comes to theaters next spring.

The minimajor capped its 2011 film slate this weekend with a whimper — make that three whimpers in five weeks — to the degree that the company warned investors of coming losses between $40 million and $50 million in its current quarter.

Monday’s warning, issued in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday, came after “Conan the Barbarian,” “Warrior” and most recently, “Abduction,” all stalled at the domestic B.O. The timing of the soft perfs is unfortunate, given that the studio is in the process of going to market with Carl Icahn’s recently liberated shares.

What’s more, Lionsgate has no Halloween-timed “Saw” entry for the first time in seven years, nor will it have a Tyler Perry fall release, which it’s been able to count on since 2007.

As such, the minimajor will have to limp along until March, when it makes its biggest franchise bet yet March 23 with “Hunger Games,” based on the bestselling young-adult book series by Suzanne Collins.

Lionsgate started the year in high gear, topped by first-quarter hits “The Lincoln Lawyer” and Perry’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” both of which grossed north of $50 million. In fact, the company’s most recent earnings announcement (Aug. 9) reported a $12.1 million profit for its first quarter ended June 30, attributed mostly to lower costs. That’s compared with a loss of $64.1 million in the year-ago quarter.

But B.O. play time hasn’t been as profitable for the minimajor since the spring.

Prior to “Conan,” which cost nearly $70 million (co-financed with NuImage) and tallied $21 million domestically since bowing Aug. 19, Lionsgate released only Sundance pick-up “The Devil’s Double” in limited release for a Stateside gross of $1.4 million. “Warrior” — a tricky sell, given that stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton aren’t yet household names — bowed on Sept. 9, with a cume of just $12.2 million domestically.

“Abduction” might have benefited more from a summer berth, primarily with its under-25 female target aud on summer vacation. As virtually every subsequent weekend starting May 6 was occupied by a studio blockbuster, Lionsgate said it felt comfortable going with “Abduction” (with a budget in the mid-$30 millions and a $10.9 million U.S. opening) in late September.

Lionsgate will report third-quarter results in the first half of November. And while its shares were unaffected Monday by the investor warning (down 1 cent at $6.99 on the New York Stock Exchange), the company issued the statement as part of its notification to possible buyers of 22 million shares that Lionsgate is selling for Icahn, who agreed last month to end his three-year battle with Lionsgate by pulling out of the company.

Studio said its estimated loss in earnings for its second quarter ending Sept. 30 before interest, taxes and depreciation of assets was $42 million to $56 million. (It didn’t identify the films in the filing, however.)

In addition to “Hunger Games,” Lionsgate’s first-quarter 2012 slate includes four other titles, most notably, Perry’s next pic “Good Deeds” on Feb. 24 and Jason Statham starrer “Safe,” which was bumped from Oct. 28 to March 2.

And though Lionsgate’s slate for the 2011 calendar year is already in the books, “Hunger Games” will technically be its final release of the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.