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Mortal Instruments & Pompeii Bombed – So, Why Is the Company that Produced Them Still So Positive?

Munich, Germany-based film and TV production company Constantin Film just bombed big last year with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and history is now repeating itself with Pompeii, both of which Constantin financed and Sony distributed in the U.S./Canada.  However, Constantin is still promising a Mortal Instruments sequel will start filming this year, and they just told The Hollywood Reporter they’re totally happy with how Pompeii has performed thus far.  Are they delusional?  Keeping up a brave front?  Or do they know something we don’t?

First, the math.  Like The Host and Beautiful Creatures before it, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was pretty much an instant box office failure upon its release last August, just another wannabe-Twilight.  It ultimately topped out at $31 million domestic/$59 million foreign for a worldwide gross of $90.5 million.  Constantin independently financed the $60 million production budget and committed an additional $60 toward international marketing, with Sony handling domestic distribution and marketing.  A worldwide gross of $90.5 million would not appear to come close to covering those costs for any of the involved parties let alone actually turn a profit, and the divide is so wide not even ancillary sales from home video would likely make up for it.

Now, Pompeii has opened with a soft worldwide gross of $33.1 million, $10.3 million of that from the US/Canada.  As with City of Bones, Constantin independently financed Pompeii‘s $100 million budget, and Sony is handling domestic distribution.  This time, however, they aren’t so willing to spill details on the marketing costs.

So, why is Constantin still planning on making a Mortal Instruments sequel?  For one thing, they say fan feedback from those who saw the film has been positive (it has a 12% RottenTomatoes rating, but a 6.0/10 IMDB user rating).  For another, they own the rights to all Mortal Instruments-related materials, and the films represent a boon to ancillary sales.   Before City of Bones opened, Constantin’s co-president told the Los Angeles Times:

“For us as an independent company, it’s more about managing expectations.  Even if the movie performs moderately, it will still warrant a sequel. Now that $60 million has been spent worldwide on prints and advertising, you can already see how the book sales are accelerating, the soundtrack is hitting the charts. Even if the first one doesn’t become a gigantic success, we will have a profitable track ahead of us.”

They had to back off of that a little after the film failed to meet its already meager expectations at the box office.  At the time of the release of City of Bones, a sequel was already in pre-production for a 2014 release.  It has since been delayed to reportedly alter the script to better adhere to the book, an apparent critical error of the first film.  However, Kick-Ass 2, Machete 2, and Red 2 all found out last year what happens when you make unwanted sequels to moderately successful films.  What will happen if you make a sequel to an outright box office bomb? We may never actually find out since Constanin could end up canceling the project altogether.  For now, they’re not blinking nor are they are admitting defeat after one bad week for Pompeii.  The company’s film and TV head told THR that Pompeii‘s opening weekend:

“[…] isn’t a disaster. We knew a film like this with a, shall we say, very international subject matter, wouldn’t do $100 million in the U.S. Internationally, in the territories where it has come out — Korea, France, Russia — the results have been in line with our expectations.”

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As with Mortal Instruments, when defending Pompeii Constantin officials point to the franchise which helped form their business model: Resident Evil, the Paul W.S. Anderson-directed film series adapted from the popular line of survivor horror video games.  Constantin has produced all 5 films in the series, not letting the production budgets ever get any higher than $60 million.  They shoot the films quickly in locations which can offer film subsidies or tax incentives, and make their money selling the distribution rights.  The films have never been hits in the US/Canada, all five combining for a total domestic gross of $244 million, but they clean up overseas to the point that all fives combined for a total worldwide gross of $915 million.  This was the same model which allowed a domestic box office bomb like Constantin’s The Three Musketeers to somehow turn a profit for them despite topping out at $134 million worldwide on a $75 million budget.

Like the Resident Evil films and The Three Musketeers, Pompeii was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, and if Constantin is discouraged they’re not letting on, instead backing their horse.  As summarized by THR:

“Constantin shrugs off the disappointments because it finances its own films via a combination of presales, soft money (film subsidies, tax incentives) and some equity/loans. Pompeii was sold out and fully financed through international presales (handled bySony) before it was shot. And Constantin’s equity in the movie is probably no more than a minority stake.  Constantin also has a buffer because of its booming German businesses. Its recent low-budget German teen comedy Suck Me Shakespeer, produced by its subsidiary Rat Pack, has earned $72 million and counting in its home territory. Enough, perhaps, to enable it to dig out from under Pompeii.”

Maybe Constantin is simply playing the PR game, and they are in fact bleeding cash right now.  Perhaps they’ll go the way of legendary failed production company Carolco Pictures, which rose on the strengths of Rambo, Total Recall, and Terminator 2 before crashing and burning with Showgirls and Cutthroat Island, the latter of which forced the company to shutter its doors.  However, film financing, especially when talking about an independent company like Constantin, is remarkably complicated.  Constantin is but one of several notable European-based production companies (e.g., Luc Besson’s Europacorp) which have byzantine distribution rights sales pacts with distributors through all international territories.  Even then,  it’s hard to see positives from the sales of Mortal Instruments and Pompeii.  Constantin is probably really itching to get another Resident Evil out there right about now because even if they make they’re money selling distribution rights for their films they have to make films distributors will want to buy.  Who’s lining up for the rights to distribute a Mortal Instruments sequel?.

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