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Microsoft: "Does it make sense for us to be in the movie business?"

Kevin Kelly

The interview with Microsoft's Robbie Bach is all over the grid today. While most of the hubbub on the net concerns price cuts for the 360, there's another little gem in this interview. Bach replies to a question about the lagging progress of the Halo movie by saying, "There are a couple of things you have to recognize. Does it make sense for Microsoft to be in the movie business? It's not what we do, nor would I anticipate us ever doing it."

Bach is saying this to the people who ask why Microsoft doesn't just fund the reportedly $200 million dollar budget film themselves. It's also why Microsoft got into trouble with the film to begin with. Both Fox and Universal pulled out of the deal because MS wanted them to pony up $5 million upfront and then 10% of all the film's profits later. The three companies couldn't come to terms on the deal when the studios tried to change things, and the picture fell apart.

Basically, Bach is wrong. If Microsoft wants to make a profit on a Halo movie, then yes, they do need to be in the movie business. Fox and Universal left because they didn't want to spend a ton of money making a film in a genre that has historically performed very poorly: video game adaptations. Check these figures out:

  • Super Mario Bros. -- $20,915,465 domestic gross vs. a $48 million dollar budget.
  • Doom -- $28,212,337 domestic gross vs. a $60 million dollar budget.
  • BloodRayne -- $2,405,420 domestic gross vs. a $25 million dollar budget. Ouch.
  • Double Dragon -- $2,341,309 domestic gross vs. a budget that paid Scott Wolf and Alyssa Milano entirely in teeth whitener.
There have been a few successes in bringing video game movies to the big screen. Mortal Kombat set the bar pretty high by making over $70 million on a $20 million dollar budget, and all of the Pokemon films have performed very well. Resident Evil has done enough business to spawn two sequels -- although that alone does not mean a franchise is raking it in, case in point is BloodRayne 2, currently in pre-production although thankfully without Kristanna Loken.

The problem for the studios is that for every Mortal Kombat, there are five or six Street Fighters, Wings Commanders, and Silent Hills. Microsoft needs to forget about the traditional studio distribution system and fund the movie on their own, which is the only way they'll get the lion's share of the profits. Seriously, $200 million is a drop in the bucket to Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, which is already around $3.8 billion dollars in the red. If the movie turns out great, they sell it to a distributor and head to the bank. Distributor not buying? Then Microsoft presses discs and sells it themselves, makes it available as a download in the newly movietastic Xbox Live Marketplace, sells it to cable, and includes a copy with their HD-DVD players as a selling point, tossing out that King Kong disc.

We'd want to see a good Halo movie on the silver screen as much as the next guy. It's just that 55 katrillion copies sold does not automagically mean this will be a hit movie. If Microsoft and Bungie believe in this property so much, then they need to step up to the plate and deliver. If you build it, they will come ... right?

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