Last Friday, Vin Diesel took center stage on the big screen to reprise his role as the title character in Riddick.
Distributed by Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA ) Universal subsidiary, the action flick won the weekend and effectively kicked off the fall movie season by pulling in more than $26.4 million, including a roughly $19 million haul from domestic audiences.
Of course, it was also a relatively slow weekend, and Riddick only needed to beat out Lee Daniels' The Butler (which was in its fifth weekend) for the No. 1 domestic spot. In addition, Riddick bested Sony (NYSE: SNE ) Pictures' Elysium, which was also in its fifth weekend and earned $24.3 million in worldwide receipts.
However, while Riddick's debut may not seem all that impressive on the surface, when I dug a little deeper I was surprised to find four significant investing lessons that could be learned from the sci-fi thriller's release:
1. Tilt the odds of success in your favor.
First, as Warren Buffett once famously stated on selectively choosing his investments, "I like to shoot fish in a barrel. But I like to do it after the water has run out."
So how does this apply to Riddick?
For one thing, you can bet Universal intentionally made the decision to release Riddick on the weekend after Labor Day, which is traditionally one of the slowest weekends all year. Why?
With no other big blockbusters opening last weekend, Riddick enjoyed a virtual monopoly stateside with its already narrow target audience, many of whom have likely already seen any other competing sci-fi action flicks released up to this point. This in turn ensured Riddick would reach a larger number of moviegoers.
2. Higher risk brings higher reward.
It's also worth noting that Vin Diesel put a lot of his own resources on the line in his efforts to bring this movie to fruition.
Specifically, unlike with its PG-13 predecessor in 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, Diesel couldn't convince a major studio to fund this R-rated installment of the franchise, so he took it upon himself to produce the movie.
In fact, Diesel even went so far as to leverage his own house to get it done, telling reporters recently, "If we didn't finish the film, I would be homeless."
It was a huge risk, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, he ultimately had to reduce the shooting schedule for Riddick to 47 days (compared to 85 on the last film), while also reducing the budget to $38 million -- an absolutely minuscule amount compared to the $105 million Universal dropped to make Chronicles.
At this point, however, considering the much more expensive Chronicles brought in just $24 million domestically in its own June weekend debut, this risk looks like it will pay off handsomely for Diesel over the long run.
Don't get me wrong, though; I'm absolutely not saying everyone should go out and mortgage their homes to fund a highly risky project to chase outsize rewards.
That said, it's no mystery that we at Fool.com strongly believe the stock market stands alone as by far the most effective wealth-creating machine available to investors over the long term and, in order to take advantage of all it has to offer, you need to accept the fact that equities investing, indeed, is a riskier option than simply holding cash or fixed-income investments.
3. Follow your passion.
By the same token, investing your time wisely can also yield great dividends as well.
Let's turn back to another piece of Buffett advice: "Follow your passion, [and] take the job that you would take if you were independently wealthy. You're going to do well at it."
In Diesel's case, while he so happened to be independently wealthy prior to Riddick, according to the Reporter, he was motivated to make the project happen after a fan of the series told him, "We want a rated-R movie and we'd be willing to pay $10 each. Surely you'd have enough to make it then."
Diesel elaborated, "Something about that comment made me think, bless their heart, and if I can do anything with this newfound success, if I could do anything at all, I could deliver on that wish."
The end result of that drive, he says, was a film unlike anything he's done over the past 10 years -- one in which he not only worked closely on the tiniest of details with writer-director David Twohy, but also challenged the film's other actors and actresses to think more deeply about how to develop their own characters.
And though Riddick has received mixed reviews from critics, the film managed to land a respectable Cinemascore of B, showing audiences largely approve of Diesel's efforts and spurring forward his plans to create no less than two more sequels for the franchise.
4. Invest in what you know.
Finally, as investing great Peter Lynch often says, "Invest in what you know."
In this case, Diesel was willing to put his possessions and reputation at stake largely thanks to the fact he knows nothing better than producing, filming, and starring in big-budget action movies.
After all, Sony Pictures' XXX brought in $277.4 million worldwide on a production budget of just $70 million in 2002, and the four Fast & Furious films in which Diesel appeared collectively grossed more than $1.98 billion in box office receipts for Universal.
More pertinent to Riddick, I can understand big-name studios' apprehension considering its predecessor in Chronicles brought in just $115.7 at the box office, which barely exceeded its $105 million production budget and caused it to rely largely on digital and physical media sales later on. The first film of the franchise, Pitch Black, however, was ultimately viewed as a box office success for bringing in $53.2 million on a budget of just $23 million.
In the end, Diesel arguably knew better than anyone that if he could simply do what he does best in creating another fun-to-watch action flick, while at the same time keeping his budget reasonably low, his chances of succeeding were high.
In the end, think what you will about Vin Diesel, but I'm convinced his personal involvement in bringing Riddick to the big screen effectively illustrates many of the telltale signs of a great investor.
Better yet, his investment should pay dividends down the road even after Riddick exits theaters, especially considering Americans reportedly spend nearly 34 hours a week watching television!
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