Investors who drove Lionsgate shares up 6.5% on Friday in hopes that Blair Witch would exceed their expectations are feeling bewitched today. The studio’s shares are down 4.7% in midday trading following the horror film’s disappointing $9.7 million domestic box office sales in its opening weekend.
The conventional wisdom anticipated that the low-budget film ultimately would see $33 million in domestic sales. Many became excited on Friday when Pacific Crest Securities doubled its Blair Witch forecast to $60 million.
But now the film will be “challenged to gross above $20 million” domestically, said Stifel Research’s Benjamin Mogil. And the $5 million it generated in 27 overseas markets makes it unlikely that “international overages will bail out the weak performance.”
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Still, some analysts urge investors to look at Lionsgate’s bigger picture: As it diversifies its slate, the studio “is not dependent on any one blockbuster film/franchise,” said B. Riley’s Eric Wold. He also urges buyers to “use any weakness in [Lionsgate] shares to add to positions” before it closes its acquisition of Starz, which the analyst says will drive “impressive” savings of about $200 million a year.
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Brean Capital’s Alan Gould shares that view — even though he expects Blair Witch to lose a few million in the current quarter due to the studio’s upfront marketing expenses. “We were hoping to raise our estimates if the film turned into a hit,” he said. But he isn’t changing his estimate for a a 31 cent-per-share loss this quarter — which is already below the Street’s consensus for a 16-cent loss.
Last week’s announcement that film division co-chair Rob Friedman is leaving, giving co-chair Patrick Wachsberger a freer hand “could be a positive.”
What’s more, although he cares “much more about commercial success than awards,” Gould noted that upcoming releases Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land “are generating strong buzz. La La Land just won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and has had a number of highly successful screenings.”
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