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Movie Slate Heavy With Spinoffs, Prequels, Sequels; Potential Strike Lends Extra Unease.

This installment of our twice-yearly look ahead at movie licensing brings to the forefront the ongoing tilt in Hollywood toward projects that have some sort of following before they ever hit the silver screen.

Licensing programs are in development for 32 films from the coming fall season through Holiday, 2002 (see chart, pages 4-5). Of these, 22 (just under 70%) are prequels, sequels, spinoffs of TV shows or videogame franchises, or adaptations of books or comic books. The hope, of course, is that fans of the original property will form the beginnings of a customer base for the film and, ultimately, for the merchandise surrounding it.

Traditionally, the publishing of our feature film chart carries the caveat that film release schedules often change due to production delays, competitive strategies and other vagaries of the movie marketing game. This time around, that warning comes in boldface type, given the uncertainties generated by the threatened writers' strike this summer and the effect it may have on production schedules. Some movies are being rushed into production to beat the strike; others are waiting to see how a strike might delay future productions and, ultimately, release dates.

The uncertainty engendered by the labor situation could hardly have come at a less propitious point for those in the movie licensing business who need to get major retailers excited about their offerings for next year. Scheduling becomes yet another source of uneasiness in an inherently uncertain climate. "Now is the worst possible time for this to happen," says DeWayne Booker of Trendmasters, a leading toy manufacturer, because "movies have been iffy from a performance point of view, and now you layer on more iffiness from a structural perspective."

Some notable things to be gleaned from viewing the schedule as it stands now:

*The wide berth that other studios left for Star Wars: Episode One in May, 1999 (when only Universal came near it with its surprisingly successful launch of The Mummy) won't be repeated this time around. Star Wars: Episode 2 is expected to open in May, 2002. Sony and Marvel have slated a May 3, 2002 opening for Spider-Man: The Movie, and other major pictures are expected to open in similar time periods.

*The use of feature films as just one element (though a major one) in a property's marketing continuum is becoming ever more pronounced. The theatrical runs of Spider-Man, Jimmy Neutron, Men in Black 2, Stuart Little 2 and X-Men 2 all will be followed by new animated TV series. Meanwhile, TV-based properties such as Powerpuff Girls and the Wild Thornberrys make their theatrical debuts next year--the latter co-starring with Rugrats, veterans already of the silver screen.

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Comment:Movie Slate Heavy With Spinoffs, Prequels, Sequels; Potential Strike Lends Extra Unease.
Publication:Licensing Letter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 19, 2001
Words:444
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