Hollywood's Not Board With Games

Universal Studios is moving forward on plans to turn the board game "Clue" into a movie, again, nailing down the man behind Disney's Pirates of the Carribean hit, Gore Verbinski, to direct and produce. Everyone knows Hollywood loves established brands — that's why movie studios are constantly making sequels, remaking old films, and turning TV shows, and even theme park rides into films. It works, largely because it's easier to market a brand with which people are already familiar. Paramount/DreamWorks "Transformers", built on the brand equity of plastic kids' figurines, worked for both the studios and Hasbro , a producer on the film.

Now Hasbro and Universal (owned by CNBC's parent GE) are moving forward on a handful of games they're turning into movies. A year after announcing a partnership to make at least four Hasbro-based movies, some of the biggest names in Hollywood are attached. Ridley Scott (acclaimed producer of "American Gangster" and others) is attached to "Monopoly". Michael Bay, recently of "Transformers" fame is going to figure out how to turn Hasbro's 'Ouija Board" game into a film. And Etan Cohen, who recently wrote "Tropic Thunder" and "Sherlock Holmes" is turning his comedic skills to "Candy Land."

Unlike TV shows, books, or even theme park rides, these games don't offer anything in terms of narrative. The board game simply is a brand people recognize and probably have fond memories of from their youth. The fact that these movies are moving forward speaks to the fact that many a movie is greenlit because (as Oscar presenters jooked about) the idea for a poster is great.

In this economy, Board Game movies are especially smart — exactly the kinds of bets studios need to be making. Studios are making fewer, bigger bets, and trying to hedge their risk by investing in sure thing brands and filmmakers. Studios should be able to save on advertising because the brands — even the fonts — are instantly recognizable. And appealing to families, trying to get what Hollywood calls "all four quadrants" (male, female, young old) is key to making a film's opening a must-see event. As we saw with the poor performance of many of the artsy Oscar films, an intellectual approach and creativity don't necessarily sell at the box office. Big names and big explosions do. And as studios battle the decline in DVD sales, producing a kid-friendly movie should drive parents to pick it up, even if they're not buying movies for themselves.

And let's not forget that this partnership with Universal comes at a great time from Hasbro, which is battling the pullback in consumer spending. This not only builds a new revenue stream from the film, but it drives additional sales, the movies acting like 2-hour long ads for the games. Hasbro is still far outperforming the Dow — its stock down just about 15 percent over the past year — as it benefits from this kinds of deals. Just a few weeks ago Hasbro signed a deal to extend its rights to make toys and games based on new Marvel movies (like IronMan).

There's big money in those little toys, both onscreen and off.

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