So I was doing my usual tooling around the internet on Friday, seeing what was happening and maybe looking for something to write about today, when I came across this quote from Alain Corre, the leader of French video game publisher Ubisoft, about the company’s first entry into the feature film business, the Michael Fassbender-starring Assassin’s Creed, set to hit theaters December 21st:
“We [Ubisoft] are not going to earn a lot of money from it. It is a lot more a marketing thing, it is also good for the image of the brand. Although we will make some money, it is not the purpose of this movie. The purpose is to bring Assassin’s Creed to more people. We have our core fans, but what we would like is to put this franchise in front of a lot more people who, maybe, will then pick up future Assassin’s Creed games.”
My initial reaction was that this was one of the most cynical things I’ve ever heard, and if you have been following along in this space over the last few months, you’ll understand that this is really saying something. I found myself genuinely angry about it, wondering aloud why I would ever go see a movie in which the producers themselves don’t seem to believe, and shared these feelings with my significant other, who is neither in the entertainment business nor knows anything about it (not mutually exclusive, I know).
She looked at me quizzically and said, with genuine insouciance, “So what? People make stupid movies for stupid reasons all the time.”
Which is when I stopped being angry and started to think about it, and realized that, of course, she’s 100 percent right.
The company has close to a couple hundred million invested in the project, which it is financing and producing (along with New Regency) for Fox to distribute as part of its brand new film division. Next up will be an adaptation of Splinter Cell, which will star Tom Hardy and almost certainly come along with the same attitude that box office is not nearly as important as individual game sales.
When you consider that the various incarnations of Assassin’s Creed have sold more than 83 million copies in the nine years since its inception, and that said sales numbers have resulted in, conservatively speaking, over $1 billion in grosses, as well as the fact that only 26 movies have ever cleared that number, well, it gets a little staggering.
The makers of Warcraft were not quite so upfront about their intentions earlier this summer, but you have to believe that selling more copies of the video game was part of the plan, especially since so many who saw the movie mentioned that it made more sense if you played it. I went to see the film after reading a review calling it the 21st century’s Battlefield Earth — I mean, come on, how do you not go see a movie with a recommendation like that? — and I don’t play the game, but I’m here to tell you, it couldn’t have hurt.
And now, don’t be surprised to hear some time soon that Universal and Legendary have green lit a sequel to the movie, despite the fact that the $160 million flick only made $46 million domestically. Why? Oh, you already know the answer to that: $376 million in foreign grosses so far will actually, somewhat astonishingly, put the movie into the black, which means sequel and, quite possibly, franchise.
It’s not just video games, of course, or have you not heard of this series of movies based on a set of toys called Transformers? As much money as the four movies have made in worldwide grosses — over $3.7 billion — Hasbro has made far more than that from the sales of the actual toys. Doubt it? In 2014, the year the last movie hit theaters, sales of the action figures increased revenues in emerging markets alone by 20 percent, to just shy of $690 million. That’s just part of the $4.28 billion in revenue the company made that calendar year, an increase of five percent that would have been seven if not for a change in foreign exchange rates.
Spend $210 million on the movie, another $150 million or so on marketing, see the worldwide grosses come in at more than $1.1 billion and another few billion enter the coffers thanks to the resulting toy sales, and that adds up to a pretty savvy investment.
It doesn’t have to be on such a grand scale, either. Just look at the success Hasbro has had with Ouija. The $5 million film was released in October of 2014, did over $100 million worldwide and led to an increase in sales of actual ouija boards by over 300 percent. Shocker: there’s another Ouija movie coming out this fall.
Sure, Battleship was a misstep back in 2012, but the $173 million Angry Birds has done a little more than $337 million worldwide and almost certainly has another installment on the way. Is it any wonder that Lionsgate (and Hasbro) has a My Little Pony movie coming out in October of 2017? Or that other board games like Monopoly, Risk, Candy Land and Hungry Hungry Hippos are in development, as well as the card game Magic: The Gathering, and lots of other video game adaptations, too? There are older ones like Rampage, Space Invaders and Tetris (which is not just going to be one movie, but three of them), and newer ones like Call of Duty, Gran Turismo and Fruit Ninja. None of this, of course, includes any of the myriad super hero movies on the release schedule, all of which are expected to move additional millions of ancillary products, as well.
Might want to start reserving your toys now for next year’s holidays, is what I’m saying.
As it happens, Ubisoft walked back those statements over the weekend and expressed a great amount of confidence in the project. In fact, New Regency has so much confidence in it, it has already put a sequel into development, with Fassbender on board as both star and producer. This ties in with Ubisoft’s interesting strategy for its properties. It hired Fassbender to star in and produce Assassin’s Creed before it had a director or even a script, because the company wanted him to be integral in the project’s development. It’s at least partly for that reason that the actor’s MacBeth director, Justin Kurzel, and co-star, Marion Cotillard, are also on board. It’s doing the same thing with Hardy and Splinter Cell, giving the actor around whom they are building the prospective franchise a real say in how it all comes together. Which is pretty damn smart.
People do make stupid movies for stupid reasons all the time. But in this day and age, if we’ve learned anything, we have to accept that the bottom line isn’t one of them. It’s actually a very good reason and yeah, that might be cynical, but it’s also reality.
Neil Turitz is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades in the independent film world and writing about Hollywood. Aside from being a screenwriter/director and Tracking Board columnist, he is also a senior editor at SSN Insider.