"Magic: The Gathering," the collectable card game produced by Hasbro's (NASDAQ:HAS) Wizards of the Coast, is one of the oldest and best-known collectable card games on the market. In addition to numerous card sets, the game has spawned books, comics, and an entire range of accessories both for players and fans of the overall "Magic" story. Now, thanks to Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX), it's set to have a feature film as well.
Originally announced in January, the project seems to be moving forward at a decent pace. Simon Kinsberg (writer and producer of Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past) was originally attached to write the script for the film, and more recently Bryan Cogman (writer and producer for HBO's "Game of Thrones") has been brought in to perform a rewrite based on Kinsberg's screenplay. While the film seems to have secured qualified writers to develop the script, can a card game really be made in to a cinematic blockbuster?
It's not Wizards' first adventure
Back in 2000, New Line Cinema released Dungeons and Dragons, based on Wizards of the Coast's famous role-playing game. Depending on who you ask, the film hovers somewhere around "so bad it's good" and "so bad it's bad" territory. Holding a mere 10% critical score (and 19% audience score) at Rotten Tomatoes and earning a worldwide box office take of only $33.8 million (on a $45 million budget), the film can't be considered a success by any metric.
The negative sentiment that many still have regarding Dungeons and Dragons is perhaps the biggest threat to Fox's "Magic: The Gathering" film. While other fantasy epics have performed well, Magic and D&D are Wizards' two most well-known products and consumer sentiment could easily link the two film projects. Can Fox succeed where New Line failed 14 years ago?
Fox casts its spell
Despite the risk that Fox has of its "Magic" film being negatively associated with Dungeons and Dragons, the studio is still pressing forward in an attempt to capitalize on both the current popularity of fantasy adaptations and the strength of the "Magic" brand name.
Given the popularity of "Game of Thrones" and cinematic successes such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the "Harry Potter" series, and the "Hobbit" films, it makes sense that Fox would want to branch out into the fantasy genre to complement its other blockbuster offerings such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While the company has released some fantasy-action films such as the "Percy Jackson" movies, these have not been major hits.
Hasbro wins either way
While Fox is taking a risk with "Magic" in hopes of conjuring up a potential franchise, Hasbro should see relatively little risk from the film. In addition to its licensing fees and other benefits directly related to the film, Wizards (and Hasbro) will also be able to use the game's big-screen presence as a way to further promote and improve brand recognition for "Magic." If the film does well and launches a franchise, that's just icing on the cake.
Promoting "Magic: The Gathering" is important for Hasbro. The game was one of the few shining stars in the company's games category, which saw a 4% year-over-year sales drop in the first quarter of 2014. The growth of "Magic" during the quarter came in spite of the smaller size of the game expansion released during the quarter as compared to the previous year; increased promotion could help to smooth out quarter-to-quarter variances caused by differing set sizes for releases during the year.
Risks and rewards
Both Fox and Hasbro will benefit if the "Magic: The Gathering" film is a hit, though for different reasons. Fox will benefit from the creation of a new franchise that could draw in fans of the card game and compete with Universal Pictures' Warcraft film that's slated for release in 2016. The fantasy action of the film would not only attract fans of the game but could also bring in fans of both the action and fantasy genres in general, and a well-received "Magic" film could become a blockbuster with a worldwide box office of several hundred million dollars.
Hasbro will benefit from the film as well, but it may see a bigger benefit in the form of promoting its franchise brand. Promotional cards or other tie-ins aren't out of the question, either, as the company has used similar tactics with its "Magic" computer games. Promotional codes can be traded in at select retailers for physical cards, potentially getting players interested in the game itself; amplifying this on the scale of ticketholders for a summer blockbuster could result in significant growth for Hasbro's Games segment.
It remains to be seen whether the film will actually be a hit, of course, but Fox seems to be making the right talent choices to accomplish it.