It may have taken a few years, but it looks as if WWE Studios has finally figured out a way to be successful in the movie business, thanks to some smart marketing and a bold new approach.
Rest assured, WWE Studios isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
While previously the film division's future looked uncertain, there have been strong indications that the company is in this for the long haul now.
As James Caldwell of PWTorch notes, Michael Luisi, the president of WWE Studios, has been signed to a new deal, a sign of McMahon's renewed commitment to the former Miramax executive.
There are various projects in the pipeline too, including two wrestling-themed animated features with Warner Bros., a Christmas-themed TV movie on ABC Family and two horror films, See No Evil 2 and Leprechaun: Origins, with Lionsgate.
Most recently, the company acquired the distribution rights to Road to Paloma, a revenge thriller starring Jason Momoa, as Deadline mentions.
So how did things turn around for the beleaguered film division?
Well, as Variety noted, previous WWE Studios' chief Mike Pavone departed in August 2011, likely due to the terrible performances of films like Legendary, The Chaperone, Knucklehead and That's What I Am (which Pavone wrote and directed).
It's not being unfair to Pavone to claim the executive had the wrong approach when it came to the film division.
Really, were solemn, thoughtful films like That's What I Am and Inside Out supposed to appeal to action-hungry wrestling fans? Did anyone genuinely want to see a wacky comedy with Triple H playing an ex-con in charge of a gang of rowdy kids? Who in their right mind thought Cena—no Ryan Gosling even on his best day—could pull off actual drama in Legendary?
It's not so much that these films were bad—although Knucklehead was absolutely wretched—but how were they ever going to appeal to wrestling fans, much less casual movie-goers?
Luisi, who took over as president of WWE Studios soon after Pavone left, seems to have better instincts for what people will go to see.
Under his helm, WWE struck up a deal with Fox Home Entertainment to co-produce three straight-to-DVD action movies.
Even better, as WrestlingInc mentions, both films cost less than $1.5 million to make. It's easy to see them making a good profit when all is said and done. (The Numbers reveals that The Marine 3: Homefront impressively made back its production budget in just two weeks.)
WWE Studios is correct to devote most of its energy to low-budget, low-risk straight-to-DVD projects. It's very easy to make money in this field these days because thanks to companies like Netflix, LoveFilm, Redbox, etc., virtually any film can find an audience and be profitable.
WWE is still involved with big-budget theatrical releases, of course, but far more minimally than before.
As films like The Call and Dead Man Down illustrated, the company's new approach is to invest in bigger-budgeted features and send in a pro wrestler from the roster to feature in a prominent supporting role (Wade Barrett and David Otunga had roles in Dead Man Down and The Call, respectively).
With The Call, this approach was phenomenally successful. And not only did the film garner WWE Studios a decent profit it also heightened its profile in Hollywood considerably, as Variety noted.
WWE Studios isn’t a joke anymore, and its clout in the industry has likely grown over the past year.
The film division has—at long last—started to reach out to younger, innovative talent.
It was announced last week that cult filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska would be directing horror sequel See No Evil 2.
Certainly, the hiring of the wildly creative and somewhat eccentric duo—they call themselves the “Twisted Twins” and note on their Twitter that they collect tarantulas—is an interesting move from WWE.
Their films can be controversial too: The pair's breakout movie American Mary managed to be gruesome and disturbing even by body-horror movie standards (just check out what some of the shell-shocked reviewers had to say about it).
They're definitely not the type of cookie-cutter filmmakers you would have seen Vince McMahon collaborating with before.
Additionally, young filmmaker Zach Lipovsky, who’s directing upcoming horror remake Leprechaun: Origins, has been acclaimed for his work in special effects and seems to have a lot of potential. The film is his biggest gig to date. It’s nice that Luisi and Co. are giving him a shot he may not have otherwise had.
Clearly, WWE Studios is thinking outside the box now, and that's a good thing.
Granted, the film division has still had its difficulties. Dead Man Down underperformed when it was released back in March and 2012 post-apocalyptic thriller The Day sank without a trace at the box office, too.
Both movies were probably too gloomy and grimy to appeal to a widespread audience.
But at least now Luisi and the rest of the people at WWE Studios have a very good idea of what works (B action movies, popcorn thrillers) and what doesn’t (arty films, melodramas).
OK, so WWE Studios is probably never going to churn out any truly great or iconic movies. It won’t ever be involved in anything that will sweep the board at the Oscars. But when you think about how bad things were just a few years ago with the division, things have hugely improved.
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