Sony's (SONY -1.21%) upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming has the chance to revitalize the webslinger's big-screen presence, but the company still needs other hit properties to bolster its film wing. With soggy performance for its Ghostbusters reboot likely to thwart aspirations for an extended franchise, attention turns to what might be the company's next hit series.
The Dark Tower, a film adaptation based on a book series by Stephen King, is set for a Feb. 17 release and has some key ingredients working in its favor that could make it one of the most important films in Sony's upcoming slate. If the film comes together and is backed by strong marketing, it could launch the company's next billion-dollar film property.
Why The Dark Tower has the potential to be a hit
With marketable stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba attached in lead roles and a popular book series to draw inspiration and fanfare from, Dark Tower has the potential to be a breakout hit for Sony and pave the way for a successful film franchise. Stephen King adaptations have generally not been huge box office successes, but The Dark Tower series stands out as especially ripe for presence on the big screen and packs the type of action set pieces, humor, and world building that have been features of the most successful superhero films in recent years. On the acting talent side of things, both Elba and McConaughey are in the midst of career upswings, and the film's diverse casting should play to its advantage -- as has been the case with recent franchise films including Furious 7 and Suicide Squad.
The Dark Tower might also benefit from its release window. Mid-February isn't typically thought of as the ideal time to release a film that's intended to launch a high-profile franchise, but movies are increasingly finding success outside the summer and winter holiday release windows, and recent hits including 50 Shades of Grey and Deadpool have shown that Valentine's Day weekend can be huge for movies. It's unclear what MPAA rating Sony has in mind for The Dark Tower, but Fox's Deadpool released on Valentine's Day weekend and grossed roughly $780 million despite an R-rating, so skewing a bit more mature with the content probably won't be a death sentence for the film, even if it would limit upper-range earnings potential.
What will it take for The Dark Tower to spawn a billion-dollar franchise?
The Dark Tower reportedly carries a $60 million production budget, which is relatively small in today's major theatrical release climate and points to better chances at achieving profitability and an opportunity for a robust marketing campaign without big risk of incurring sizable losses if the picture underperforms. Returning to Deadpool as an example, the superhero picture's $58 million production budget made it possible for Twenty-First Century Fox to deliver a large ad campaign for a release that wasn't presumed to be a surefire winner, and Sony could enjoy a similar opportunity -- particularly if it's confident in Dark Tower's quality and appeal.
To be clear, a very favorable confluence of factors will be needed for Dark Tower to reach $1 billion in ticket sales, and that type of performance should not be counted on as a probable outcome or a necessary marker for counting the film as a success, but a strong debut on the big screen would pave the way for sales growth with subsequent installments, helping to transition the well-loved source material into a billion-dollar film franchise.
Why The Dark Tower matters in the scheme of Sony's broader turnaround effort
Outside of its 2017 reintroduction of Spider-Man within the same universe as Disney's Marvel movies, Sony appears to be relatively light on obvious blockbuster film properties -- even more so now that its distribution rights to the James Bond franchise have expired. Looking at its announced pictures for the near future, the company is reviving the Bad Boys franchise, with sequels planned to launch in 2017 and 2019, rebooting Jumanji for a summer 2017 release, and developing a Barbie movie based on Mattel's iconic doll line.
The company was also aiming to revive its Men in Black series by way of crossover with the 21 Jump Street property, in a mash-up dubbed MIB 23. However, recent comments from prospective star Jonah Hill indicate that the project could be scrapped and the two series kept separate. Other big upcoming films for Sony include adaptations of video games Uncharted and The Last of Us -- series that are very popular on PlayStation titles but video game movies have a troubled history at the box office.
Sony's continuing turnaround effort hinges on building its business around its three strongest pillars: PlayStation, filmed entertainment, and image sensors. While the PlayStation business is booming and has propelled the company's performance ahead of schedule, progress on the movie front has been less evident, and the company must aim to avoid becoming overly dependent on the volatile video game business.
Unspectacular performance for its movie business in recent years evidences unrealized potential, and turning The Dark Tower into a successful franchise would be a significant step in strengthening one of the company's key pillars.