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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Lions for Lambs," the star-studded first film from United Artists since Tom Cruise and his longtime producing partner took over the fabled studio, has so far generated more yawns than roars at box offices.
After three weeks in theaters, the antiwar drama directed by Robert Redford with an A-list cast featuring Redford, Cruise and Meryl Streep, has grossed a meager $14 million in North American ticket sales and about $26 million more overseas.
That tally surpasses the $35 million reportedly spent to make the film, which was distributed domestically by UA parent company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and internationally by News Corp subsidiary 20th Century Fox.
Entertainment trade paper Daily Variety said the film was unlikely to gross more than $60 million in theatrical revenues worldwide and reported some industry watchers projecting the movie could lose as much as $25 million.
The film's anemic performance coupled with mostly negative reviews marked a disappointing start for the reconstituted studio that Cruise and onetime agent Paula Wagner took over after ending their producing deal at Paramount Pictures.
Their installation at UA, with Wagner as CEO, was touted a year ago as a revival of the storied but then-moribund studio, founded in 1919 by silent era stars Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith.
Wagner acknowledged that "Lions for Lambs" failed to live up to expectations but defended the movie as worth making, both commercially and artistically.
"We are proud to have made Robert Redford's film as it was a timely and engaging story with top stars," she said. "You want every picture to be successful, but the reality of the business is that not every one will be."
Having the film on its slate also played a key role in helping secure $500 million in financing through Merrill Lynch in August to fund up to 18 movies over five years, UA said.
The company's future does not hinge on the success or failure of a single movie, Wagner said, adding, "We are just one year into revitalizing UA, and we remain extremely confident about the soundness of our business model."
"Lions for Lambs" appeared to fall victim in part to a trend this fall that saw movies about war and other serious themes, including "In the Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Gone Baby Gone," failing to click with moviegoers.
"Audience tastes seemed to be running more toward escapist fare," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking service Media By Numbers.
"Any movie that has the name Tom Cruise attached to it is going to have automatic built-in expectations," Dergarabedian said, noting "Lions" was marketed more as an ensemble piece than a Cruise movie.
But UA's next film, "Valkyrie," is. The World War Two drama stars Cruise as a real-life German military officer who led a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. That movie is due for release next year.
Another UA war-themed film in development, "Pinkville," about the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, has been postponed due to the screenwriters' strike against Hollywood studios.
UA said the strike precluded director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Mikko Alanne, both members of the Writers Guild of America, from working on script revisions.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh