“The Call,” the thriller in which the actress stars, has crossed the $45 million mark and is expected to surpass $50 million by the end of its domestic run. It’s easily WWE’s top-grossing film it’s produced and financed. It’s other top earners were 2006’s “See No Evil” ($19 million worldwide) and the John Cena action vehicle “12 Rounds” ($17 million) in 2009.
It’s the kind of success WWE’s film division has long been looking for after pumping out a string of low-budget action, horror, and more recently, Hallmark-style dramas. But after taking the reigns of WWE Studios, in 2011, former Miramax executive Michael Luisi is finding a new strategy is starting to pay off for the company.
WWE Studios co-produced “The Call” with Troika Pictures, splitting the film’s roughly $13 million budget. Sony’s TriStar Pictures released the pic March 15.
It’s that kind of deal WWE Studios is looking to broker for most its films: mitigate the risk on projects through co-productions and find a studio partner to put some marketing and distribution muscle behind the releases.
Luisi’s first release as president of WWE Studios was last fall’s “The Day,” a horror pickup from the Toronto Film Festival that Anchor Bay gave a limited release but has sold well on homevideo.
However, March was a busy month for the division.
“In a 10-day period we had three movies in the marketplace,” Luisi said.
On March 8, FilmDistrict released the thriller “Dead Man Down,” starring Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard and Noomie Rapace, and features WWE wrestler Wade Barrett. A co-production with IM Global, film’s earned nearly $11 million. Following that, direct-to-homevid sequel “The Marine 3: Homefront,” a co-production with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, starring WWE’s Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, has also sold well at retail.
“That’s one of the challenges about having multiple distribution and production partnerships as we do, Luisi said. “What’s best for one movie may be the same for another movie so you wind up with a number of films in the marketplace in a short amount of time.”
Luisi’s hardly complaining.
“It’s a great calling card for the types of moves we want to make,” he said.
Those kinds of films include pics covering a variety of genres from hard R-rated thrillers like the upcoming “No One Lives” to the more G-rated animated Scooby-Doo film WWE is producing with Warner Bros. Animation Studios that’s set at WrestleMania and “Christmas Bounty,” a holiday TV movie for ABC Family, starring The Miz, out later this fall.
“No One Lives,” another Toronto pickup produced with Pathe Films, stars Luke Evans and features WWE’s Brodus Clay. It bows May 10.
In addition to getting its homegrown stars in front of new audiences, like the Miz in “Christmas Bounty,” through which it will target female audiences, WWE Studios also wants to exploit the pre-branded franchise arena with sequels like “12 Rounds 2: Reloaded,” with Randy Orton, and a reboot of “Leprechaun,” with Hornswoggle. Supernatural thriller “The Devil’s Triangle,” tapping into the lore of the Bermuda triangle, also is in the works.
“The Day” was an opportunity to explore whether there’s a commercial opportunity to have a WWE Studios branded movie that doesn’t have any talent in the movie and present it to our fans.”
Film also established talent relationships for the company: Pic’s Ashley Bell is now in “The Marine 3,” while Michael Eklund is the villain in “The Call.”
The Scooby-Doo film will also enable WWE to tap into the merchandise potential of the film. Both WWE and Warner Bros.’ toy partner is Mattel.
As it looks to release six to eight movies a year, “everything we do going forward will involve a strategic co-financing and distribution partner,” Luisi said. “We are not film distributors.” In the past, WWE had covered a majority of the budgets and even sought to distribute its own titles. But now, it sees an opportunity to limit its risks while giving it partners financial incentive to promote the productions.
In return, WWE offers a powerful promotional platform through its TV shows, magazine, websites and social media feeds and various apps. Company has more than 144 million followers across 10 social media networks.
“That’s something that’s so unique and that only the WWE can offer to the promotion of a movie,” Luisi said. It’s also why studios like Disney, DreamWorks and Paramount and paired up with WWE to promote “The Muppets,” “Real Steel,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Pain and Gain,” the latter two both starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is headling WrestleMania 29 in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium April 7.
Getting into films was always seen as a no-brainer for WWE.
The people that watch its four shows — “Monday Night Raw,” “Friday Night SmackDown,” “WWE Main Event” and “Saturday Morning Slam,” along with its pay-per-views — are active moviegoers and active movie buyers, as well.
For now, WWE is still celebrating “The Call,” and is now considering the prospects of a sequel, should it continue to play.
“‘The Call’ has exceed our most optimistic forecasts,” Luisi said. “It’s a crowd pleaser and it tends to play consistently well with the core WWE fans but it’s going beyond the core fans. That’s great fo the WWE Studios brand.”