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Rumors persist as to why Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS ) and studio partner Paramount delayed the release of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" for nine months. Soon, it won't matter: The sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is due to hit theaters on March 29.
Why the delay in the first place? Official reports blame 3-D conversion but others say that audiences wanted more of up-and-coming star Channing Tatum. Director Lorenzo Di Bonaventura has since said that Tatum's involvement didn't change much with the reshoot, which apparently added just three days on camera. That may not be enough given talk of how poorly the initial cut tested with audiences.
Hasbro doesn't just need the new version to be a better fit for audiences; it needs the sort of bonafide $200 million hit investors are looking for. They've bid up the stock more than 12% so far this year in hopes that the company can become another Marvel. And that's despite an earnings report that came well short of results reported by toy-making peer Mattel (NASDAQ: MAT ) .
There's really no way to sugarcoat it: "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," which also stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, a crucial film for Hasbro.
Consider history. Marvel, in tandem with Sony's Columbia Pictures and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, had already developed Spider-Man and the X-Men into successful cinematic franchises when "Iron Man" emerged as 2008's surprise hit, leading Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) to acquire the company for $4 billion.
Hasbro has profited nicely from its own relationship with Disney, but cinematically the company has yet to build a second franchise to bookend its hit films starring the Transformers. G.I. Joe can assume that role, but only if "Retaliation" achieves a $200 million or better box domestic office.
Just look at last time. "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" took in $302 million worldwide but just $150.2 million domestically on a whopping $175 million production budget. Then there's "Battleship," which my youngest son loves. Audiences weren't as keen: The film earned just $65 million stateside and $302 million globally on a $209 million production budget. Both Hasbro and Paramount parent Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA ) need a win.
There are big bets and then there are all-in bets. With "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," Hasbro has taken enough time -- and spent enough money -- to make this an all-in bet. Investors better hope the film gets a kung-fu grip on next month's box office.
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