Moguls are worried as the recession comes to Hollywood

December 16, 1991|By David J. Fox | David J. Fox,Los Angeles Times

THE GOLDEN Globe nominations for 1991's movies won't come out until Dec. 27.

This year's Oscar nominations won't be announced until Feb. 19.

And Hollywood hasn't even finished releasing this season's movies.

So what is one of the hot topics in film industry circles?

1992's movies.

The talk comes amid a background of cloudy economic realities and budget tightening. Orion Pictures Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, leaving question marks about the fate of its scheduled films.

And the new year may see the Screen Actors Guild go on strike by June and feature-film production come to a screeching halt as a result.

There has also been the unpleasant downturn at the box office this year, putting overall grosses slightly behind the record levels of 1989 and 1990. And budget tightening is taking hold to offset increasing costs.

Still, there is optimism for the coming year. This winter and early spring, moviegoers will be offered a number of features that were delayed, for various reasons, from this year. Among them are the comedy "Mom and Dad Save the World," with Jon Lovitz and Teri Garr; the Roland Joffe drama "City of Joy," with Patrick Swayze and Pauline Collins, and "Shining Through," a World War II spy drama featuring Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith.

Among the new films: the thriller "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle"; the urban drama set in the world of underground amateur boxing, "Gladiator"; Richard Gere and Kim Basinger in "Final Analysis"; Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco in "Medicine Man," and Michael Douglas in "Basic Instinct."

There is little buzz on most of the films. And the studios do not usually comment on why a movie, such as "Mom and Dad Save the World," which Warner Bros. had once set for summer release and then pushed back to autumn, is now slated to open in winter.

Byt as the industry looks to 1992, there is a growing sense that the nation's recession is trickling down to Hollywood.

Expansion plans for some studio facilities are on hold. In terms of money spent on moviegoing, it's not uncommon to hear worries about the recession causing consumers to stay at home more. "Business isn't what it was last year," said Pacific Theaters vice president Milton Moritz, attributing the cause as much to the films in the market as to the state of the economy.

On the other hand, he said: "Where else do you go out of the house for a few hours for six or seven bucks? If you want to go out, motion pictures represent the least-expensive entertainment."

In recent weeks, the industry's spirits have been buoyed by the strong box-office performances of such films as "The Addams Family," "Star Trek VI," "My Girl" and "Beauty and the Beast."

However, Hollywood's revived spirits were tempered somewhat by the announcement on Wednesday that the financially troubled Orion Pictures Corp. is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Not that anyone was shocked by the announcement -- Orion had been skirting creditors for months. But the news did crank up anxiety levels in Hollywood about what the future holds for other, even less influential companies.

"The studios have become at least verbally cost conscious," said entertainment analyst Jeffrey Logsdon of Seidler Amdec Securities in Los Angeles. "But Hollywood will continue to invest the money in star talent," he predicted.

Whatever the strength of the early winter box office, it will be based on the strength of holdover movies from the Christmas season, according to Daily Variety's box-office analyst Art Murphy. "That's the same explanation why this fall's business was so terrible -- because there were not enough carry-over hits from summer.

"The box-office gyrations have been rather spectacular in 1991," Murphy added. "The first months of '91 were strong because of the Christmas holdovers -- "Home Alone," "Dances With Wolves" -- and one or two very big hits that opened late in January -- "Silence of the Lambs" and "Sleeping With the Enemy". Early summer was strong, but then there was the drop."

So Hollywood paces and waits for 1992.

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