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Can New Line make a comeback?

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Is the house that Freddy Krueger built in need of a new coat of paint? That was the buzz in Hollywood last weekend after the lukewarm $10 million opening for New Line Cinema’s The Last Mimzy, a family fantasy directed by studio co-CEO Bob Shaye and coscripted by president of production Toby Emmerich. While that number was hardly disastrous, what stung was being badly beaten by TMNT ($24.3 million), the old Ninja Turtles franchise that had been one of New Line’s earliest success stories. But they reportedly let their option expire, and the property was snatched up by corporate sibling Warner Bros. (Both studios are owned by EW parent company Time Warner.) Embarrassing? Sure. But perhaps more than that, emblematic of the rough run the studio has had of late.

To recap: First Snakes on a Plane proved poisonous. Next Shaye got in a nasty public fight with the man who made New Line billions — The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson — all but ensuring that the Oscar winner won’t helm two planned LOTR prequels. And then the year kicked off with poor debuts from films both small (Code Name: The Cleaner) and large (The Number 23).

New Line executives declined to comment for this story, but the good news is that the second half of 2007 looks strong for the studio. They’ll be rolling out potential box office catnip (a much-hyped Hairspray remake with John Travolta, a third Rush Hour movie), Oscar bait (November’s Love in the Time of Cholera), and the most fascinating gamble of the year, a $150 million adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. That last movie may end up being what defines 2007 for New Line: The studio hopes it will be the next Fellowship of the Ring, but the source material is far less popular than Tolkien’s masterwork, and the director (About a Boy‘s Chris Weitz) has never taken on anything nearly as large. But hey, if it doesn’t work out, they could always greenlight that long-planned Freddy Krueger sequel. Because if Ninja Turtles can make a comeback, why not A Nightmare on Elm Street?

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