Some bad flicks aren't worthy of screen time

Distributors will opt to store them away

October 22, 2002|By Patrick Goldstein | Patrick Goldstein,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HOLLYWOOD -- Haley Joel Osment has put together a pretty impressive string of recent films. He got an Oscar nomination for his role in the blockbuster The Sixth Sense; co-starred opposite Jude Law in Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; and appeared with Kevin Spacey in the drama Pay It Forward. But the movie the young actor really put his heart into is a movie that you may never see.

Called Edges of the Lord, it features Osment as a blond, blue-eyed Jewish boy who is given a chance to survive by passing as a Gentile during the Nazi invasion of Poland. The film, which co-stars Willem Dafoe -- no slouch himself when it comes to appearing in high-visibility films -- as a Polish priest, was acquired by Miramax Films two years ago and has been sitting on the shelf ever since.

Having his film go unseen has been a rude jolt for Osment. His father, Eugene Osment, says he and his son are disappointed. "We're trying to understand -- why isn't this in the theaters?" asks the elder Osment. "It was a difficult movie to make, but it's even more painful now because the movie isn't out there for other people to see."

Edges of the Lord isn't alone. Every year, Hollywood studios quietly dump movies -- even ones with top stars -- that aren't worth the money to distribute in theaters. Call it Hollywood's dirty little secret. With marketing costs spiraling higher every year, studios increasingly have both economic and psychological incentives to cut their losses by keeping their stinkers in the closet.

Sylvester Stallone is the star of D-Tox, a $60 million crime drama from Universal Pictures that was filmed in early 1999 and has never been seen in the United States.

Al Pacino plays a press agent in People I Know, a film Miramax bought 18 months ago and was never released.

Miramax has a cupboard full of orphaned movies. Daddy and Them, a Billy Bob Thornton film that stars Thornton, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd and Andy Griffith, was recently sold to Showtime after sitting on the shelf for several years. Michael Caine stars in Shiner, a boxing drama Miramax acquired in February 2001 and has just released on home video without a U.S. theatrical run.

Miramax is also the distributor of The Third Wheel, a romantic comedy that features Luke Wilson, Ben Affleck and Denise Richards. Shot in 1999, the film has been on the studio's release schedule for two years without ever coming out.

"Sometimes you have to face the fact that some movies are better off on TV or DVD than in a theater," explains Miramax Films co-chief Harvey Weinstein. "You're asking a lot of an audience to pay nearly $10 to see a movie, so you don't want them to feel cheated."

Most of these movies never see the light of day for an all-too-obvious reason: They're awful. In its review of D-Tox, which was released overseas earlier this year, Variety called the film "almost totally merit-free." One Internet review of a Third Wheel test screening called it "a laugh-free comedy," saying Wilson was "excruciating to watch" in the lead role.

Studios, of course, put out bad movies all the time. Just ask anyone unlucky enough to have sat through the recent Warner Bros. releases feardotcom and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, a film that sat on the shelf for years. But Warner Bros.has a big incentive: Many of its movies, including feardotcom are financed by other companies, which often pay for the film's marketing expenses.

However, if you have a film that needs to reach a discerning adult audience, reviews count. Miramax had been giving the cold shoulder to another Caine film, The Quiet American, until the film got a rave review in Variety when it played the Toronto Film Festival. Barely a month earlier, Miramax had been shopping the film, hoping another distributor would take it. Now the studio has given it a November release date and is pushing Caine for an Oscar nomination.

So why is this film getting a theatrical release and Edges of the Lord is still buried in the vault? "If the critics would champion Edges of the Lord the way they've supported Quiet American, we'd love to put it out," says Weinstein.

Miramax competitors say other factors are at work. Miramax is one of the few remaining studios that's run like a personal fiefdom. When it comes to acquiring and marketing films, Weinstein is involved in virtually every major decision. Unlike most of today's studio chiefs, who are often influenced by corporate concerns, Weinstein still operates on instinct.

Still, if a studio knows it has a stinker on its hands, why keep it on the shelf for years when it could at least get some return on its investment by selling it to pay TV or putting it out on home video?

One reason is financial. As long as the film hasn't been released, the studio can keep it on its books as an asset. The minute the film comes out -- and fails at the box office -- the studio must write it off as a loss. So, most companies wait as long as possible before taking a write-off, often delaying the decision until they can hide the loss among several big hits.

Psychological issues also come into play. Studio chiefs are human -- they prefer to avoid dwelling on any unpleasant reminder of failure. They'd rather just sweep it under the rug, or put it on the back of the shelf.

Patrick Goldstein writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.