What 'Pacific Rim's' Fate Means for Legendary and Warner Bros. (Analysis)

Pacific Rim Hunnam Kikuchi 2 - H 2013
Warner Bros. Pictures

Pacific Rim Hunnam Kikuchi 2 - H 2013

Legendary CEO Thomas Tull has the most to gain and lose from the megabudget monster movie as he seeks a new home.

When Pacific Rim opens July 12, its success or failure could impact more than just the film itself.?

Word that the Warner Bros. release was tracking softly this week (numbers ranged from $30 million up) unleashed a veritable spewing-forth of speculation, with naysayers calling it this summer’s Battleship and director Guillermo del Toro pronouncing: “We just need to keep working. Our numbers are going up. Not in a minor way. Significant. We are on the right track.”

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The release of any potential franchise movie is cause for anxiety on a studio lot, especially one that cost north of $180 million. But the monsters-vs.-robots drama lands smack-bang in the middle of two major transitions.

The first is the shift from one studio regime to another as Warners' movie chief Jeff Robinov has exited his post and been replaced by the troika of Toby Emmerich, Sue Kroll and Greg Silverman.

If Pacific Rim can outpace early predictions, it will add leverage to Kroll, Warners’ dynamic head of marketing (she has now added distribution to her portfolio). Kroll already overdelivered this summer with two pictures, The Great Gatsby and Man of Steel, each of which was tracking to open far lower than it eventually did. In Gatsby’s case, initial predictions that the Baz Luhrmann drama would debut to $30 million or $35 million were shattered when it crossed the $50 million mark, and Man of Steel’s $117 million weekend bested even the most optimistic predictions.

If Pacific Rim fails, weirdly, that might not be so bad for the threesome either. It will make Hollywood better understand Time Warner's willingness to see Robinov go (possibly to Fox, where billionaire Arnon Milchan has been pressuring Rupert Murdoch to bolster his movie division) and remind the industry that Robinov wasn’t so perfect after all.

More than Warners' fortunes, however, the film will affect those of its most significant partner, Legendary Entertainment.

After months of speculation about whether Legendary would remain in Burbank, news surfaced recently that talks have collapsed and CEO Thomas Tull is now eyeing other venues, including Universal Pictures (where sources say he’s been having on-and-off conversations for years).

Regardless of Legendary’s bottom line — and no other financing entity has had similar success in years — the industry has long followed the mantra, “You’re only as good as your last picture.”

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If that picture flops, “It won’t help,” says one executive familiar with all the parties involved. “Hollywood is a momentum town, and if the momentum is down, enthusiasm will be tempered. If I were Thomas Tull, I’d want to close this thing before Pacific Rim opens.”

Unless, of course, Pacific Rim delivers.

Tull already surprised Hollywood when another picture he had been intensely involved with, the period baseball drama 42, proved a sleeper hit in the spring; he’ll do so even more if this film (in which his company has a 75 percent stake) comes through.

And of course, it’s not too late. Tracking has been way off this summer — witness Gatsby and Man of Steel — in large part because audience research is unreliable when it comes to the young audiences that flock to films (tracking services can’t legally call people on their cell phones). Which means predictions of Pacific’s doom may be seriously unfounded.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office division of Hollywood.com, expects the movie to reap megabucks overseas, however it performs domestically. “I’ve seen it,” he says. “This is a big spectacle. And the whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking, ‘Internationally, it’s going to be a monster.’”

E-mail: Stephen.Galloway@THR.com