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Will audiences go for old-school 'White House Down'?

June 28, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Channing Tatum in "White House Down."
Channing Tatum in "White House Down." (Sony )

Big spectacle, often of the comic-book variety, has been working at the U.S. multiplex this season. “Man of Steel” was the biggest June opening in history. “Iron Man 3” just hit $400 million in the U.S.

So where does that leave a little old-school action?

That’s the question Sony is asking for “White House Down,” the throwback blow-em-up from “Independence Day" and all-around pyrotechnics maestro Roland Emmerich.

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You know the drill by now, though you haven’t seen it in a while: A-list actor with a Messiah streak + big, explosive special effects + earthshaking threat + imperiled iconic landmarks = big business (usually).

All of that is here in spades: Channing Tatum + big, explosive special effects + homegrown terrorists led by Jason Clarke + a White House that was virtually created from scratch.

The question is: How durable is the form in this Marvel Studios era? No one should underestimate the power of a good gun-blazer. Emmerich's last action film, the apocalyptic “2012,” grossed more than $165 million in the U.S.

But things have changed even in the four years since that came out - just check the Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies of the last couple years - and certainly since the Emmerichian heyday of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

“White House Down” faces some particular challenges. The $125-million-plus production comes after the modestly budgeted “Olympus Has Fallen,” from upstart FilmDistrict, which offers a similar premise of a Rambo-like character getting his shot to protect the president during an attack on the White House. That movie grossed $98 million in the U.S. when it opened in March.

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Tracking for “White House” has it between $30-$35 million. That would actually put its domestic total just at or even below the FilmDistrict release. And despite its extensive marketing campaign in high-profile venues like the NBA Finals, “White House” is tracking slightly lower than “The Heat,” the Melissa McCarthy-Sandra Bullock cop comedy that opens against it.

Still, there’s something appealing about seeing things blow up that are, you know, real - an advantage this movie has over nearly all video games and plenty of other Hollywood movies.

On the Montreal set last fall, that Tower of Babel-like project was in full evidence, the South Lawn and North Portico among the many venues built in warehouses all over the city (the film was shot almost entirely indoors). “When in this day and age” - Emmerich producing partner and composer Harald Kloser told The Times on the set - “do you see anything like this in a big-budget Hollywood film?”

And if that doesn't get Americans in, Sony may still be OK, thanks to foreign markets, what with Emmerich's appeal overseas (“2012” took in $660 million outside the U.S.) and the way action movies have been going in general ("A Good Day to Die Hard," which made nearly 80% of its take internationally). Ironically, this movie about the most American of symbols could do much of its business overseas.


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