World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. will have two movies out in 2006, but the company’s CEO Linda McMahon was cautious about any dreams of big-screen success for the wrestling company.
“Our film development provides an opportunity for us, as we’ve stated in the past,” McMahon told analysts in a conference call this past week. “We will continue to take a careful, measured approach with respect to our investment in this area.”
The first WWE film that will see the light of day is See No Evil, which will be distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment on May 19, 2006.
The flick stars Glen Jacobs, who is better known as Kane on the WWE Raw television show. Jacobs is Jacob Goodnight in the film, and early publicity says he has “a rusty steel plate screwed into his skull and razor-sharp fingernails that pluck out his victims’ eyes.” Holed up in an abandoned hotel with some petty criminals who are sent there to clean it up as community service, Goodnight locks them in and begins to hunt them down.
The filming in Queensland, Australia began in November 2004, under the guidance of director Gregory Dark, who used to be a part of an adult movie production team with his brother, and has more recently done music videos. The film, which is believed to have had a budget of around $8-million, has had three working titles: Eye Scream Man, Goodnight, and The Goodnight Man.
“We’ve created the classic bad guy, the classic monster, we’re planning to create a villain franchise in the vein of Jason, Freddie and Pinhead” producer Joel Simon told the Dark Horizons website.
There will also be a mass market paperback of See No Evil (ISBN 1-4165-2034-1), written by the scriptwriter Dan Madigan, published by WWE Books/Simon & Schuster.
The other finished film is The Marine, which stars John Cena, and has a better-known supporting cast, including Kelly Carlson of Nip/Tuck and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 and The X-Files. Award-winning commercial director John Bonito was at the helm of the Australian-filmed movie, which was shot in 11 weeks, starting in October 2004.
A release date under 20th Century Fox is still up in the air, said McMahon, who could only offer “late summer, probably the end of September.”
Cena stars as a Marine who returns from battle only to learn that his girlfriend (Carlson) has been kidnapped.
In an interview with Men’s Fitness in April 2005, Cena was realistic about whether the film and his rap CD would bomb. “It doesn’t really matter. They’re mainly to say to the critics, ‘Look, you guys just classify us as big ‘rasslers: But we’re more than that. We’re people, we’re athletes, and we’re multitalented:’ I paid for the production of my album myself, and I’m not going to see a dime from it. It all goes to the WWE. I don’t have any acting ambitions, but I’m an entertainer, and film is another avenue for me to entertain.”
For the Tastes Like Chicken website, Cena compared acting and wrestling. “[In the] WWE there’s no take two. You’re in front of a live audience, you give it your all, and that’s it. You have to respect wrestlers because there are very few people who can do that stuff in one take. But with acting, you have to do everything with such emotion over and over and over again. You have to keep doing the same thing, because they have to get different shots, different looks, different lighting, reverse angles… all this stuff. So you really have to be on all day long. It’s the same line in the same room with the same setting with the same person all day long. You’ve really got to keep your game face on. It’s tough to repeat that.”
Michael Sileck, WWE CFO, told analysts that “$33 million in feature film production assets for the two films currently in post-production” has been recorded. “We do not anticipate seeing any revenue from these projects until fiscal 2007.”
Linda McMahon said little about future projects, other than the already-announced film The Condemned, set to star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“We are also in the process of evaluating and refining scripts for any future film projects, and not yet started production on any new films. We anticipate beginning production on a project entitled The Condemned in the spring of ’06, but do not anticipate starting any other productions in calendar ’06 until we see first how See No Evil and The Marine perform at the box office,” she said. “We are currently in discussions with different parties on various projects, which include made-for-TV movies, and will provide further information if we choose to move forward on any of them.”
Discussion during the conference call moved to the frequency of movie projects. “It really is a wait and see. If the two are really strong, out of the box office, we might think to do three on a yearly basis. It’ll depend on production schedules,” McMahon said. “We’re going back to Australia for The Condemned. We’re planning probably in March to begin that production. Australia was a very good venue for the first two films that we produced, and we’re excited about being back there.”
Like the current WWE product, which has found buckets of cash awaiting on international tours, McMahon stressed that the North American box office receipts would not be the end all, be all for the two finished films. “I think if we are strong out of the box, and we have good reception international for these films, we would bump up, probably, the production schedule. But again, it will be on a very conservative, let’s see how they do, and what is the marketplace ready for. We’ll, very cautiously again, not go into production really until we have our distribution deals lined up, because that’s our key, and keeping the budgets low. So we think we have a good formula to move forward.”
Long-time fans will remember the last time the WWE (then WWF) got deeply involved with a film — 1989’s No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan, Joan Severance, and Tiny Lister as the evil wrestler Zeus. It was savaged by critics, like Richard Harrington of the Washington Post: “Charmless, stupid and badly made, No Holds Barred makes Rocky look like Citizen Pain.”
Besides the return of WWE matches to network TV on Saturday Night’s Main Event, starting on NBC in March 2006, McMahon also talked about made-for-TV movies. “I’m not really at liberty to discuss those much beyond just making general statements,” she said, later explaining that they “would run somewhere in the four-to-five million dollar range” with some of the costs being offset with license fees.
All Linda McMahon’s cautiousness is in stark contrast to her husband Vince McMahon, who is chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. In the press release for the Austin-WWE Films deal, “Mr. McMahon” trumpeted loudly. “Having successfully submerged itself in the world of television and generated a host of superstar talent, WWE is ideally positioned to bring its unique and powerful cultural sensibility to the motion picture industry,” McMahon said in the release. “I am extremely excited about showcasing the talents of Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena and Kane; as well I truly believe these and other WWE Superstars will achieve new artistic and commercial successes on the big screen.”