|Founder||David Michael Latt
|Headquarters||Burbank, California, United States|
The Asylum is an American independent film company and distributor that focuses on producing low-budget, direct-to-video films. The company has produced titles that capitalize on productions by major studios, often using film titles and scripts very similar to those of current blockbusters in order to lure customers. These titles have been dubbed "mockbusters" by the press. Its titles are distributed by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, GT Media, and as of 2015, Cinedigm. They are perhaps best known for creating the Sharknado franchise. As of 2009/2010, The Asylum have never made any losses from their film productions.
The Asylum was founded by director David Michael Latt and former Village Roadshow executives David Rimawi and Sherri Strain in 1997. The company focused on producing straight-to-video low-budget films, usually in the horror genre, but were unable to find a market due to competition from major studios, such as Lions Gate Entertainment. In 2005, the company produced a low-budget adaptation of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, which was released in the same year as Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the same material. Blockbuster Inc. ordered 100,000 copies of The Asylum's adaptation, a significantly larger order than any of the company's previous releases, resulting in Latt and Rimawi reconsidering their business model.
In 2007, similarities between the distributor's titles and those of major studios were reported. For example, the film Transmorphers bears a number of similarities to the film Transformers, which was released theatrically two days after the release of Transmorphers. According to Latt, "I'm not trying to dupe anybody. I'm just trying to get my films watched. Other people do tie-ins all the time; they’re just better at being subtle about it. Another studio might make a giant robot movie that ties into the Transformers release and call it Robot Wars. We’ll call ours Transmorphers." In 2008, 20th Century Fox threatened legal action against The Asylum over The Day the Earth Stopped, a film capitalizing on The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Similarly in May 2012, Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit against The Asylum for their film American Battleship, claiming infringement on their movie, Battleship. As a result, The Asylum changed their title to American Warships.
In 2013 Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and The Hobbit producer Saul Zaentz commenced legal action against The Asylum for their film Age of the Hobbits (later called Lord of the Elves), claiming that they were "free-riding" on the worldwide promotional campaign for Peter Jackson's forthcoming films. The Asylum claimed its movie is legally sound because its hobbits are not based on the J. R. R. Tolkien creations. The lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order preventing The Asylum from releasing the film on its scheduled release date.
The Asylum has been producing Z Nation for the Syfy Network since late 2014. The show about a group that attempts to get the only known person with immunity to a zombie virus from New York to the last operating lab in California. According to show-runner Karl Shaefer, the show is intended to bring "a sense of hope to the horror of the apocalypse." Ratings for Z Nation have been unexpectedly high, about 1.6 million per episode, and has been renewed for a third season.
The Asylum's usual budget for a production is reportedly "well under a million dollars", and it typically breaks even after about three months. The Asylum has never lost money on a film. The company's productions have been called B movies and "mockbusters". Latt prefers the term "tie-ins" to "mockbusters", stating that The Asylum's productions, even those that capitalize on major releases, contain original stories. Latt states that the company plans its productions around the word of mouth of the financial prospects of upcoming films. The Asylum's films are usually released on video shortly before the theatrical release of a major studio film with similar themes or storylines.
The Asylum has also produced films with strong religious themes. For example, The Apocalypse was initially developed as a straightforward disaster film in the style of Deep Impact, but Latt states that certain buyers wanted the company to develop a religious film. As a result, the company consulted priests and rabbis in order to incorporate faith-based elements. The division Faith Films was created in order to distribute titles with such themes. Sunday School Musical was produced after The Asylum staff attended a seminar for marketing to a Christian audience where the seminar's host suggested that the perfect film would be a Christian version of High School Musical.
The Asylum productions sometimes feature more overt sexuality or graphic violence than their major studio counterparts, because The Asylum's releases are not in competition with films rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. Rolf Potts of The New York Times described Transmorphers as having "no recognizable actors, no merchandising tie-ins and a garbled sound mix. Also unlike Transformers, it has cheap special effects and a subplot involving lesbians."
Some of the films which may not be apparently connected by title, share traits which place them in the same universe:
- Sharknado's universe includes Lavalantula, which featured two of its characters. These films are prequels to Z Nation as "Roberta Warren" (actress Kellita Smith is credited as a Sergeant in Sharknado 3 and a Lieutenant in Z Nation).
- 2005's Dead Men Walking introduces Blackthorn Industries, which reappears in 2006's Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers.
- Katz, David. "From Asylum, the People Who Brought You (a Movie Kinda Sorta Like) Pacific Rim". GQ. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- Potts, Rolf (October 7, 2007). "The New B Movie". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
- Borrelli, Christopher (July 3, 2009). "Bizarro Blockbusters". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
- "Movie 'Mockbusters' Put Snakes on Trains". National Public Radio. December 8, 2007. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
- Solomon, Dan (August 23, 2011). "How to Make a Mockbuster (In Five Easy Steps)". Adult Swim. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- Somma, Brandon (2013-01-04). "Masters of the Mockbuster:What The Asylum Is All About". The Artifice. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- Latt, David. "" 'Interview, 'Front Row', BBC Radio 4', July 16, 2010.
- Patterson, John. "Seeking Asylum: the rise of Hollywood's Z-movies" The Guardian, July 30, 2009.
- "Fox takes action against 'Day the Earth Stopped' ". The Hollywood Reporter. November 11, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
- "Someone Finally Decides to Sue The Asylum: Universal Not Happy About Battleship Knock-Off". Internet Movie Database.
- "The Hobbit producers sue 'mockbuster' film company". BBC. 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2012-11-10.
- Fritz, Ben (December 10, 2012). "'Hobbit' knockoff release blocked by judge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- Barton, Steve (December 10, 2012). "Cinedigm Checks into The Asylum". Dread Central. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
- "Cinedigm Signs 12-Picture Deal With The Asylum". Cinedigm. December 10, 2012. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
- Venable, Nick (2014-04-07). "The Asylum's Zombie Series Z Nation Scares Up 13-Episode Order From Syfy". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2014-10-13.
- Hibberd, James (2014-09-15). "'Z Nation' ratings tie 'Walking Dead' (if you move the decimal point)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2014-10-13.
- Surette, Tim (2014-10-21). "Syfy Renews Z Nation for Season 2 Because Z Nation Has Zombies in It". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2014-10-26.
- McLendon, Gary (September 16, 2008). "Henrietta actor has had varied life". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. Accessed September 27, 2008.
- "Fairy Tale Heroines Assemble for The Asylum's Avengers Grimm". Dread Central. 2014-12-23. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
- Amid Amidi (January 23, 2016). "The 'Sharknado' Studio Has Found A Way To Cash In On 'Finding Dory'".