The last time that Godzilla was on the big screen in front of American audiences, fans didn't exactly embrace Hollywood's reimagining of the iconic monster from Japan. Back in 1998, Sony's (NYSE:SNE) TriStar Pictures released Roland Emmerich's Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick. The movie featured changes to both the origin and design of the titular monster, prompting an almost universal panning of the film despite it earning over $379 million worldwide. Fans around the world said that the creature in the movie wasn't Godzilla, and eventually Toho (owner of the "Godzilla" copyright agreed) -- the 1998 film's creature was incorporated into the Godzilla universe as "Zilla," a separate creature that Americans mistook for Godzilla.
Now 16 years later, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio is hoping to avoid making TriStar's mistakes. Warner's Godzilla, set for release on May 16, looks to be trying very hard to follow in its Japanese counterpart's massive footsteps. Based on what has been shown of the film so far, it looks like it will not only succeed in capturing the feel of a true "Godzilla" film, but also rake it in at the box office as well.
Not a small feat
One of the problems with TriStar's Godzilla was that it used Godzilla as an obstacle to be overcome, with the main focus being on how the human characters dealt with the creature and survived the encounter. Shusuke Kaneko, director of the "Gamera" trilogy, commented at the time that Americans "seem unable to accept a creature that cannot be put down by their arms" due to the fact that the creature in the 1998 film "runs about trying to escape missiles."
To avoid this, Warner's Godzilla is going back to basics. Godzilla himself is based heavily on the original Toho design of the creature, capturing the classic look that fans missed in TriStar's film. This Godzilla won't be running around dodging missiles, either; in true "Godzilla" fashion, the big guy will have other monsters to fight while the human cast does its best to stay out of the way. If you look closely, you can even catch glimpses of Godzilla's larger-than-life adversaries in the film's first full trailer.
By taking the concept back to that of the Japanese originals, Warner should be able to create a Hollywood "Godzilla" film that wins over fans instead of alienating them. This will not only help to draw in U.S. fans, but will also increase the film's appeal to the international community. Japanese fans in particular may be drawn to the film if it upholds the design and overall feel of the original Toho films.
A monster box office
When Godzilla releases, it will be the first action-oriented film released since Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which comes out on May 2. All of the May 9 releases are comedies and dramas, and the only other May 16 release in wide release is a sports drama. Even if ASM2 carries the box office for two weeks (which is quite possible), the Godzilla release should be able to beat the superhero film for the No. 1 slot. The film's time at the top will be limited, though, as 21st Century Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out the following week and will likely dominate the box office that weekend.
Just because a major release comes out a week after Godzilla doesn't mean that the film won't have a strong box office showing, however. Assuming that the film gets positive reviews (which seems likely based on the direction that Warner is taking it), Godzilla could hold strong in second or third place for several weeks. A strong opening weekend, followed by several solid weeks and a potentially strong international box office would not only make Godzilla a hit, but would also all but guarantee sequels in the years to come.
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