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From ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ to ‘A Sound of Thunder:’ The Rise and Fall of Franchise Pictures

June 26, 2018


There I was 27, from Thailand, living my dream and working with an A-list crew, kicking ass and getting great footage, all while staying on budget and on schedule. We were the only movie made by Franchise Pictures that did that by the way, something I’m weirdly still proud of. Wych Kaosayanada – Director of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

When Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever celebrated its 15th birthday last September it felt necessary to do a deep dive into the movie because I wanted to find some cheeky stuff to add to my ever-expanding collection of dumb data. I didn’t find anything worth writing about but I did learn about the production company that made it happen. Between 1999 and 2007 Franchise Pictures released a torrent of films that underwhelmed at the domestic box office and left many critics scratching their heads (30% Tomatometer average). 26 of their films were released in theaters and only two of them (Half Past Dead, The Whole Nine Yards) made their budgets back domestically. After eight bonkers years, the production company eventually closed down amid lawsuits, financial failures, and bankruptcy.

Franchise Pictures was the brainchild of a dry cleaning, real estate and independent film producing tycoon named Elie Samaha. In a profile in 2000 with The New York Times, Elie was fresh off his success with The Whole Nine Yards and was in fine form for the profile. In the article, he talks about his process of buying films in turn around (cheaper), letting actors film their passion projects (they take pay cuts) and cutting production costs (shortened production schedules). His idea to bring in A-list talent to film their passion projects was inspired, but what he didn’t realize is that A-list talent doesn’t mean box office rewards or A+ films. For instance, Elie’s first massive flop and eventual bringer of demise was Battlefield Earth.

Battlefield Earth was adapted from a novel by L. Ron Hubbard and carried with it a lot of controversies. Elie ignored the naysayers, called John Travolta and told the actor the project he had been trying to get off the ground for 15 years would finally happen. The math behind Samaha’s guarantee for success made sense in a warped kind of way. Basically, Travolta had ruled the 1990s box office and Battlefield Earth only needed to make $35 million domestically due to Samaha selling off the foreign rights to distributors. So, Samaha was pretty sure with Travolta’s clout his big-budget science fiction epic would be a monster hit that would propel him into the Hollywood big leagues.

Battlefield Earth is not good.

In the same New York Times profile, John Ptak a senior agent at Creatives Arts Agency was justifiably skeptical of the success and almost seemed to know where Franchise Pictures and Battlefield Earth was headed with this quote:

”Elie’s first real test will be ‘Battlefield Earth,”John Ptak says. ”Elie listens and he’s charming. But that stuff’s all Act 1. This is a three-act business. Act 1 is style and personality and relationships. Act 2 is creating the avenues and highways to put the cars on. And Act 3 is creating the actual cars, which are the movies. You need all three acts to be successful. The Whole Nine Yards proved something. We’ll see if Battlefield Earth can continue on that road.”

Battlefield Earth was the first big flop ($21 million domestic) and it lead to a stream of very bad films. The avenues and highways were created, but the cars were breaking down all over the place. After Battlefield Earth crashed and burned like a “baby Psychlo on a straight diet of Kerbango,” Franchise released 18 more films into the theaters. Seven of them had inflated budgets over $60 million and they proved to be Franchise’s undoing. The films averaged a 12.25% RT rating and none of them recouped their budgets at the domestic box office. Here they are:

  • Battlefield Earth (2000) – 3% – Travolta Passion Project
  • The Art of War (2000) – 16%
  • Get Carter (2000) – 12% – Stallone Passion Project
  • 3,000 Miles to Graceland (2001) – 14% – Costner Passion Project
  • Driven (2001) – 14% – Stallone Passion Project
  • Angel Eyes (2001) – 33%
  • Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002) – 0%
  • A Sound of Thunder (2005) – 6%

On paper, they sound pretty great (Race cars! Assassins!) but something was off about every single one of them. They all fell flat and the majority of them including the lower budget offerings had behind the scenes issues that affected them. The writer of Battlefield Earth released an apology, James Franco said Tristan & Isolde suffered from major rewrites and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever director Wych Kaosayanada (Kaos) was kicked out of the editing suite and also endured many rewrites. Kaos did a fantastic interview with Film Combat Syndicate and he broke down his side of the filmmaking process. I love what he had to say about the title.

“And one last on all of this – the original script was called Ecks vs Sever. It was decided that the title didn’t work. So because of my love for Bullitt, I suggested Ballistic be inserted into the title, but it ended up being Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. That pretty much sums everything up right there.”

The most notorious of their notoriously bad films is Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. The 2002 film is the worst reviewed movie of all time and is one of the rare films that is so bad it hasn’t accrued a diehard cult audience who worship its badness. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever tells the story of two people beating up other people while many things move in slow motion and fireballs erupt everywhere.

Franchise Picture’s first curious decision was to bring in a young director named Wych Kaosayanada (AKA – Kaos) who had only one independent film to his resume and put him at the helm of a $70-million-dollar action spectacle that would be set in Bangkok. Looking to cast Vin Diesel, Chow Yun-fat and other big names they eventually settled on Antonio Banderas and Lucy Lui. Due to 9/11, the film was relocated to Vancouver and the massive budget was used to flip a lot of cars and make Vancouver look very smokey.

After Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever crashed and burned, Samaha, impressively put together $80 million via international distribution deals to film the big-budget science fiction film A Sound of Thunder. The film went through the initial behind the scenes turmoil and eventually, Franchise went bankrupt leaving the film with little money for post-production. The finished product was really bad and Franchise Pictures was no more.

A Sound of Thunder is comically bad.

Franchise Pictures left behind a legacy of bad films and a strategy of what not to do when producing movies. Their films have mostly been forgotten, but I hope Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever can hold on to the 0% Tomatometer legacy for another 15 years. Franchise Pictures worked very hard to achieve that honor and it’s a fond memory of Elie Samaha’s short reign in Hollywood.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. John Leavengood permalink
    June 26, 2018 12:16 pm

    Noooooooo, I loved Driven!

    • June 26, 2018 12:20 pm

      Me too! I was surprised by the 14% Tomatometer score.

      • John Leavengood permalink
        June 26, 2018 3:30 pm

        I’d call it some decent non-action acting on Sly’s part, too. Shame. I’d wish it at least a 41%–just swap those numbers.

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