Power Rangers? Twenty-four years later on the big screen?

In the wake of such mega young adult hits like Hunger Games and Twilight, Power Rangers may initially have appeared as a desperate attempt by Lionsgate to find the millennials they’ve lost. And talk about a risk: the original feature film Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers tanked back in 1995 with a final domestic of $38.1M – and that was at the peak of the TV/toy franchise’s fame.

Power Rangers Movie
Lionsgate

But the solid opening for Saban‘s Power Rangers at $40.5M proves that Lionsgate knew very well that there was a bread and butter business on screen with the property, much like the entertainment corp was able to sift through the home entertainment tea leaves and see a franchise in John Wick (the sequel just cracked $90M at the domestic B.O.), or recognize the Oscar possibilities in a Hollywood original musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling that would ultimately make $430M worldwide.

While Power Rangers isn’t a jawdropping opening in the Transformers sense of the word, many rivals have acknowledged that it’s a good start for the series, considering that a majority of the pic’s $100M production cost was funded via Lionsgate’s foreign pre-sales and output deals. Financial sources estimate that the distributor has a 25% exposure including stateside P&A. Overseas, Power Rangers grossed $18.7M from 62 markets, but it has yet to hit some really big ones, such as its source material country of Japan (July 15), South Korea (April 20), and France, Italy and Spain next weekend.

AP Images

Power Rangers was born when TV maestro Haim Saban caught the original Japanese show, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger aka Super Sentai, on his hotel TVHe was drawn by the series’ superhero campiness and bought the U.S. rights. Already having already a kids TV programming library that included X-Men and Samurai Pizza Cats, Saban sold Fox Kids executive Margaret Loesch on an American version of the show. She had an impossible time selling the spandex superhero concept to her bosses. Saban agreed to finance the show using footage from the Japanese version. Local stations protested and advertisers passed until Power Rangers became an overnight hit in 1993.

Power Rangers products would generate $1 billion in sales by 1995, a figure that grew to $6 billion by 2001. Saban formed a joint venture with Fox for his line of cartoons, with Fox Family in the bundle. Disney, under Michael Eisner, snapped up the package for $5.3B, and Saban walked away with $1.5B. After Disney ran its course with the Power Rangers, Saban convinced them to re-sell him the property to a thrifty tune of $65M.

In March 2012, Lionsgate reached a home distribution deal to handle Power Rangers. Says Lionsgate motion picture group co-president Erik Feig, “I was surprised to see just how robust the sales for the original series were while the current season was still available for free on TV. After 24 years of being on the air without interruption, it’s still in the top three of kids entertainment around the world.”

In fact, it wasn’t Saban who approached Lionsgate for a movie, but the other way around. Feig pitched Haim with a take and tone that was distinctive enough from the other superhero movies out there. After bringing home some DVDs of the early seasons to his son, Feig was struck by how cool he thought it was, the whole notion of a band of superhero friends.

Also, a viral event in February 2015 didn’t go unnoticed by Lionsgate. That’s when director Joseph Kahn dropped an R-rated-like 15 minute fan-made version of the Power Rangers complete with sex, drugs, violence and James Van Der Beek. The video drew 12M views before Saban demanded it be taken down, but then the video returned to the internet with a disclaimer that it was a fan film. Nonetheless, Lionsgate saw that older fans had a deep well of nostalgia for the brand, and that there was elasticity in Power Rangers whereby it could take some sharp turns.

So it comes as no surprise to hear that CinemaScore reported that 49% of those who bought tickets to Power Rangers were between the ages of 18-34, while ComScore/PostTrak reports that 39% were between the ages of 25-34. Still Lionsgate had to take into account that Power Rangers was a legacy brand for 5-10 year olds, and embarked on making a movie that would span the handholders, the young parents who were the early adopters and the lapsed fans who were now in the big studio superhero tent.

At the premiere, Saban recalled “a billion dollar movie director…I asked what his vision was for the movie. He said, ‘It’s about the truth’. I said ‘What about the truth?’ He said ‘We’re going to pull the truth out of the Power Rangers.” Saban was promptly turned off and showed him the door.

But then Saban received an email from the manager of South African director Dean Israelite who was behind Paramount’s teen sci-fi film Project Almanac, and was impressed by the 32-year-old helmer’s passion and vision for the movie having grown up with the TV series. “My name is on top, but it should be his,” said Saban.

“We felt the way to do that was to have real kids with serious emotions but never allow the movie itself to be self-serious. Embrace the fun and inherent brand,” adds Feig. “To us, that has been the secret of any adaptation: be true to the source material.”

The massive marketing campaign for Power Rangers was built on a team spirit theme, while introducing the new characters as well as selling the notion how we can all be heroes and impact the world in a positive way. Some highlights from the Power Rangers marketing campaign include:

–Lionsgate teamed with Univision to execute a Power Rangers custom content social blitz across the Facebook pages for Despierta AmericaEl Gordo Y La FlacaEl Premio Lo Neustro, and the Univision main page. They also partnered with five top Latino influencers to share a series of Ranger-themed vignettes and to push ticketing during the pic’s first weekend of release. PostTrak reports that the Hispanic audience accounted for 25% of Power Rangers audience this weekend.

–Based on the number of Tweets and custom Power Ranger Emojis, Lionsgate made a donation to the global water non-profit the Thirst Project, which seeks to provide clean water and build wells in developing countries.

–There was a partnership with Enchroma to promote Color Blindess Awareness. Enchroma makes glasses for the color blind.

–One of the biggest product tie-ins was Krispy Kreme donuts, as a vital crystal integral to the Power Rangers is hidden in the donut shop. Elizabeth Banks’ villain Rita Repulsa is after it, and says in a campy line how she has to get that Krispy Kreme donut shop. The pastry chain is serving up custom made Power Rangers donuts in conjunction with the pic.

–There were Rita Repulsa social stunts named #RepulsaTakesOver surrounding Cyber Monday, holiday parties, St. Patricks Day and Valentine’s Day, that offered her witty and irreverent commentary. She also interacted with other brands like The Hunger Games.

–There was an online Angel Grove High School newspaper called The Roar with a narrative for fans to learn more about the Rangers’ teenage counterparts with four issues dropping throughout the campaign with exclusive new images and storylines from the film.

Lionsgate

–Lionsgate together with Qualcomm created a two-minute VR experience designed to allow audiences to enter the Zords of their favorite Power Ranger, embodying their powers and capabilities. The experience debuted at CES with a small press event before becoming available to all CES attendees at a Power Rangers branded Qualcomm booth. The experience was made available to the public within an official mobile app this month and also debuted at SXSW.

In addition there were partnerships with Game Spot, IGN, Atom Tickets, as well as 50 promotional screenings leading up to release.