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Studios plant seeds for film franchises

MOVIE PROJECTOR

If 'Spiderwick' and 'Jumper' get box-office love this weekend they could spawn offspring.

February 14, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

It starts today with Valentine's Day and runs through Presidents Day, but what Hollywood executives hope to celebrate on this long holiday weekend is something closer to their hearts than Cupid or Lincoln: the movie franchise.

Twentieth Century Fox's sci-fi thriller "Jumper" and Paramount Pictures' family fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles" could launch franchises if they sell enough tickets.

The movie they're battling for the No. 1 spot at the box office, Walt Disney Co.'s dance drama "Step Up 2 the Streets," is already part of a series, an encore to the summer 2006 sleeper hit "Step Up."

Consumer tracking surveys point to an opening five-day tally of $35 million to $40 million for "Jumper," starring Hayden Christensen as a man who, thanks to a how-cool-is-that genetic fluke, can transport himself anywhere on Earth, and Samuel L. Jackson as a mysterious agent on his trail.

"Spiderwick," based on the children's book series about a trio of siblings pulled into an alternate universe full of goblins, griffins and other magical creatures, is expected to open at $25 million to $30 million.

Prospects are similar for "Step Up 2," about a rebellious street dancer -- is there any other kind? -- whose crew competes in Baltimore's underground dance scene. The movie is in fewer theaters than "Spiderwick" or "Jumper" but has a built-in fan base.

The PG-rated "Spiderwick" appeals to 8-to-15-year-olds and their parents, while the core crowd for the PG-13 "Step Up 2" will be females under 25. The PG-13 "Jumper" has high awareness and interest numbers from males young and old, but figures to play as a popcorn picture for all audiences.

The other major new offering, Universal Pictures' PG-13 romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe," starring up-and-coming everyman Ryan Reynolds as a lovelorn dad, could rack up as much as $15 million if females win out on date night, especially tonight. Come on, guys: It's only an hour and 45 minutes and it's easier than, you know, talking.

Fox and its partner, New Regency Pictures, which co-financed the $85-million budget of "Jumper," believe they could have a trilogy on their hands but will await the box-office results before going ahead with any sequels. Paramount and its Nickelodeon Movies division are similarly guarded about "Spiderwick," which they produced for $92 million.

Neither studio wants to invite the Curse of the Golden Compass.

New Line Cinema's costly fantasy epic "The Golden Compass" was seen as the start of a potential trilogy in the vein of "The Lord of the Rings" before it opened in December to sluggish ticket sales, leaving those plans -- along with the studio's fate under corporate parent Time Warner Inc. -- uncertain.

"Jumper" was heavily promoted during the widely watched Synergy, er, Super Bowl telecast on the Fox TV network and on parent News Corp.'s MySpace website.

But privately, Fox studio executives are trying to talk down opening-weekend targets. They say they expect the movie to open at $25 million, tops, considering that its 1992 source novel is hardly a "Transformers" type of household name.

Regardless of its initial haul, "Jumper" could end up being a quick burn in the mold of "Cloverfield," which opened to monster numbers in January but soon fell out of the top 10. "Jumper" was screened for critics only Monday, and just 17% of notices have been positive, according to review compendium RottenTomatoes.com.

"Spiderwick," by contrast, has earned upturned thumbs from 78% of critics, and family films often show sturdy legs, so it could pass "Jumper" eventually, if not out of the chute. Paramount has branded the PG picture with its Nickelodeon label to signal moms that most kids can handle it, although the intense moments might be too much for the 5-and-under set.

"Step Up 2" is a $22-million co-production between Disney's Touchstone Pictures division and Summit Entertainment, which is handling distribution in most overseas territories. The original, produced for about $12 million, became highly profitable by grossing $114 million worldwide and selling briskly on DVD.

Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman lead the sequel's low-profile cast, but the true star is the "Step Up" brand and its message that speaks to teens, trite or not: "It's not where you're from," the tag line goes. "It's where you're at."

With an ethnically diverse ensemble and a popular hip-hop soundtrack, the movie will attract a demographic mix. Flo Rida's "Low," a song even Projector is considering downloading as a ring tone, has sold 2.5 million digital copies according to Nielsen SoundScan and for the last two months has led the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

"Definitely, Maybe," a 24-million production co-starring Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz as Reynolds' love interests and Abigail Breslin as his daughter, does not appear to be a franchise sort of film even though reviews have been positive.

But Universal is playing up the pedigree of its producers in its advertising, hoping to connote quality through association. After all, Working Title Films crafted some of the most popular romantic comedies of the last 15 years, including "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually."

Definitely a smart strategy, and maybe it will work. After catching the ads on TV, Mrs. Projector, for one, wants to see it.

--

josh.friedman@latimes.com

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