‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ hits cinemas on September 22. — Screengrab from YouTubeLOS ANGELES, Sept 22 — When Warner Bros’ chief executive Kevin Tsujihara laid out his vision for the studio’s film business in 2014, movies based on Lego toys were one of the crucial franchises he planned to develop into the next decade.
Three years and three movies in, the series risks running out of steam, slowed by so-so reviews and sequel fatigue among fans. The Lego Ninjago Movie, about a ninja city based on the popular building-block toys, opens today in more than 4,000 North American theatres and looks set to land in second place with the smallest Lego debut yet for Time Warner Inc’s film unit. 21st Century Fox’s Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, is forecast to be No 1.
“The momentum has eased a bit even though the movies are well-liked,” said Barton Crockett, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets & Co. “With franchises, you like to see the first movie surprise and do well, and the second movie go up from that, and we are not really seeing that here.”
While the movie industry has struggled this year, with domestic sales down 4.9 per cent through last week and many sequels coming up short, Warner Bros. has enjoyed a solid 2017. Wonder Woman is the second-biggest movie in US theatres, the studio’s World War II drama Dunkirk was a critical hit and it had a big success this month with the horror remake “It.” With sales up 5.2 per cent, Warner Bros leads the box office.
Still, Ninjago is the second Lego movie Warner Bros is releasing in seven months, following The Lego Batman Movie. The studio came back so quickly because there was a void in the market for animated family movies, Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros’ head of domestic distribution, said in an interview. Unlike the serial dramas coming from all of the major Hollywood studios, the Lego instalments are “very different”, he said.
Analysts forecast North American weekend sales of US$38 million (RM160 million) to US$44.3 million for the new film, according to BoxOfficePro.com and Hollywood Stock Exchange. The studio was predicting about US$30 million for the US$60 million production, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified disclosing internal projections.
Even with lower sales than its predecessors, Ninjago should be profitable. Box Office Pro estimates the film will generate US$146.6 million through its run in domestic theatres, more than enough to recoup the production cost. Plus, international sales typically exceed domestic revenue.
Lego toys looked like perfect fodder for a movie franchise when Warner Bros released the surprise hit The Lego Movie in February 2014 and took in US$469.2 million in worldwide ticket sales. But the second picture, February’s The Lego Batman Movie, opened smaller and ended up pulling in a third less in global revenue.
The new film faces its own headwinds. As of yesterday, just 47 per cent of reviews were positive as critics’ comments continued to come in at the website RottenTomatoes.com. That compared with 95 per cent for the original. A drop in Lego toy sales also raised questions about their enduring popularity with kids.
This month, Danish toymaker Lego A/S announced plans to cut 8 per cent of its workforce, with weak demand for Batman toys contributing to a 5 per cent drop in first-half revenue, the worst downturn in more than a decade.
The company had enjoyed 10 years of rapid expansion that catapulted the plastic construction toys to a new level of popularity, according to Michael McNally, a senior director. Ninjago Legos have been among the company’s top five products, he said. And Warner Bros, meanwhile, has sold 180 million units of its Lego video games worldwide.
The toymaker’s troubles “make one wonder a little bit about the universe of all things Lego,” Crockett said.
The competitive landscape will help Ninjago, according to Shawn Robbins, analyst at Box Office Pro. The next big animated feature set for theatres, Coco from Walt Disney Co’s Pixar division, isn’t scheduled for release until November 22, giving the Warner Bros film a long run, he said.
Looking a little further out, the studio has two more big releases this year, Blade Runner 2049 and Justice League, a DC Comics feature that reunites Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, again played by Gal Gadot. That gives studio executive Goldstein confidence to predict that when worldwide sales are tallied, Warner will score “the best year we ever had.” — Bloomberg