"Edge of Tomorrow" might be one of Tom Cruise's better films in recent memory but will audiences show up to see it? Warner Bros., the film's distributor, hopes so, despite the worrisome lack of buzz as the sci-fi movie nears its June 6 opening.
Director Doug Liman makes his first big foray into a visual effects-heavy tentpole, while Emily Blunt delivers her action debut in the futuristic thriller, which follows Maj. William Cage (Cruise), an untrained solider who finds himself reliving the same day again and again in the hopes of sorting out a way to successfully defeat the alien race that has taken Earth hostage.
But Warners will have to move fast to ramp up advertising and communicate to audiences that they're in for an action-packed ride.
"Nobody really knows what this film is," said Doug Creutz, senior media and entertainment analyst for Cowen & Co. "There isn't a huge amount of action competition and there's room for a film like this this summer, and yet there's no buzz."
This week, pre-release tracking numbers dropped $5 million from last week, suggesting that "Edge of Tomorrow's" opening weekend debut would be in the $25 million range, a dismal opening for any studio tentpole. The pricey pic, co-financed by Village Roadshow, cost between $175 and $200 million, meaning that in order to turn a profit, the film will have to make at least double that worldwide.
Based on a Japanese military-centric science fiction graphic novel entitled "All You Need is Kill," the studio made the switch to the title "Edge of Tomorrow" nearly a year after the project was announced, in part because "there was a lot of negative chatter about having a movie with the word 'kill' in the title," Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. president, worldwide marketing and international distribution, told Variety. The studio introduced the new title at San Diego Comic-Con 2013.
Kroll admits that "The Fault in Our Stars," Fox's $12 million adaptation of the bestselling novel which shares the release date with "Edge of Tomorrow," is a "social phenomenon," but emphasizes that "Edge" still has plenty of potential. The studio is sending Cruise to three different premieres-Paris, London and New York-in one day (May 28), tying in with the film's tagline, "Live. Die. Repeat."
"We will definitely be biting our nails for the next few weeks," Kroll said, addressing the challenges of marketing an original title in a summer packed with sequels. "We've been in this situation before and we know it's going to be tough, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
According to Kroll, 80 percent of the paid media for the film has yet to be released. With several television season finales and both the NHL and NBA playoffs in full swing, she is confident that the studio's message can get through and strongly emphasizes that pre-release tracking is just one factor.
"I think it is absolutely irresponsible and disrespectful and destructive; a lot of movies have had this kind of tracking at the outset," Kroll said, listing "Inception" and "Gravity," (which grossed an impressive $716 million and $825 million worldwide, respectively) as having been in similar situations. "I don't think people have made up their mind about the film," she added.
While "The Fault in Our Stars" will play strongly to under-25 women, "Tomorrow" could be effective counterprogramming as it is largely targeted toward an older crowd, at least in the U.S. where Cruise's appeal seems to be waning. Warners is running twice the typical amount of test screenings both domestically and internationally, spread over three rounds. Creating a "worldwide sensibility," according to Kroll, the studio is maintaining the same marketing message in both domestic and overseas materials.
Although some early critics have positioned the film as a repetitive "Groundhog Day"-esque picture, there's a shrewd subtext that could attract audiences looking for an action film that travels beyond the typical alien invasion theme.
The film will open the weekend of May 30, a week before the U.S., in more than 30 countries including the U.K. and Brazil. Throughout Asia, Cruise is still a "huge success," said Kroll, and the studio will lean on his star power in the lead-up to release.
In fact, Cruise has become more of an international star than a domestic one over the past few years -- his recent action pics "Oblivion" and "Jack Reacher," were both domestic disappointments, and made well over half their respective $286 million and $218 million worldwide grosses from the international box office.
Moviegoers right now are focused more on upcoming titles "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "Maleficent," according to Phil Contrino, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
"This film isn't shaping up to be a massive hit, but it could also be a little too early for a movie like this," he said about "Edge of Tomorrow."
Although there's currently not a lot of buzz around the release, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, believes the film will pick up speed closer to opening day. "It makes sense that Warner's would not want to dilute the waters with their own film," he said, pointing out that the studio is focusing right now on rolling out the monstrous "Godzilla," which targets a similar audience.
With a $196 million worldwide opening weekend and the largest domestic opening day of 2014 ($38.5 million), "Godzilla" is also helping to sell "Edge of Tomorrow." The studio created a newly-enhanced IMAX trailer which it dropped in front of "Godzilla."
"It's tough out there," said Kroll, "Now it's time to go to work."
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