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'San Andreas': Why Hollywood went ahead with an original movie this summer

Conventional wisdom would dictate that a movie without brand name recognition would get lost in the noisy summer movie season. Here's why movie executives most likely went ahead with the disaster movie.

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    'San Andreas' stars Dwayne Johnson (l.) and Carla Gugino (r.).
    Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
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When moviegoers see the trailer for the upcoming movie “San Andreas,” which opens this Friday, they see toppling buildings, cracking earth, and other sequences that might remind them of such films as “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” 

What they might not realize right away is that they’re also seeing an original story.

In a summer packed, as many others have been, with comic book adaptations and reboots, “San Andreas” is facing off with such currently successful movies as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (comic book movie, obviously), “Tomorrowland” (based off a Disney park, though the story is original), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (the newest movie in a series), “Poltergeist” (a remake), “Furious 7” (the newest in a series), and such upcoming films as “Jurassic World” (ditto). 

So what made Hollywood go ahead with a film that has no name recognition attached besides its star, Dwayne Johnson? Johnson told Variety he thinks the movie sets itself apart because of its emphasis on family. Johnson’s character is searching for his wife and daughter during the film. “We wanted to redefine the disaster genre, and part of that was by introducing elements that weren’t in the other movies, like family and heart,” he said. 

And movie executives may be banking on Johnson himself as well. “In terms of consumer appeal, he’s in the league there with Brad Pitt,” Henry Schafer, a spokesman for Q Scores Co., which tracks celebrity appeal with the public, told the New York Times. (NYT writer Melena Ryzik noted Johnson’s name recognition isn’t as high as others in Hollywood yet but that the actor has international appeal.) 

And the gamble could pay off, Variety writer Brent Lang noted. “If ‘San Andreas’ works, it would establish a lucrative new direction for tentpole productions based on original story ideas,” Lang wrote. Forbes writer Scott Mendelson noted that “[director] Brad Peyton and company only spent $100 million on ‘San Andreas’ as well, which means the film doesn’t have to become an out-of-this-world blockbuster to turn a profit or at least break even.” Hollywood is most likely betting that “San Andreas” can be at the very least an under-the-radar summer success.

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