Lionsgate is considered the biggest “mini” studio of Hollywood. Movies under the “Lionsgate” banner are being distributed since 1997, with The Pillow Book by British director Peter Greenaway being the first one. Lionsgate began with the aim of supporting independent films, quite a lot of them being foreign films too, and slowly has eased into consideration to be regarded as one of the top Hollywood studios operating today. It’s first real big box-office success can be considered to be 2000’s American Psycho which earned $34 million on a production budget of only $7 million. Many more small-budget films followed, until eventually Lionsgate struck gold with Cabin Fever by Eli Roth ($30.5 million on a budget of $1.5 million) and then a bigger success with 2004’s Saw ($103.9 million on a budget of $1.2 million). The incredible success of Saw would mark the beginning of a massive franchise which eventually lasted for seven movies. Lionsgate also entered into co-production arrangements for relatively bigger budget movies like Prince & Me and The Punisher around the same time. By 2008, Lionsgate was getting involved in some form or the other with bigger movies in terms of star potential, which included a lot of Jason Statham flicks and also Rambo starring Sylvester Stallone.
Beginning with 2010, Lionsgate moved up a notch in terms of the quality and size of movies it could offer. 2010’s The Expendables became the studio’s biggest blockbuster, spanning two sequels, just as Saw franchise came to an end. In 2012 though, Lionsgate found its pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It brought to life the first movie of the Suzanne Collins’ book series, The Hunger Games, starring a young Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The movie was made on a production budget of $78 million, and the rest as they say is history. It earned a phenomenal $694 million worldwide, which was followed by $865 million in the next year by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and then $755 million earned by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 in 2014. In a couple of weeks, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 will release in North America, marking the beginning of the end of the franchise, at least as far as the original book series is concerned. The last movie too will undoubtedly be a massive financial success, but the question that crops up now is, how does Lionsgate cope in the post-Hunger Games world?
The secret behind continued success for at least a reasonable amount of time for a movie studio nowadays lies in building a franchise. That’s what Lionsgate would also have been aiming for. Ever since the unbelievable success of The Hunger Games in March 2012, the studio would have realised the potential of the movie series. It cleverly split the final book into a 2-part movie, something already done successfully by Warner Bros. for Harry Potter series and also seen in the Twilight series, which was distributed by Lionsgate’s arm Summit Entertainment. But one cannot delay the inevitable and The Hunger Games series has to end.
Lionsgate has been working on getting another successful franchise running so that it does not see a big slump in earnings once The Hunger Games concludes. The Expendables was another surprise hit for the franchise in 2010 and it got a sequel in 2012 and then in 2014. The Expendables 3 though failed at the box-office, ending the chances of the franchise moving any further. The comic strip based movie Dredd which released in 2012 carried the possibility of the launch of a franchise, but despite strong reviews and acclaim, the movie’s revenues could not cross its $45 million production budget, and that ended the chances of a Dredd 2. In late 2013, Lionsgate distributed the high budget young-adult movie Ender’s Game based on a trilogy of books written by Orson Scott Card. The movie had a production budget of $110 million; it earned $125 million worldwide and was one of the biggest flops of the year. Lionsgate’s hunt for the successor of Hunger Games continued.
In 2014, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate managed to get another young-adult movie series some decent recognition. The first film of the franchise, Divergent, came nowhere near the success of The Hunger Games, but its $289 million worldwide earnings meant that the trilogy book series could be pursued. The second film earned $297 million though on a higher production budget of $110 million, and now the studio has two more movies lined up in the series with a March 2016 and March 2017 release dates. The earnings of the first two movies in this series have been just about at break-even or with marginal profits. Lionsgate is probably banking on the growing popularity of Shailene Woodley and maybe more attention from overseas for the next two movies to make them more profitable. The Divergent Series though is unlikely to show any sharp increase in collections for the next two movies since they are part of an interconnected series which only few would want to jump in between. The series would instead be better off if the production budgets could be restricted to within $100 million for each movie.
The other upcoming big budget movie to be distributed by Lionsgate is Gods of Egypt which has a February 2016 release planned. The production budget for the movie is $140 million, and that seems to be a scary proposition for a February release. Especially with no well-recognised star in the mix, apart from Gerard Butler who too has his 300 days way behind him. If this fantasy film works, it may well kick off a franchise, but it is a very risky proposition, and I wonder if in hindsight it would seem very unnecessary. Lionsgate though has two sequels to look forward to – Now You See Me: The Second Act and John Wick 2. The magic of Now You See Me had enthralled many and if the second movie turns out to be as entertaining as the first, then nothing should stop the studio from jumping into a third film too. Now You See Me had made $351 million on a production budget of $75 million, so we are talking of big money here. John Wick on the other hand was a low budget movie that got a great return on investment to the studio, much like the good old days when investing in indie flicks was the studio’s key objective. It was critically acclaimed too, and deemed good enough to get a sequel. Even if John Wick 2 does well, it would still remain a below-the-radar kind of movie, not the kind big enough to fill the void left by The Hunger Games.
So is there a $700 million earner on the upcoming list for Lionsgate? There are a few interesting projects lined up, but repeating the feat of The Hunger Games looks unlikely for the next 1-2 years. There is a WWII based biopic, Hacksaw Ridge and a movie based on the BP oil spill, Deepwater Horizon. The sequel to Jason Statham’s Mechanic is also on the slate. The reboot of Power Rangers planned for a 2017 release could interest some. A Nicholas Sparks’ book adaptation too is in the line-up. None of these movies though have the look about them to turn into a blockbuster. For a couple of years now, Lionsgate may well have to ease on its box-office ambitions at least as far as its movies are concerned until it finds the next surprise package.
Unless Lionsgate refuses to end The Hunger Games series! Now that would be interesting. The studio officials have been quoted as saying that the next movie of the series would bring to an end the current story arc. But does that mean a new arc is about to be developed? Suzanne Collins had brought the story to a closure with her third book, but the movie world is quite different, ain’t it? We may very well find a spin-off being launched, with another character stepping in as the main protagonist. Warner Bros. is doing something similar with Harry Potter series by launching the new trilogy beginning with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2016. So be not surprised if The Hunger Games continues in another form, which I am certain is an idea being deeply considered behind the studio walls.
There is another interesting development that might just happen. Sony’s deal for distributing the James Bond series comes to a conclusion with Spectre, and puts this massive franchise up for grabs. Now each of the big studios have some series or the other on their plates, so could this open an opportunity for Lionsgate to sneak in? It’s a long shot, as big sums of money would be involved, and Lionsgate is still not a big enough studio to match the might of the major ones. But there is always the possibility that Lionsgate might be willing to gamble a bit more than others, and somehow find itself associated with the famous 007 agent.
Lionsgate though has not limited itself to the film space. As Deadline reports, the studio has made a huge investment, which could be as high as $200 million, for more than 50% stake in Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Studios, which is known for making reality shows for Discovery Channel. In all, the deal gives Lionsgate and Pilgrim a combined roster of nearly 80 television series across 40 networks, which gives an idea how Lionsgate is expanding its footprint in the television space. Incidentally, Discovery and Liberty Global put in a combined total of $390 million in Lionsgate very recently to bag 6.8% stake in the studio. The single largest shareholder in both these companies is the billionaire American business executive, John Malone, who already owns 3% in Lionsgate. The buzz is that the indirect increase in Malone’s stake to 9.8% marks the beginning of a move to consolidate the content-based entertainment companies, though how this will proceed forward, and eventually how it impacts Lionsgate as a film distributor, is a matter of speculation.
These are interesting times for Lionsgate indeed, a studio which has grown in stature by being bold and courageous over the years. As the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is awaited by fans across the globe, the end of the franchise could very well mark the beginning of a new era for the studio which brought it to life.