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Analysts: Sony Needs More Bigscreen Franchises

Though the 'Spider-Man' films are going strong, studio could benefit from more tentpoles

Sony Pictures has been slower than most of its rivals to develop new film franchises — the golden ticket that studios have come to rely on in today’s margin-stressed movie business.

Media analyst Harold Vogel says the Culver City-based studio has paid a steep price for dragging its feet. “It’s creative entropy, and I think there’s been too much of a reliance on ‘Spider-Man,’ ” he says. “They need some other things to build out.”

In 2013, the studio had a feeble year at the box office, with disappointments including “After Earth” and “White House Down,”  and posted an operating loss of $181 million for the fiscal second quarter on Oct. 31 according to the studio’s consolidated financial reports.

That said, Sony has done very well by the “Spider-Man” franchise. Its 2012 reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, grossed $752 million worldwide, and the movie series is by far the studio’s most profitable. (Sony Pictures continues to share in the riches of the ongoing James Bond films, but that property is controlled by MGM, so the profit pool is far smaller.)

With a production budget of approximately $200 million, the next “Spider-Man” sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” is due out May 2.

Meanwhile, SPE co-chairman Amy Pascal is spinning Spider-Man’s web ever larger, taking a page from Marvel Entertainment’s superhero movie playbook. “We are expanding the ‘Spider-Man’ universe into ‘The Sinister Six’ and ‘Venom,’ so that we have ‘Spider-Man’ movies every year,” Pascal says.

In December, Sony announced Alex Kurtzman will direct “Venom” from a script he’s writing with his longtime collaborator Roberto Orci, as well as Ed Solomon. Drew Goddard will write “The Sinister Six” with an eye to direct. Neither film has been dated, and both are in development at the studio. Marc Webb will direct “The Amazing Spider-Man 3,” securing his spot in helming all three films in the trilogy. The third pic is dated for release in June 2016.

Sony is fast-tracking its third “Smurfs” installment, which will be entirely animated (its predecessors were live action/animated hybrids). The second installment, released last July, did approximately $215 million less business worldwide than the 2011 original ($347.5 million vs. $563.7 million). Both leaned heavily on the foreign box office, which contributed more than 70% of each film’s global box office take.

Additionally, the Japanese-owned studio has begun production on “Goosebumps,” an adaptation of the hugely successful R.L. Stine novels. The books have been translated into 32 languages since the series’ inception in 1992, and have 350 million English language and 50 million international copies in print.

Pascal says “Pixels,” a feature-length adaptation of a two-minute film by Patrick Jean, is in development, although many critics note that the project has languished at the studio since the debut of the short in 2010.

Sony Pictures is also co-financing the next James Bond film, and recently acquired rights to videogame series “Gran Turismo” — a favorite of Sony Corp. CEO Kazuo Hirai.

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