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Franchising of 'X-Files,' 'Mulan' Begins

June 23, 1998|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

First-weekend results for 20th Century Fox's "The X-Files" and Walt Disney Co.'s "Mulan" are deceptive in terms of profitability. While both got off to solid starts--$30.1 million for "X-Files" and about $22.7 million for "Mulan"--U.S. grosses will tell only part of the story.

Both films illustrate why studios are so hungry for franchises. "X-Files" cost $66 million and is likely to reach $80 million to $100 million at U.S. box office. But "X-Files" will clean up overseas, where the TV show is extremely popular in the most important foreign markets: Europe and Japan.

The film will also reinvigorate the "X-Files" merchandising machine for everything from T-shirts to videos, games and books. Even if this ends up being the series' last season on TV, "X-Files" could be around in the form of reruns, filmed sequels and various other shapes and sizes for decades. And Fox, which has experience with "Star Wars" and "The Simpsons," knows how to exploit a franchise.

Disney, meanwhile, remains the undisputed king of the franchises with its feature animation division. The latest feature, "Mulan," will probably out-gross "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules," topping $100 million. Since the film cost more than $100 million, that would indicate break-even for most films.

But Disney animated product is a law unto itself. Both "Hunchback" and "Hercules," recent Disney animation "disappointments," generated $300 million in operating income. Videocassette sales could reap $200 million. Add TV, merchandise, record sales, direct-to-video spinoffs and intermittent theatrical and video re-release. Not to mention ice shows and other live-action possibilities team Disney is concocting.

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