By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - When it comes to movies, not all toys and boardgames are created equal.
For every blockbuster like "Transformers" or "G.I. Joe," there's a "Battleship"-sized bomb or a Razzie-nominated dud like "Masters of the Universe."
However, Dolphin Entertainment thinks its found a potential film franchise in a popular children's toy line and animated series. The company said Wednesday that it has partnered with Mattel to develop a live-action, feature-length film of "Max Steel."
The action figures have roots in animated television. A Disney XD series which will serve as the frame-work for a movie version centers on a super-powered teenager who partners with an alien to protect the galaxy.
"There hasn't been a new superhero in quite awhile," Bill O'Dowd, CEO of Dolphin Entertainment, told TheWrap. "There's a lot of appealing elements. It's a combination of a buddy action comedy coupled with a superhero and teen story. It can be a genuine high school drama like ‘Friday Night Lights,' and you don't see many of those."
Christopher Yost ("Thor: The Dark World") will write the screenplay and Stewart Hendler ("Sorority Row") will direct the film. The film is due in theaters in 2014.
"Max Steel" will be the first film Dolphin will release as part of a multi-picture deal with Open Road Films. Under that pact, the company is looking to producer two or three films a year, budgeted at between $5 million to $25 million. The hook is that they will be laser-focused on the teenage audience, O'Dowd said.
"In the indie marketplace there aren't a lot of PG or PG-13 films and they tend to do a lot better than R-rated films at the box office," he said. "It's a specific niche, but we think there are broad opportunities when it comes to producing movies for young adults."
But to get the new partnership off on the right note, audiences will have to embrace the teenager do-gooder. Mattel debuted a new series of Max Steel toys last month, and O'Dowd and the toy-maker say that the brand boasts a charismatic protagonists to go along with its snazzy figures and gadgets.
"Our goal has always been about strengthening the character and taking time to develop the origin story," Julia Pistor, who will be producing the film for Mattel, said. "It's very character driven, it's not all about the whiz bang sort of thing. There's a compelling story that's worth telling over 90 minutes of screen time."
The company said it has been developing a script for over a year and was searching for a partner who could handle a fast turnaround in getting the character on the big screen.
"There was a creative synergy we had between their team and our team and a vision for where this property could go," Doug Wadleigh, Mattel's senior vice president of global brands marketing, said. "They were able to bring this concept to the screen quicker than anyone else we were considering working with."
Mattel is also banking on the toy roll-out and the Disney XD series to help build awareness for the brand.
"It is the cornerstone of how kids are getting building a relationship with this relatable superhero," Wadleigh said.
Mattel said it is too early to release solid sales data on how the U.S. and Europe has responded to the figures, but reports that the character has deep roots in Latin America where it has been the number one selling boys toy in the region for over a decade.
As countries like Brazil emerge as major markets for film and as movies continue to be disproportionately popular with the Hispanic population domestically, that kind of built-in audience could be the key to making sure that "Max Steel" comes back for more than one big screen adventure.