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Summer of Endless Box-Office Success Stories : If Audiences Continue to Turn Out in August, Overall Business Is Expected to Top Last Year's by About $300 Million

August 10, 1993|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From Hollywood's executive suites to the neighborhood movie box offices, they're wishing for an endless summer.

"Business is roaring along," said Hollywood Reporter box-office analyst A.D. Murphy.

"Summer looks phenomenal," said Michael Patrick, chairman of the Carmike Cinemas chain, with theaters in 25 states. "Who wants it to end?"

"Hey, hold on. It's too early to wrap up summer because this is the first August in years that could be bigger than July," said Tom Pollock, chairman of the MCA Inc. Motion Picture Group, which includes Universal Pictures.

Pollock points to a number of fresh films this month, lead by the recently opened "The Fugitive." They will add to the bonanza already set in motion by "Jurassic Park," "The Firm," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "In the Line of Fire."

"Unprecedented," said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Inc., a company that tracks box-office grosses. So far this summer, Krier has tallied $1.06 billion in ticket sales, which surpasses the $954 million reached at this same point during the record-breaking summer of 1989 when "Batman" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" were the season's hits.

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The three months of summer, the most crucial period for Hollywood, generally account for about 40% of the entire year's business. A season of strong-performing movies in the United States and Canadian theatrical market also indicates a robust future as the summer titles move on to international, home video and television markets.

It has been a summer that almost consistently has performed above expectations. Several studios reported that their projections for audience size frequently were underestimated.

Pollock noted that the summer of 1991 "ended" about a week after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" opened in early July. "This year, we're doing $85-million weekends as an industry," he said. "So the story of the summer is that business is up. If August works, as I think it will, the summer's overall business will be about $300 million above last summer."

Three hundred million, coincidentally or not, is about what Universal's "Jurassic Park" has grossed.

There are any number of theories for the surge in moviegoing. But primary among them is simply that Hollywood this summer managed to release an unusual quantity of diversified and popular entertainment.

"What's interesting is the broad mix of movies doing well at the box office, ranging from 'Jurassic Park' to our own 'Menace II Society,' " said Michael Lynne, president and chief operating officer of New Line Cinema.

"As the number of competing forms of entertainment has increased, some have suggested that going out to the theater is on the wane. This summer, with its preponderance of extremely appealing movies, disproves that theory, to some degree," Lynne added.

There's also the thinking that one good movie builds momentum.

"For the foreseeable future, the business will ride on the momentum that has been created," said 20th Century Fox Executive Vice President Tom Sherak. " 'Jurassic Park' has been a hell of an engine . . . this summer we've really gotten to a lot of the people who hadn't been to the movies in a while. 'Sleepless in Seattle' reached that audience."

"The presence of the big films increases the 'wanna-see' factor for other films as well," said TriStar Pictures Chairman Mike Medavoy. "Especially in flat economic times, people are more concerned with where they spend their money and one pleasant experience bodes well for another."

"When you go to the movies in the middle of the week and see crowds, that tells you people are enjoying the movies," observed Gary Meyer, vice president of the Samuel Goldwyn Co.'s Landmark Theatres chain.

Meyer, whose chain books mostly specialized audience films, said that summer ticket sales in that arena "have been terrific." Among the leading films have been Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" and the Spanish-language "Like Water for Chocolate."

On the big-picture front, every major Hollywood studio has shared the wealth to some degree. The biggest winner thus far is Universal Pictures with its dinosaur-sized megahit "Jurassic Park." The U.S. and Canadian gross for the Steven Spielberg film is nearing $300 million and its international ticket sales have topped $100 million.

The June 11 premiere of "Jurassic Park," based on Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, established a new opening weekend record of $50.1 million, beating the $47.7 million that "Batman Returns" collected in its first weekend in 1992.

Business reached a peak--as expected--during the July 4 weekend, but the surprise came when the following weekend drew $100 million in ticket receipts--a figure unprecedented for a non-holiday weekend.

On the downside, the Walt Disney Studios' strategy of releasing 10 films between Memorial Day and Labor Day--the summer's traditional bookends--has produced only modest results and no runaway single big hit, despite millions spent on marketing such a huge slate of pictures.

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