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Viacom, Inc. (VIAB), Sony Corporation (ADR) (SNE): “World War Z” and the Billion-Dollar Business of Zombies

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Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB) needs to send a fruit basket to Brad Pitt and his production company, Plan B Entertainment. Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB)’s Paramount studio was in desperate need of a big summer hit, and Pitt’s zombie romp, World War Z, is delivering in spades.

Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB)

World War Z is riding a global zombie trend right now, and it’s a powerful one. Will the trend stay warm-blooded long enough to fuel a series of Z sequels, or is the fad already as dead as its anti-heroes? Let’s think about it together.

The numbers around this title are amazing. World War Z delivered a $66 million domestic opening weekend, is competing for eyeballs and dollars with a strong second weekend, is likely to top $200 million in global box office receipts by Monday, and should land north of $300 million globally when all is said and done. That is, before reaping further rewards from TV and online syndication, lunch boxes, the usual extras.

The first zombie encountered in George Romero’s 1968 genre classic, Night of the Living Dead. His brood is still hunting for brains and box-office dollars. They just have more impressive makeup.

To no one’s surprise, Pitt and Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB) are already looking at sequels. The film was meant to kick off a trilogy before the ending was drastically changed. Given that it’s based on the rich world of the best-seller book of the same name, and really didn’t tap anything but the name from the book in the first installment, there’s plenty of material to explore.

In fact, it would be ridiculous not to go down that road. The zombie genre is littered with long strings of sequels and remakes — and World War Z is already one of the biggest box office hits in zombie history, just two weeks into the release. Check out the top six zombie movies of all time in terms of American ticket sales:

Title Opening Weekend Final Domestic Gross Final Global Gross Production Budget
Hotel Transylvania $43 $148 $347 $85
World War Z*** $66 $125* $300** $190
Zombieland $25 $76 $102 $24
Warm Bodies $20 $66 $117 $35
Resident Evil: Afterlife $27 $60 $296 $60
Evil Dead (2013)*** $26 $54 $97 $17

Data from Box Office Mojo and Deadline Hollywood Daily. All figures in millions of U.S. dollars.
*Estimates for first 2 weeks.
**Author’s estimated final tally.
*** Still in theaters.

That’s right — World War Z is already the second-biggest money maker among zombie movies in Hollywood history. Hotel Transylvania had the advantage of being an animated kids’ movie with a humble PG rating.

The list above looks like a motley collection. You’ve got cartoons and comedies, pulse-pounding action and hardcore horror. Some are well made, others an empty collection of special effects without heart. Sony Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) is a big winner in the zombie space, having placed four titles on this top-six list, but Paramount and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF) are riding the wave too. For Paramount/Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB), World War Z could kick-start a franchise that makes the first movie’s big budget worth its salt. For Summit/Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF), zombies seem like a natural fit after the fantastic success of its vampire romance franchise, the Twilight saga.

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