'Super 8': What's at Stake

Super 8 - Movie Still: Group at Diner - 2011
Paramount Pictures

How J.J. Abrams' first nonfranchise film could impact his next projects.

When Super 8 writer-director J.J. Abrams took the stage at the MTV Movie Awards on June 5 with producer Steven Spielberg and actors Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, he seemed to hint at the grudging necessity of the stunt by reiterating that he prefers to keep secrets. With box office tracking soft -- and attention distracted by flashier fare -- the director and studio are working to pump up buzz ahead of its June 10 release.

More is riding on the film's success for Abrams than for Paramount. The studio spent only $50 million on the throwback sci-fi adventure, and the next installment in its billions-grossing Transformers franchise, Dark of the Moon, hits theaters June 29. Paramount has been home since 2006 to Abrams' Bad Robot, whose first-look deal runs through 2013. So he's on the hook to produce the Brad Bird-directed tentpole Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol for a holiday release and a Star Trek sequel due in summer 2012.

But what of Abrams' other, more personal projects? Super 8 is his first solo writing-directing gig, and it's his first film as a director that can't rely on the prebranding his first two features, Mission: Impossible III ($398 million in worldwide box office) and Star Trek ($386 million), enjoyed. If it underperforms with Spielberg's added star power, Abrams might feel the sting in terms of his ability to push forward features that don't come with high-profile pre-awareness.

Among these are Boilerplate, adapted from a period graphic novel; Let the Great World Spin, adapted from the Colum McCann novel; a Little Darlings remake; and Mystery on Fifth Avenue, a family film based on a New York Times article. Bad Robot's previous outing, the romantic comedy Morning Glory, grossed just $59 million worldwide in 2010 -- a disappointment with stars Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams.

Paramount is shrewdly lowering expectations for Super 8, telling THR it will be happy with a $25 million to $30 million opening. That would set it up for a theatrical run in the black because, despite a hefty marketing spend to open in summer, it cost about a third of recent tentpoles Thor and X-Men: First Class. But if opening-weekend audiences decide they aren't interested in a nostalgic creature feature, the real mystery will be whether Abrams will find himself back helming franchise fare -- perhaps in the captain's chair on the Starship Enterprise.