CATEGORIES Movie News
Movie-making can be an unpredictable investment.

Ask the investors of 'Nine,' the $80 million costume extravaganza that has made about $17 million since its Dec. 18 release. Or the moneybags behind 'The Blind Side,' a modestly budgeted character-driven family drama that has returned 10 times its original buy-in.

Seems weird in these cash-strapped times, when DVD's are increasingly irrelevant, for CBS to start a new (or reborn) film production company, CBS Films, making its debut with Jan. 22's 'Extraordinary Measures,' a heart-tugging drama about medicine starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell. Movie-making can be an unpredictable investment.

Ask the investors of 'Nine,' the $80 million costume extravaganza that has made about $17 million since its Dec. 18 release. Or the moneybags behind 'The Blind Side,' a modestly budgeted character-driven family drama that has returned 10 times its original buy-in.

Seems weird in these cash-strapped times, when DVD's are increasingly irrelevant, for CBS to start a new (or reborn) film production company, CBS Films, making its debut with Jan. 22's 'Extraordinary Measures,' a heart-tugging drama about medicine starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell.

'Extraordinary Measures,' budgeted at $31 million, is in the wheelhouse of what CBS Films says it is looking to produce: features in the $25-50 million range. With its mid-winter release date, 'Extraordinary Measures' may be forgettable. If it gets good reviews, however, it could turn a profit for years to come.

CBS Films, the brain child of TV executive Les Moonves, was launched reportedly to supplement Showtime's movie slate. Moonves is holding the reins, while Amy Baer, a former film executive at Sony, is heading the film unit.

"It's a tough market, but our risk profile is very low," Moonves said in an interview with the LA Times last week. "The cost of the movies, the deals we've worked out and our ability to promote the movies -- we planned this right."

In the Post Media-Merger era, behemoths still have a lot of advantages. One is the ability to build a library of films for redistribution. CBS Films' parent corporation, Viacom, operates TV (CBS, MTV, Nick and Showtime), movies (Paramount, DreamWorks) and online (Shockwave, Neopets).

The special effects-free 'Extraordinary Measures' follows the real-life stories of biotech pioneers John Crowley (Fraser) and Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford) as they attempt to find a cure and market a potentially life-saving drug, after Crowley's kid gets sick.

"It's not going to be a blockbuster, nor do we expect it to be," Moonves said. "But, it's classy and we felt it would be a good calling card for our first film ... If anybody wants to look at Friday night grosses and say that's the beginning or end of CBS Films, they're crazy."

Just because CBS has a war chest to pull from doesn't mean it will be invincible. The company has been losing revenue and will be strapped for cash. This will be the key gamble CBS takes: once the first bomb comes in, how strong will its stomach be?

This isn't the first time CBS Films has attempted to enter the movie business. CBS Films was created in 1953 for TV movie distribution. In the late 60s, CBS produced films through a CBS Films offshoot, including Steve McQueen's 'The Reivers' and Albert Finney's 1970 musical 'Scrooge.' CBS partnered with Columbia Pictures and HBO in 1982 to form the successful Tri-Star Pictures, but bowed out in 1984 after releasing the four-time Oscar nominee 'The Natural' and money-losing remake 'Where the Boys Are.'

CBS Films' plans are to release four to six movies a year, the network said last December, after announcing its plans for the movie division in 2007.

2010's CBS Films projects include:

• April 16's romantic comedy 'The Back-up Plan,' starring Jennifer Lopez,, directed by Alan Poul ('Swingtown').
• July 30's 'Beauty and the Beast'-inspired teen romance 'Beastly,' with Vanessa Hudgens, directed by 'Phoebe in Wonderland's' Daniel Barnz.
• October's 'Faster,' an action-drama starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton and Maggie Grace, and directed by George Tillmam Jr. ('Notorious').

Other movies in development include a remake of 'My Fair Lady' and a feature adaptation of 'Gunsmoke.'

'Extraordinary Measures' trailer