'Magnificent 7' earning its spurs in dire year for remakes


Los Angeles (AFP)

In a disastrous year for remakes, Hollywood studio heads are hoping "The Magnificent Seven" avoids the pitfalls that have been the downfall of other big-budget blockbusters.

Disney's live-action retelling of "The Jungle Book" was the only unmitigated success in a year which has seen "Ghostbusters," "Ben-Hur," "The Legend of Tarzan" and several other summer tentpoles crash and burn.

But analysts believe Antoine Fuqua's reimagining of the 1960 western starring Steve McQueen -- which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese-language epic "Seven Samurai" -- could buck the trend.

Set for release in the United States through Sony on September 23, the movie boasts an impressive array of innovative action sequences and a glittering, diverse cast led by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, backed by Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt.

It opens at the end of a summer which has seen "Ghostbusters" recoup just $127 million of its $144 million costs at home, while "The Legend of Tarzan" took in about the same on an enormous budget of almost $190 million.

"Ben-Hur" -- the biggest flop of the summer -- has clawed back a risible $42 million in North America on a budget reported to have been around $100 million, while "Alice Through The Looking Glass" and "Pete's Dragon" have also disappointed studio execs.

- 'Reboot curse' -

All of these films are likely to at least break even once worldwide receipts are taken into account, but none has come remotely close to living up to expectations as a big summer money-maker for its studio.

"In the case of 'Ben-Hur' and 'Ghostbusters,' these are reboots that audiences simply didn't want and subsequently didn't embrace them," Jeff Bock, a box office expert at Exhibitor Relations, told AFP.

"Both pretended to be blockbusters but just turned out to be busters."

But it is too early to start writing Hollywood's obituary just yet, as the underachievement appears to be confined largely to direct remakes or sequels in rebooted franchises.

Summer blockbusters as a whole drove receipts up to around $4.3 billion domestically, according to boxofficemojo.com, led by "Finding Dory" ($483 million) and "Captain America: Civil War" ($408 million).

That's the second biggest summer on record for the North American box office after 2013, despite July being slower than usual.

Bock believes westerns may be the one genre that is immune from the "reboot curse," and expects the strong cast of "The Magnificent Seven" to help it "rise above the slog of cinematic misfires" for a solid opening weekend of around $25 million.

"In the same way 'True Grit' was ripe for a remake, M7 hasn't been touched for years and will no doubt be profitable for Sony, a studio that has been dinged in the past with big-budget reboots like 'Robocop' and 'Total Recall,'" he told AFP.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at industry monitor comScore, also expects the film -- which opened to mixed reviews and audience reaction at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday -- to break the losing streak for remakes.

- 'Cool factor' -

"The sheer drawing power of the cast and a terrific director in Antoine Fuqua, who notably worked with stars Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke previously on the great 'Training Day,' should give it a leg up with male audiences, action fans and western movie aficionados," he told AFP.

"Not to mention the presence of Chris Pratt who has proven to be a box office lucky charm since his appearance as Star-Lord in 'Guardians of the Galaxy.'"

Dergarabedian said the movie's trailer and marketing campaign had ensured it had that elusive and irresistible "cool" factor that many recent remakes have lacked.

Among its stars, one little-known member of Fuqua's gunslinging band of brothers is Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who had a supporting role in the first two seasons of the television version of 1996 horror comedy "From Dusk till Dawn."

The 35-year-old, who grew up riding horses and watching spaghetti westerns on a ranch near Guadalajara, told AFP the universal appeal of the story and the star power of Fuqua would ensure it found an audience.

"He stayed true to the story of Kurosawa but he put his own stamp on it. Without knowing, he kind of modernized the western, and I think people are really going to enjoy it," he said.

"It has a little bit of comedy from Chris Pratt and a lot of action. The movie is just epic and people, I think, are really going to like it."