Gangster movie faces edit after Batman shootings

The theatre shooting scene from Gangster Squad.
The theatre shooting scene from Gangster Squad.
Warner Bros is rethinking its plans for the film "Gangster Squad" in light of a scene featuring a movie-theatre shooting, but beyond that Hollywood executives expect little fall-out from the mass killing at a Batman screening on Friday in Aurora, Colorado.

Officials at Time Warner Inc-owned Warner Bros are expected to meet on Monday to discuss whether to remove or edit the "Gangster Squad" shooting scene, or to change the September 7 release date for the film starring Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling, a person familiar with the discussions said.

On Friday, Warner Bros yanked "Gangster Squad" trailers after a gunman killed 12 and wounded 58 at a midnight premiere of another Warner film, "The Dark Knight Rises." Trailers had included the scene in which men open fire with machineguns on an audience in a movie theatre.

Warner Bros has scaled back promotions for "The Dark Knight Rises," cancelling a Paris premiere and calling off appearances by the cast in Mexico and Japan. Weekend box office results for the Batman movie came in slightly below projections, but the movie still grossed an estimated $US162 million in the United States and Canada for the third-best opening weekend ever, according to Hollywood sources.

Industry experts said moviegoers were likely to move on quickly from the shooting and studios would proceed mostly as planned. Theatres tightened security over the weekend to reassure customers and one chain imposed new rules on costumes.

Upcoming releases that feature some violence are set to debut on schedule. "The Bourne Legacy," a new movie in the action series that stars Jeremy Renner in the role made famous by Matt Damon, is set for August 10. A remake of 1990 science fiction movie "Total Recall" will reach theatres on August 3.

"The immediate reaction is to go to some dark place when something like this happens. By Monday that's forgotten and the business of releasing a movie takes over," said one person familiar with the studios' thinking.

Especially for big-budget films, studios like to stick with planned openings as they spend tens of millions of dollars to raise awareness in advance. Filmgoers don't dwell on isolated incidents for long, said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia marketing chief who now heads the Sausalito Group consulting firm.

"The public's attention span is not that long for such tragedies, and they won't make the connection the further it fades into their memories," Sealey said.

Ronn Torossian, chief executive of New York-based 5W Public Relations, agreed that the public "has a very short-term memory" of news events and said the Aurora shooting would not leave a long-term impact on film promotion. "Reality shows have had tragic suicides and other incidents, yet reality shows continue," he said.

"Gangster Squad" presents some unique issues due to the theatre shooting scene, which bears an eerie resemblance to what transpired in Colorado. Sticking with the September 7 release date would require the film's stars to do press interviews in the next week or two and face questions about the scene and the shooting.

The studio could decide to go ahead with the debut but cancel the usual round of celebrity interviews and advance screenings typically used to generate early buzz about a movie.

A Warner Bros spokeswoman had no comment today.

Another studio, News Corp's 20th Century Fox, had to regroup earlier this year following the national uproar over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

Fox had already started promoting a Ben Stiller comedy called "Neighbourhood Watch." After Martin's killing, the studio removed from theatres posters and a trailer for the film and changed its name to "The Watch." That movie opens this week.

Crowds still turned out for "The Dark Knight Rises," the finale in a popular Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale.

Hollywood sources estimated that the movie would finish the weekend with $YS162 million from US and Canadian theatres. That would rank as the third-highest opening weekend of all time, behind the $US207 million record set by superhero movie "The Avengers" in May and the $US169 million for last summer's finale in the "Harry Potter" series.

Many fans of the Batman series had bought tickets through advance sales ahead of the Aurora shooting.

Still, the "Dark Knight" opening appeared lower than box office watchers had forecast before the shooting, suggesting that some moviegoers decided to stay home in light of the incident. Ahead of the weekend, projections for the first three days ranged from $US170 million to $US198 million.

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