Three holiday films had everything but an audience

January 11, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

Hollywood -- Each boasted big stars, respected directors and huge marketing campaigns. Yet, in the case of "Toys," "Hoffa" and "Leap of Faith," something clearly went wrong on the way to the multiplex.

The big disappointments of this Christmas season, the three films lost their studios millions of dollars and left a smattering of egg on the faces of all those involved. Studio executives and producers involved in the films have been sifting through the rubble, trying to figure out what went awry on projects that once seemed like sure things.

The biggest disappointment of the three is clearly "Toys," Barry Levinson's ode to innocence set in a Dada-esque toy factory where Robin Williams ran amok in Technicolor garb.

Shot at an estimated cost of between $42 million and $47 million, the film just recently ground past $20 million at the box office and is expected to take in only $5 million more. At one time, expectations were that the film would take in at least $50 million.

But those involved in the movie had an early inkling of what would happen: Advance word of mouth on the film was poisonous, a fact that left star Williams up in arms.

Mr. Williams points to the early December appearance on the "Today" show of Entertainment Weekly film editor Jim Meigs.

Asked to pick the season's big bomb, Mr. Meigs answered "Toys."

According to Mr. Williams, Mr. Meigs had not even seen the film at the time. "That's what I don't think is fair," Mr. Williams says.

According to Mr. Meigs, his comment was based on word of mouth his staff was hearing, by the studio's refusal to screen the movie in advance for magazine deadlines and by the film's trailer, where Mr. Williams shot off stream-of-consciousness jokes while standing in a wheat field. "Here you had a trailer that didn't show one piece of footage from the movie," Mr. Meigs says. "I think that made everybody a bit suspicious."

One source says that the film's box-office future was clear after a couple of preview screenings. "It was a well-made movie, but people just didn't like or buy the premise. It was too far out for people. We knew they'd either love it or hate it, but there was no indication that it would be so lAn industry marketing source says that 'Hoffa' is attracting only one audience: Older white males. "The main problem here is that it is almost impossible to bring women into this picture."

universally disliked. It had very bad word of mouth and that's what did it in."

In the case of "Hoffa," another Fox film, all involved expected it to be a blockbuster. For the film's opening weekend, box-office figures were expected to hover around $9 million. But the film about Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (played by Jack Nicholson) only managed $6.4 million in its first three days, surprising in light of Mr. Nicholson's ballyhooed performance and Danny DeVito's direction -- his "Throw Momma From the Train" and "War of the Roses" were huge hits.

"Hoffa," which cost in the neighborhood of $40 million, has a projected final gross of $30 million, around $40 million short of its box-office goal.

An industry marketing source says that "Hoffa" is attracting only one audience: Older white males. "And even they are not enjoying the picture as much as everybody thought they would. The main problem here is that it is almost impossible to bring women into this picture."

Executives at 20th Century Fox aren't giving up, however. They believe "Hoffa" will nab a few Oscar nominations, especially for Mr. Nicholson, and are changing their advertising approach. "They're gonna start focusing on Jack more in the ads, that his is a classic performance," says one source.

The failure of "Leap of Faith," which stars Steve Martin, to attract a large audience can be partially blamed on its release date.

Overwhelmed by such films as "Forever Young" and "The Bodyguard" that stole its target audience, "Leap of Faith," say some, should have been held until this month or February.

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