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Sony suffers second box office letdown as it eyes partial spinoff

By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sony, which is studying a partial spinoff of its studio at the urging of major shareholder Daniel Loeb, suffered its second box office misfire of the summer season when its action movie "White House Down" opened with ticket sales below industry forecasts.

"White House Down," which stars Jamie Foxx as the U.S. president and Channing Tatum as a federal agent who saves the White House from terrorists, opened with $25.7 million in domestic ticket sales, according to the studio, below industry experts' estimates of over $30 million.

"We believe in the film, and that heading into the July 4th weekend and beyond, we're very confident that we'll get terrific numbers," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony Corp Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai told Sony shareholders at the Japanese electronics company's June 20 annual meeting that the board was studying a proposal by billionaire Loeb, whose Third Point hedge fund owns 6.9 percent of the company. Loeb has proposed spinning off as much as 20 percent of the studio.

Sony's critically panned sci-fi adventure "After Earth," starring Will Smith and son, bombed in its debut at U.S. and Canadian theaters on May 31. The film, which cost $130 million to make and an estimated $100 million to market, had ticket sales of $27.5 million in its opening weekend and has totaled $57.9 million in North American box office sales, according to film site Box Office Mojo.

"After Earth" has sold $188.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to the site. Studios usually split ticket receipts with theaters.

"White House Down," which cost an estimated $150 million to produce and many millions more to promote, has only started to roll out in international markets and sold $6.8 million worth of tickets in Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Sony said.

Operating earnings at Sony's film studio increased by 40 percent, to $509 million, the company said in May, on the basis of a strong performance from a slate of films that included "The Amazing Spider-Man" and the James Bond film "Skyfall," which it shared with MGM.

Its low-budget comedy "This is the End" has generated ticket sales of $74 million in domestic theaters this summer. Sony is scheduled to release sequels this summer to hits "Grown Ups" and "The Smurfs," and the big-budget action film "Elysium" starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

(Additional reporting by Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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