Film industry looking to bounce back from disappointing summer

October 17, 1991|By Philip Wuntch | Philip Wuntch,Dallas Morning News

Gloom is everywhere. But sunshine may be just around the corner.

That's film-industry talk. Hollywood loves to speak in cliches -- and in contradictions. Depending upon whom you listen to -- or whom you read -- the movie business either is or isn't in trouble.

That it was a disappointing summer is undeniable -- Bruce Willis' "Hudson Hawk," Julia Roberts' "Dying Young" and Kathleen Turner's "V.I. Warshawski" didn't begin to meet critical or financial expectations. In fact, "Hudson Hawk," the season's biggest loser, so far has earned a paltry $16 million, compared to TC a budget estimated at between $48-$58 million. The real question is, how disappointing was the summer?

The media have been quick to grease the guillotine. The New York Times reported that as of the first week in September, box-office revenue was down 3.9 percent (at $3.19 billion through August, compared with $3.32 billion for the first eight months of 1990).

Yet many in the industry say the outlook isn't that bleak. Everything in the movie business -- whether teen flicks, Westerns, disaster epics, good box-office, bad box-office -- runs in cycles. Hollywood has survived television, cable, video and summers even more disappointing than this one.

Most film analysts agree that the recession has had an impact, and certainly the entire entertainment business appears to be in a state of change. The three major networks no longer control the television industry. Record and concert sales are down, while video rentals have leveled off.

But most people in the film industry aren't alarmed yet.

The summer's "image" was tarnished, some feel, by the fact that both "Hudson Hawk" and "Dying Young" were high-profile failures.

"They received as much publicity for bombing as most hits do for being successful," says a film publicist. "To some extent, that created a bad image for the entire summer. Also, with the disappointment of 'Regarding Henry,' there wasn't an adult-oriented film that really succeeded. There was no 'When Harry Met Sally ... ' or 'Dead Poets Society.' "

Yet Hollywood remains, in the words of the analyst, "very well insulated."

"It's necessary to remember that the domestic box-office gross represents only about one-third of a movie's cumulative take," he says. "It's a very important third because it reflects the first impression, the initial impact of a film."

However, video and cable showings represent another third, while the fast-growing international market rounds out the triangle. The motion picture business has risen overseas with the construction of some lavish, excellently equipped multiplexes -- reportedly the equal of the finest in the United States -- that have replaced decaying European theaters.

"Usually, the overseas market follows suit with the U.S. box-office," the analyst says. "But there's always a surprise, like 'Hudson Hawk' doing well in Japan. But even if we're talking about a film that's disappointing domestically, overseas and in video, we're still talking about a much bigger pie than we've been accustomed to."

Money-conscious executives will be watching the fortunes of several upcoming holiday releases. "Hook," which combines the star power of Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts with the prowess of director Steven Spielberg, is rumored to have cost as much as $70 million. "Bugsy," with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, reportedly carries a $40 million price tag, while Barbra Streisand's drama, "The Prince of Tides," is said to have come in at $30 million. Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear," with Robert De Niro terrorizing Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange, is listed at $34 million. "For the Boys," starring Bette Midler, also is rumored to have come in at a heavy budget.

Advance word on all five films is enthusiastic.

Exhibitors refer to "Hook," with its mixture of thrills and whimsy, as "E.T. meets Jaws," a combination that would be dear to the hearts of both moviegoers and theater owners. Expectations are also high for the planned 1992 releases "The Addams Family," "An American Tail 2" and "Star Trek VI."

Sequels apparently remain a movie staple, and, at least from this vantage point, they look to dominate the summer of 1992. The prospect of "Batman Returns," "Lethal Weapon 3," "Aliens 3" and "Honey, I Blew Up the Kids" in the same summer makes exhibitors' mouths water.

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