Before it got released on DVD today, Tron: Legacy managed to play in theaters long enough to establish Joseph Kosinski as the highest-grossing first-time director of a live-action film in Hollywood history. The film’s $399 million global gross recently eclipsed the $397.5 million gross that JJ Abrams turned in on 2006’s Mission: Impossible 3.
Now, such a distinction is relative. Tron: Legacy cost between $165 million and $170 million to make and a comparable amount to market. Sam Mendes made his debut on the $15 million American Beauty, which grossed $356 million worldwide in 1999. Jan De Bont’s debut on the $30 million Speed turned in a $350 million worldwide gross in 1994. Ticket prices were lower when American Beauty and Speed were released, and Tron: Legacy had the extra benefit of higher 3D pricing. American Beauty and Speed were extravagantly profitable. Disney will make some money on Tron: Legacy, but they won’t need to back up the Brink’s truck.
But Tron: Legacy’s performance certainly gives the studio reason to think it has poured the foundation for a franchise. Disney has begun work on a sequel, which Kosinski is constructing with original writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Maybe because of Tron: Legacy’s pricey launch and heightened expectations, I had the impression that the film had been a bit underwhelming, despite a $44 million opening weekend. But looks are deceiving. For one thing, despite the film’s big budget, Tron: Legacy had the benefit of zero first-dollar box office gross participants. Another pic that opened around the same time, Little Fockers, was teeming with them.
Should Kosinski’s crown buy a Tron: Legacy encore? Its performance certainly compares well to other 2D films that launched franchises. Tron: Legacy out-grossed the Chris Nolan-directed Batman Begins ($373 million) and the Abrams-directed Star Trek ($386 million), both of which were based on brands far more famous than the long-forgotten 1982 original Tron. For that matter, Tron: Legacy out-grossed The Bourne Identity ($214 million) and its sequel The Bourne Supremacy ($288 million). It also bested X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($373 million), National Treasure ($347 million) and The Fast and the Furious ($207 million). It out-grossed all the films in that franchise. Beyond that, the film fed other Disney divisions. The Tron: Legacy soundtrack sold 615,000 copies worldwide, and the movie spawned ElecTRONica, a featured attraction at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. A Tron: Legacy rollercoaster for the new Shanghai theme park is under discussion.
Now, just because a studio makes it out alive after a big bet on a film doesn’t mean it’s franchise city. Said one vet: “Sometimes, you say, ‘We got away with one,’ and move on. From Terminator to Bourne, you can usually tell if the audience wants more.” Based on the Tron: Legacy gross and high DVD pre-sales, Disney will go for two. And Kosinski seeded the original with plot points that lend to a sequel.
When Kosinski gets to Tron: Legacy 2 is another matter. He has other projects that include a remake of Black Hole at Disney, with a script being written by Travis Beacham, writer of Guillermo del Toro’s next film, Pacific Rim. Kosinski is most likely to next direct Oblivion, a film that has Tom Cruise interested. Disney gave that picture back to Kosinski recently, because its post-apocalyptic vision didn’t fit the Disney family film mold, and attempts to make it PG was strangling Kosinski’s vision. Kosinski’s reps at Verve and Anonymous Content are shopping it, and I’ve heard Universal is among three suitors giving it serious consideration.
I am not sure how long Kosinski’s first-time director milestone will last. Hollywood has become bolder about giving mega-budget features to first-timers. Carl Rinsch is directing Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin at a reported $175 million budget, and Rupert Sanders is directing Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman with Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and a Huntsman to be named later after Viggo Mortensen withdrew. Either could topple Kosinski from his perch.