Lions Gate mixes provocation with meat-and-potatoes action flicks

By Carol Eisenberg

October 20, 2008 at 4:52am

Oliver Stone’s much-anticipated opus, W., took fourth place at the box office this weekend with an estimated $10.5 million in box-office receipts - a respectable showing for a political biopic, but not the moneymaker that distributor Lions Gate Entertainment and other backers had hoped for.

One of Hollywood’s last independent film and TV studios, Lions Gate had agreed to distribute the film in hopes it would ride the wave of interest in the presidential elections and break the dry spell for political films since the studio hit the jackpot with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004.

That doesn’t seem to have happened - not that the prospect of weak returns seems to have fazed studio brass who had hedged their bets by taking only a small stake and who also announced last week they had signed co-chairman and CEO Jon Feltheimerhad for another 5 1/2 years.

Feltheimer, who had been a Sony TV executive before coming to Lions Gate in 2000, told the Los Angeles Times that he couldn’t imagine a better place to work.

“We’re small enough to be agile,” he said, “but when you look at our filmed entertainment business, we’re getting up into the major leagues.”

During his tenure, the studio’s meat and potatoes have been teen comedies, action movies and horror. But it has also produced a string of provocative - and hugely profitable - political and social commentaries, including Fahrenheit 9/11, Crash, winner of the best- picture Academy Award, and Monster’s Ball, for which Halle Berry won the best-actress Oscar.

The studio is also behind Bill Maher’s new film, Religulous, the comedian’s acerbic view of the world’s organized religions. (The title is said to be an amalgamation of “religion” and “ridiculous.”)

“Tough decisions on a terrific film that we all really believe in? That’s why we do what we do.” Tom Ortenberg, president of Lionsgate Theatrical Films told the New York Times several months ago, speaking about the plans to release The Lucky Ones.

Controversial films help Lions Gate attract top talent, Ortenberg said. And prestige films can be big moneymakers too, he said, citing the financial success of Crash. Monster’s Ball and Fahrenheit 9/11, which cost about $6 million and became the biggest documentary of all time, making $222 million.

The studio helped market W., a psychological study of President George W. Bush, as entertainment. It also attempted to piggyback on voter interest in the presidential election, buying advertising on news programs surrounding the presidential debates.

So far, the interest in the debates has not translated to W, however. It just might be that after two wars and an economic meltdown, the subject of George W. Bush has finally exhausted Americans.

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  • #1.   Andrew 10.20.2008

    Please check your facts before you write articles- it is your duty as a journalist. First, LGF didn’t take a big gamble on this one. As no other studio wanted to touch it, third party producers who paid for the production found financial backers to back the advertising campaign, Lionsgate then came in, and their job was to manage the advertising campaign and secure the theaters and will later do the same for the DVD window (market the DVDs and find commercial space for them) and the television window (find channels to play it for a fee). LGF merely receives fees for this. Second, W finished right in their expectations. Third, the Lucky Ones was a platform release that was already released.

  • #2.   Carol Eisenberg 10.20.2008

    Thanks for the information. We’ve incorporated it into the post. Carol

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