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Ask most Hollywood studio executives, and they’ll shudder at the idea of being runner-up. What if moviegoers feel like they’ve seen the same movie already?
Yet Sony appears anything but concerned that the successful opening of FilmDistrict’s action pic Olympus Has Fallen will dampen enthusiasm for the studio’s similarly themed White House Down, which opens in theaters June 28. Both films follow roughly the same storyline — terrorists overtaking America’s most famous residence.
“This weekend demonstrates the audience appetite for this kind of material,” Sony spokesman Steve Elzer says. “We are happy there is room in the marketplace for both films to be a success, and we couldn’t be more excited about the prospects for White House Down.”
There’s evidence contradicting that there’s a stigma to going second. In 1998, Disney’s Armageddon fared better than Deep Impact (each was about an asteroid headed for Earth). Both were box-office hits. Paramount’s Deep Impact, opening May 8, earned $349.5 million worldwide; Armageddon, opening less than two months later on July 1, grossed $553.7 million globally.
In 2011, sex romps No Strings Attached, released in January, and Friends With Benefits, released in July, both grossed $145 million, a respectable sum. And last year, Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman earned $396.6 million worldwide, more than double the $166.2 million grossed by fellow Snow White pic Mirror Mirror, despite the fact that it opened second.
It’s no surprise that FilmDistrict and Millennium Films rushed to come out first with Olympus Has Fallen. They seemingly had the disadvantage, since their film isn’t a major studio release. Complicating matters, lead star Gerard Butler has had a string of box-office disappointments (most of those were romantic comedies).
In their favor is a strong director, Antoine Fuqua, and a well-rounded supporting cast that includes Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett.
Olympus Has Fallen opened to a far better than expected $30.5 million over the March 22-24 weekend in North America after earning an A- CinemaScore, indicating that moviegoers liked the storyline. It also became one of the few R-rated action pics of the year so far to work.
White House Down packs an impressive lineup: Roland Emmerich directed, while Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx lead the cast, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke play supporting roles.
Sony decided to wait until after Olympus Has Fallen opened to begin marketing its film in earnest so as to avoid outright confusion. The first poster was released Monday, to be followed Tuesday with fan events in New York and London and the release of the first trailer.
“As we launch our fan event and our first trailer this week, moviegoers will also get a true taste for the amazing chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx and get a sneak peek at some fantastic extended footage from the film that Roland is creating,” Elzer says.
There are key differences between the two films. Not only will Sony play up the relationship between Tatum’s character, a police officer who just happens to be in the White House when it is invaded, and Foxx’s character, the president, but it will also highlight Emmerich’s strong track record at directing all-audience action tentpoles (White House Down is rated PG-13).
Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down are not the year’s only dueling movies. Tom Cruise headliner Oblivion, opening April 19, and Will Smith starrer After Earth, opening June 7, are both postapocalyptic action pics.
Happy endings aren’t always guaranteed when two competing films face off within a relatively short period.
In 2005, Capote trumped fellow Truman Capote pic Infamous. The now-defunct Warner Independent pushed back Infamous an entire year after Capote turned into an indie box-office darling upon its Sept. 30 release, grossing $49.2 million and earning Philip Seymour Hoffman the Oscar for best actor. Infamous, released in October 2006, grossed $2.6 million.
And in 1997, Universal’s volcano disaster pic Dante’s Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, grossed a respectable $178.5 million worldwide after its release in February, compared to only $112.8 million for Fox’s Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche.
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