The last time Godzilla roared on the big screen, he left theaters with a whimper.
It’s been 15 years since Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” disappointed critics and moviegoers, but ultimately Sony, when the $130 million-budgeted movie earned just $379 million worldwide.
Legendary Entertainment-chief Thomas Tull wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again when he brings the atomic fire-breathing lizard back into megaplexes in 3D on May 16, 2014, essentially kicking off the summer season.
Instead of hiding the title character from fans until release, as Sony chose to do, Tull is taking a different approach this time around.
At last summer’s Comic-Con, Tull screened a roughly one-minute reel of test footage for the epic that British helmer Gareth Edwards is directing, for 6,500 people packed inside the San Diego Convention Center. The sequence instantly established a devastating tone and more realistic approach to the “Godzilla” tale than Emmerich’s film.
“I’m just going to take it really seriously,” Edwards told the crowd. “There’s nothing sci-fi about this movie, it’s very grounded, realistic,” adding that he’s wanted to see the movie this way “all my life, really. If this really happened, what would it be like?”
This year, Tull and his marketing team, led by newly acquired agency Five33, are returning to Comic-Con and are set to lift the curtain on the birth of its new beast. By hosting an event on Tuesday night, which has been promoted through the website GodzillaEncounter.com
Legendary is guaranteed to command much of Comic-Con’s attention and rev up the hype meter for the film since the fanboy fest doesn’t officially begin until Thursday.
Legendary and WB released a “Godzilla” poster from Mondo on Monday, while Edwards posted a video to Godzilla fans online on Sunday, promoting Tuesday’s reveal.
What Legendary will show off in San Diego is being kept tightly under wraps. But what Tull already has proven to the fanboy community is that he doesn’t do anything small.
Last year’s Legendary panel at Comic-Con surprised audiences when Tull lowered two additional massive screens inside Hall H to promote Guillermo del Toro’s robots vs. monsters mash-up “Pacific Rim,” now playing.
With “Pacific Rim” out in theaters, and an upcoming slate that includes the fantasy pics “Seventh Son,” “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Godzilla,” Tull has quickly become Hollywood’s beast master. All feature massive computer-generated monsters that appeal to Tull’s core fanbase of fanboys.
“There isn’t a monster movie we don’t like at Legendary,” Tull recently joked during a gathering of press in June.
By going to Comic-Con with “Godzilla” this week, Tull is turning to a community he’s comfortable with. And it’s a big one, with 130,000 people to again flood downtown San Diego through July 21. Tull needs their praise to start spreading the love for a character that may be celebrated in countries like Japan, but has never been a major player in Hollywood.
“Godzilla” will compete for attention with Fox’s “The Wolverine” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes;” Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “RoboCop;” WB’s “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Seventh Son,” both co-productions with Legendary; Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Thor: The Dark World;” Universal’s “Riddick;” Summit’s “Divergent” and “Ender’s Game;” and Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and Focus’ “The World’s End,” among others.
What will help rally fans around “Godzilla,” is that Tull already has the support of “Godzilla”-owners Toho Co., although producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee, who claim were instrumental in securing the rights from the Japanese company, are now suing Legendary for being dismissed from the project.
“Godzilla is a signature Japanese character which we have nurtured over the years,” said Hideyuki Takai, president of Toho Co., when initially announcing the film in 2010. “We are delighted in rebooting the character together to realize its much-anticipated return by fans from all over the world. We are anxious to find out where Godzilla’s new stomping will take us.”
Legendary clearly has a franchise in mind with “Godzilla;” Warner Bros., which will distribute the film, also has its consumer products division brokering licensing deals for everything from apparel to toys. Legendary is covering 75% of the budget of the film — expected to cost around $160 million — the way it paid for much of “Pacific Rim’s” $185 million pricetag.
The lack of hype around Sony’s “Godzilla” wasn’t the problem that hurt that film. Its “Size Does Matter” marketing campaign was one of the more innovative efforts to come out of Hollywood in years, with Godzilla’s body parts shown off in billboards with the words, “His foot is bigger than this bus” and “His eye is bigger than this billboard,” for example.
But the movie still has to be good.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Dean Devlin, who produced Emmerich’s “Godzilla,” admitted that “I screwed up my Godzilla. I’d be very happy if (Legendary) pull it off and do a great one.”
In tapping Edwards as director, Tull has enlisted a filmmaker who previously directed the low-budget “Monsters,” a $500,000-budgeted pic that went on to earn $4.2 million globally. Frank Darabont, Max Borenstein (“Seventh Son”) and Dave Callaham (“The Expendables”) wrote the script, and the cast features a list of respectable thesps like Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn but not a single movie star.
Either way, Tull is making sure he gives audiences what they want to see in a “Godzilla” movie: a lot of destruction and multiple monsters doing battle.
“I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a kid, and frankly we just wanted to see a kick ass Godzilla movie,” Tull told the Comic-Con contingent last year. “Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop-culturally relevant for as long as it has.”
Legendary initially planned for its “Godzilla” to stomp into theaters in 2012 (after announcing plans for the project in 2010). But by spending more time developing the film, it will come out just as Legendary is leaving its home at Warner Bros., after eight years, for Universal.
With films like “Godzilla,” Tull wants to take more control — and ownership — of the films Legendary makes. If “Godzilla” succeeds, it will be tough not to associate the giant beast with Tull’s plans to take over the entertainment biz with tentpole films, TV shows, comic books and toys.
With Warner Bros. giving Tull access to the Batman, Superman and “The Hangover” franchises, and helping establish relationships between him and directors Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder over the years, the studio essentially helped create Hollywood’s newest monster.
And with “Godzilla,” the industry will now get to hear just how loudly Tull can roar.