Sequel eyed after ‘Godzilla’ crushes box-office rivals

by Anousha Sakoui

Bloomberg

Legendary Entertainment LLC is primed to commission a sequel to “Godzilla” following the film’s roaringly successful debut at the box office, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The movie’s almost $200 million in worldwide ticket sales this past weekend makes a follow-up highly probable, according to the source, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified.

“Godzilla” opened with U.S. and Canadian ticket sales of $93.2 million to lead cinemas, researcher Rentrak Corp. said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“Godzilla” marks Legendary’s second original big-budget production after the release last summer of “Pacific Rim.” It now has the potential to become a recurring revenue source for the closely held production company led by founder and CEO Thomas Tull.

“It was a monster opening for ‘Godzilla’ with the numbers coming in well over expectations,” said Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Industries analyst. “Hollywood has learned that these tentpole films have to play well at home and globally, and ‘Godzilla’ is the type of film that is embraced around the world.”

Ticket sales for “Godzilla,” featuring “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston in a new take on the 1950s Japanese monster classic, easily beat the $76 million estimate of BoxOffice.com.

Another researcher, Box Office Guru, had projected $68 million in sales. But the film, which opened globally over the weekend, has collected $197 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Legendary conceived, developed and produced the movie, paying for 75 percent of the budget, while distributor Warner Bros. provided the remainder.

A total of $260 million from U.S. and Canadian theaters “seems like a safe bet,” Phil Contrino, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, said after seeing the domestic weekend tally. He had previously estimated $240 million.

The film cost about $160 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo. Studios typically split ticket sales with exhibitors.

“Pacific Rim,” by comparison, was made for about $190 million and generated $101.8 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo. The film proved extremely popular in overseas markets — the take in China alone surpassed the U.S. — and it ended up with $411 million in worldwide ticket sales.

While that movie, which also featured lizardlike invaders from the sea, performed better overseas, “Godzilla” is shaping up to be a hit in the U.S. as well, increasing the chances that Legendary will push for a sequel.

“If this comes out and works well, we’ll figure it out,” Tull told reporters at a May 1 screening of the movie at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“Godzilla” is the latest in a long line of TV shows and films that have tried to recapture the allure of the 1954 Japanese film, originally titled “Gojira,” which focused on the postwar angst of nuclear Armageddon in its portrayal of a gigantic radioactive monster rampaging through Japan.

The 1998 Sony movie of the same name, starring Matthew Broderick, took in $136 million domestically and $379 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

“It’s the ultimate monster movie,” director Gareth Edwards told reporters at the May 1 event. Edwards’ previous effort was the low-budget 2010 sci-fi movie “Monsters.”

Unlike many big action movies, “Godzilla” registered well with critics. It garnered a 72 percent positive rating at Rottentomatoes.com, a review aggregator.

“The filmmaker makes good on his ability to conjure enormous scope and scale via clever staging and visual effects,” said Peter DeBruge, international film critic at Variety.

The film is Legendary’s second No. 1 debut of the year. The sequel “300: Rise of an Empire” collected $45 million in its debut in March. That movie, also produced with Warner Bros., had a budget of $110 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Legendary made its name working with Warner Bros. on films based on comic-book heroes, including the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” films about Batman.

In July, it announced a five-year agreement to make movies and television shows with Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, a deal that took effect after a pact with Warner ended last year.

“300: The Rise of an Empire” and “Godzilla” were already in production before the Universal deal was announced.

In the movie, Godzilla is pitted against two huge cockroachlike beasts that stir, bent on destruction, 15 years after troubling events at a Japanese nuclear plant.

Cranston plays a scientist who worked at the nuclear plant with his wife, Juliette Binoche, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is their son Ford, a naval officer and a bomb-defusing expert.

Global anxiety has shifted from nuclear annihilation to climate change and other issues in the 60 years since the original movie. That may weaken the new film’s message, wrote A.O. Scott in The New York Times.

“You can detect a trace of wistful worry in his rampages, as if he had begun to doubt his own relevance,” Scott wrote.

“Godzilla” faced only one other film opening in wide release: Walt Disney Co.’s “Million Dollar Arm.

The picture, starring Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” fame, tells the story of a sports agent’s unusual recruitment strategy to get talented Indian cricket players to play baseball in the U.S.

The picture, projected to take in $15 million, generated $10.5 million to place fourth in its debut. It received a 58 percent positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com.

Domestic sales for “Godzilla” were more than triple those of second-place film, “Neighbors,” the returning movie from Universal Pictures, which took in $25.1 million this past weekend.