[FILM] Rush Hour 2 - 2nd Highest Grossing Police-Theme Movie of All Time
- Studio Is Staking Its Hopes on Police Lineup
Sony plans to release a string of cop films this year, raising
eyebrows with its big bet on a genre that hasn't spawned many
blockbusters since the 1980s.
By Jeff Leeds, Times Staff Writer
Only four police-themed movies rank among the 100 all time greatest
Beverly Hills Cop
Rush Hour 2
Beverly Hills Cop 2
Lethal Weapon 2
To judge from its roster of upcoming films, Hollywood's hottest
studio has seen the future. And it is wearing a badge.
Sony Pictures Entertainment, last year's runaway leader at the movie
box office, is staking much of its crucial summer season this year
on an unusual convergence of police-themed pictures.
The lineup, whether the result of strategy or an accident in film
scheduling, represents a heavy bet on a genre that hasn't reliably
minted blockbusters since the 1980s. It also diverges sharply from
the effects-driven fantasies -- "Spider-Man," "Men in Black II"
and "Stuart Little 2" -- that dominated the company's summer of 2002.
In mid-June, Sony Corp.'s Culver City-based Columbia Pictures is
expected to release "Hollywood Homicide," a big-budget, hip-hop
crime comedy produced by its affiliate, Revolution Studios. The
picture is built around star Harrison Ford and a group of rappers,
including Master P and Kurupt.
Columbia returns a month later with "Bad Boys 2," an action sequel
to its 1995 surprise hit in which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence
played a pair of Miami drug cops.
A few weeks after that, the studio is behind the shield again, this
time with the Los Angeles-based police drama "S.W.A.T.," starring
Samuel L. Jackson in a role adapted from the '70s television series
of the same name.
Those pictures follow Columbia's planned release this month
of "National Security," in which Martin Lawrence stars as a Los
Angeles Police Department wannabe. (Sony's big bet for the high-
stakes July Fourth weekend is "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,"
which is built not around cops but high-kicking private
investigators played by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.)
Sony's police films may prove sufficiently different to avoid
marketing confusion, or the audience perception of blue deja vu. But
the heavy reliance on similarly themed pictures flies in the face of
conventional wisdom, which counsels a healthy mix on any major
studio schedule. And it is already raising some eyebrows among film
"I don't think they thought this through. I think it just happened,"
said Peter Sealey, a marketing consultant and adjunct professor at
Sealey, who headed marketing at Columbia in the 1980s, added: "The
odds will be that Sony can't replicate last summer again, back to
back. Can they have a good year? Probably. Is it a risk to put three
cop movies out? If the premise is there and the buzz is there, they
have a shot."
Representatives of Columbia and Revolution declined to discuss their
The Sony film unit underwrites marketing costs and distributes for
Revolution, which is headed by industry veteran Joe Roth. But it
doesn't control the affiliate's movie choices.
In another unusual cluster involving the two entities, Columbia is
releasing four films featuring star Adam Sandler over a 12-month
period that began in June. They include "Mr. Deeds" and "Eight Crazy
Nights" from Columbia, and "Punch Drunk Love" and next
summer's "Anger Management" from Revolution.
In 2002, Sony's films collected $1.55 billion at the U.S. box
office, 24% more than its nearest competitor, Walt Disney Co., with
about $1.18 billion in ticket sales. Sony was powered by the success
of "Spider-Man," a comic book fantasy that took in $403.7 million at
the box office domestically.
One conceivable explanation for Sony's shift toward police pictures
is cost. Although none of the summer cop films falls in the low-
budget category -- "Bad Boys 2," for instance, has a reported price
tag of $75 million -- they each cost far less than the $100-million-
plus "Spider-Man," "Men in Black II" and "Stuart Little 2."
The poor performance of the "Stuart Little" sequel was especially
stinging for the studio, despite its other successes. After Sony
spent a reported $120 million to make the mouse fantasy, and an
additional $50 million to market it, the studio saw it bring in just
$64 million at the U.S. box office.
Some industry insiders wonder whether the studio may be setting
itself up for another disappointment.
Only four police-themed pictures appear on Nielsen EDI's list of the
100 all-time box-office hits. Those include "Lethal Weapon
2," "Beverly Hills Cop 2," "Rush Hour 2" and the highest-grossing
police film, Paramount's "Beverly Hills Cop," which took in $234.8
million after its release in 1984.
Born in the 1980s, police adventures such as the "Die Hard" series
from News Corp. unit 20th Century Fox and the "Lethal Weapon" series
from Warner Bros. were reliable performers.
But more recently, men and women of the badge have found it tough
going with big-screen audiences -- despite the popularity of cop
shows on TV.
Last year, for instance, AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros.
released at least five police-themed pictures (though the studio
avoided the kind of summer cluster that Sony now faces). The best
performer among them, "Insomnia," starring Al Pacino and Robin
Williams, had just $67.3 million in ticket sales.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor
Relations Co., called Sony's police lineup "a gamble," but
added: "If the movies are good and have solid marketing behind them,
they can all be hits. That's the bottom line."
The police genre appears to have performed best lately when it is
barely recognizable as such. Thus, "Minority Report," a science
fiction thriller in which Tom Cruise played a cop far in the future
for 20th Century Fox, collected $132 million at the box office. A
year earlier, the sleeper hit "The Fast and the Furious" took in
more than $144 million domestically, although the scenes of illegal
street racing upstaged the movie's undercover police theme.
Analysts warn that consumer attitudes may add to the risk of
releasing more-realistic films.
"If I had to characterize the U.S. in 2003, I'd say there's a high
level of anxiety," Sealey said. "We're sitting here worried about
smallpox in the shopping mall. When you have that kind of anxiety
overhanging things, people are going to want to escape."