'The Equalizer' Exacts Rare Box Office Vengeance for Sony

San Sebastian, Euskadi, Spain. 19th Sep, 2014. Denzel Washington attend 'The Equalizer' Photocallduring the 62st San Sebastian I
ZUMA Press/AlamyDenzel Washington has plenty to smile about. 'The Equalizer' is doing far better than most movie adaptations of TV shows.
Remakes and adaptations are classic fare for Hollywood executives who want a stream of reliable hits. From novels to video games to theme park rides to comic books, studios will go anywhere to find a bankable idea. Even television, despite its mixed history as a source for box office hits.

According to Box Office Mojo, TV adaptations account for exactly zero of the top 50 domestic and global box office performances. "Star Trek" (77th, $257.7 million domestic) and "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" (69th, $694.7 million worldwide) get closest.

So when "The Equalizer" -- based on the 1980s TV drama of the same name -- banked the fourth-best September opening in U.S. box office history last weekend, it amounted to an uncommon -- and badly needed -- victory for Sony's (SNE) Columbia Pictures.

Box Office Vengeance

Starring Denzel Washington as an ex-CIA officer trying to atone for his sins, "The Equalizer" earned $34.1 million to top last weekend's U.S. box office haul -- the fourth-best September opening on record, Box Office Mojo reports.

Audiences polled on opening night gave the film an A- CinemaScore. At Rotten Tomatoes, 60 percent of critics and 82 percent of viewers rated "The Equalizer" fresh. In each case, the stats suggest positive word of mouth that could drive the film to $100 million or more in U.S. box office receipts and much more overseas. That's good news for Sony, which is distributing the film.

What's a distributor do? In general, film distributors spend to market a movie via posters, TV ads, print, social media, and the like. They also pay for the "prints" to bring physical copies of the film to the theaters signed to show it. In exchange, they typically get a percentage of the gross and rights to distribute in multiple territories and some or even all home video.

BoxOffice.com pegs marketing and distribution for "The Equalizer" at $35 million. A longer than expected run in theaters could help Sony recapture those funds while it waits for home video to earn profits. If the original distribution agreement includes the right to also distribute sequels, Sony may find itself with another much-needed franchise.

Tuning Into an Opportunity?

In fiscal 2014, movies accounted for about 51 percent of Sony Pictures' revenue -- down 10 percentage points from the prior year and 9 points from fiscal 2012's share. Television made up most of the difference, jumping from 22 percent to 30 percent of revenue. Strong programming deserves at least some of the credit.

Consider "Breaking Bad." The Emmy-winning show closed its five-season run earning a huge premium on ad sales, leading to a 2015 spinoff called "Better Call Saul." AMC Networks (AMCX) has already ordered two seasons. Other Sony shows with long-tail potential include the NBC drama "The Blacklist," FX's "Justified," and the movie-to-TV adaptation "Hannibal."

New Platforms Rising

Meanwhile, Sony is only now beginning to explore what it means to have a direct-to-consumer distribution mechanism in the PlayStation console and the new PlayStation TV network. Plans for original TV programming include "Powers," a live-action adaptation of the acclaimed comic book series from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming.

Every new series is an experiment. But as the owner of its own network, Sony can also limit downside while enhancing the chances of securing another "Equalizer"-like hit derived from previously tested content. Think of direct-to-PlayStation short movies with high ratings developed as big-screen sequels. PlayStation TV allows for that sort of flexibility while also connecting tens of millions of players to 700-some video games, movie rentals, and common streaming services such as Hulu.

Sony Still Needs Saving

But that's the future. In the here and now, Sony Pictures has become increasingly dependent on TV and TV adaptations. In June, it was "22 Jump Street." Last weekend, "The Equalizer." Both have done well.

Sony isn't alone, of course. Viacom's (VIAB) Paramount Pictures has earned hundreds of millions from new adaptations of "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible."

By contrast, Disney (DIS) and Time Warner (TWX) haven't done as much with TV adaptations because they don't have to. Each studio has plenty of in-house franchise fodder from Marvel and DC Comics.
Sony doesn't have the same luxury. Lackluster box office performance in recent years -- including sharp declines in grosses for the various "Spider-Man" adaptations -- has put pressure on executives to find new franchises, fast. TV is as convenient a source as any.

Did you see "The Equalizer"? Which Sony shows do you believe have the greatest chance to reach the big screen? Leave your thoughts below.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Time Warner and Walt Disney at the time of publication. Find him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks and Walt Disney and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.

The 7 Hot Toys Your Kids Will Want for Christmas This Year
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'The Equalizer' Exacts Rare Box Office Vengeance for Sony
The Apple Watch doesn't come out until 2015, and it's going to cost you at least $350. The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch is out now and only costs $60. It's clear which smartwatch is going to wind up dominating the market.

Fun idea: When you give this to your kid, perform Christopher Walken's monologue from "Pulp Fiction."
When Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird wrote a comic book in the mid-'80 about giant mutated turtles who were also teenage ninjas, they probably didn't think they were launching a multimedia franchise that would still be selling movies and toys 30 years later. But here we are in 2014, and the turtles are coming off a blockbuster movie -- and they're once again expected to be a top-selling Christmas toy.

Toys R Us thinks your kids will want this "Stretch 'N' Shout Leonardo," which takes the Turtles' stoic, katana-wielding leader and gives him the ability to. .. stretch his arms and scream really loud? OK. Meanwhile, Kmart has the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Lil' Dune Racer, which is basically just a powered kid's bike with some Ninja Turtle stickers slapped on. It costs $162 and has a top speed of 3.5 mph.

Really, these are some weak offerings on the Ninja Turtles front. When I was a kid, I had a little tank that launched pizza discs. Now that was a toy.
Here's another late-'80s/early-'90s toy franchise that's seeing a second life thanks to Michael Bay. The "Transformers" movie franchise is now in its fourth film, swapping out America's Sidekick Shia Laboeuf for America's Knucklehead Drinking Buddy Mark Wahlberg. But more importantly, the fourth film finally got around to introducing Grimlock ("me Grimlock!"), the Transformers' truculent dinosaur robot.

We've got two Tranformers: Grimlock! toys appearing on this year's lists. Toy R Us has the Stomp and Chomp Grimlock ($70), which transforms between dinosaur and robot and comes with a bonus Optimus Prime toy to ride Grimlock into battle. Kmart's Grimlock toy is only $20, but you get what you pay for: It's just Grimlock in robot form, with a button that lets it make some noises. What good is a Dinobot that can't transform into dinosaur form? If you get this for your son, he'll spend three minutes trying to get it to turn into a dinosaur and then throw it aside.
Doc McStuffins –- who, you may recall, provides medical care to stuffed animals –- appeared on the list last year, with a tricked-out check-up center. But this year the good doctor is really stepping up her game, making house calls with the Doc McStuffins Get Better Talking Mobile Cart, basically a pull-along ambulance ($50). It comes with a siren, an EKG machine, a gurney and even a little ladder (I guess to rescue stuffed animals trapped in tiny burning buildings).
Next time someone trots out that tired old "It's the future, where's my flying car?" line, show them this $55 flying Hot Wheels Street Hawk Remote Control Flying Car. Or better yet, buzz them with it like Maverick from "Top Gun" doing control tower fly-by while screaming "Is this futuristic enough for you?!"
The Zoomer Dino appears on all three retailers' lists, so it looks like it will be one of the season's most in-demand toys. It also sounds like it will be completely awesome:

"Boomer can detect when you're nearby and interacting with him. But watch out! Just like a real Dino he can get angry, spin around, chomp and roar! Using True Balance Technology, Boomer perfectly balances on two wheels as he roams freely, exploring your home. ... He might even let out dino-sized burps and farts!"

So imagine the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, only he's wearing roller skates, and also he's burping and farting all over the place. It's $100, and I just ordered it.
This is the one.

The only other toy to appear on all three lists, the Snow Glow Elsa Doll (from the hit Disney movie "Frozen") is already looking like this year's Tickle-Me Elmo. At Walmart, it sold out online while I was writing this article. Kmart says it won't have it in stock until Oct. 30. Toys R Us still has it in stock, but it's already set a limit of five per customer.

All this in September.

If someone winds up getting pepper-sprayed at a toy store this December, you can bet that it will be over this doll. It lights up and sings "Let It Go" -- and your kid probably wants it. You can hunt it down now and pay $35, or wait until December and pay $200 on eBay (EBAY).

Merry Christmas!
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