World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is bringing its film business in house, handling all finance, production and distribution for films with wider audience appeal.

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is bringing its film business in house and ramping up its slate to do a whopping nine films in the next two years.

We are an entrepreneurial company so part of the whole model is producing all our own movies,” Andrew Whitaker, Executive Vice President, International of WWE tells Screen.

The company previously worked on films including See No Evil, 12 Rounds, The Condemned, and as a co-producer on films such as Walking Tall and The Scorpion King.

“That was our learning experience,” he says. Films will be financed in house and also “we can use our marketing and production prowess,” Whitaker notes.

The films will be targeted at broader audiences, not just rabid WWE fans. “Previous titles for WWE superstars have cast the superstar as the leading man at the centre of the film,” Whitaker says. “Now we want to reach out to the full demographic, can make a PG movie with the WWE star taking a side role. These are not just action films. We can broaden these films, give more breadth to the films.”

Working on nine films in two years may sound insane, but WWE is a company that produces 10 hours of TV each week, going to 145 countries in 30 languages.

“It’s an ambitious timetable but production is what we do every week,” Whitaker notes. “We have worked in TV distribution over 20 years, we have a very strong network and a transglobal brand.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films will partner on the initial US theatrical releases and multi-platform launches will be key. “It’s not just about theatrical, it’s also PPV, VOD, pay TV, etc.” The company plans to experiment with windows, taking shorter breaks between theatrical and other platforms than traditional distributors maintain.

They will also release titles internationally, with partners as needed. “There isn’t one cookie-cutter model for distribution, the local market will dictate that on a market-by-market basis,” Whitaker adds.

The first release through its own distribution channels will be Legendary, starring WWE star John Cena alongside Patricia Clarkson and Danny Glover. The film will get a two-week US limited theatrical run in September and a DVD launch just after that – promoted by a single marketing campaign. The story is about a teenager who tries to reunite his family through high school wrestling.

Big Red will star Ed Harris alongside Chase Ellison, Molly Parker, Daniel Roebuck, Amy Madigan and WWE star Randy Orton. That film, which shot in recent months in New Orleans, is a family-friendly film is set in the mid-1960sand is a coming-of-age story about a teacher and two students dealing with a school bully. WWE Studios Executive VP Mike Pavone will direct the film from his own original screenplay.

Comedy Knucklehead, due for a November release, stars Mark Feuerstein, Melora Hardin and WWE star Paul “Big Show” Wight. Another recent shoot is crime drama Killing Karma, also shot in New Orleans, starring WWE’s Triple H alongside Michael Rapaport, Parker Posey, Julie White, Michael Cudlitz and Bruce Dern.

WWE has also acquired the rights to John Capouya’s book Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Popular Culture and plans a film to shoot in 2011.

Whitaker notes that WWE films will aim for budgets around $10m. As one production ends, the next one can start immediately, saving on costs for production space and crew.

With WWE programming in 500 million households worldwide, Whitaker is bullish on the prospects for international success. “Recognition of these stars is enormous on a global basis,” he says.

WWE has offices in Connecticut, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.