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Coming at You, Fast and Furious

January 23, 1994|DAVID J. FOX | David J. Fox is a Times staff writer

If you're the sort of moviegoer who feels overwhelmed by the barrage of movies that open every Christmas season and at the beginning of every summer, then brace yourself for all of 1994.

There will be more movies coming at you this year than any year in recent memory: 170 major studio releases by the count of Exhibitor Relations Co., a Beverly Hills firm that tracks box-office data. That number is higher than the 150 in 1993, and significantly higher than the 133 in 1992. When the smaller, specialized films are added in, that comes to 229 total releases, or nearly five new movies a week.

Blame the flood on Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Studios. Each is trying to grab the lion's share of the marketplace through sheer volume of theatrical feature films. They know what all the major film companies have come to realize: The more films they release, the greater the value of their film libraries in the coming 500-channel cable-TV age, when software demand could be virtually unlimited.

And, of course, as one theater exhibitor quipped: "The more shots you take, the more chances you have of a hit."

Exhibitor Relations' John Krier believes '93's healthy box-office grosses and the expansion of international sales also encouraged filmmakers to enter the arena. The year is only 3 weeks old and already Disney's three movie divisions have released three movies, Disney Pictures' "Iron Will," Touchstone Pictures' "Cabin Boy" and Hollywood Pictures' "The Air Up There."

Disney distribution president Richard Cook said the Disney company movies will number 40 in 1994, up from 27 last year. The number reaches about 60 if you count the output of Miramax Films, which this year has ecome part of the Disney family.

"From our view," Cook said, "each picture isn't competing with each other, each is appealing to a different audience segment."

The glut will also mean a back-up at the neighborhood six-plex. "There isn't a weekend without at least one new film opening," said Jeff Blake, Columbia Pictures president of domestic distribution. "It's going to mean a squeeze in finding enough theaters and then doing enough business to hold them before the next batch comes along and bumps them off the screen."

For example, he said, the tradition of avoiding opening new movies on Super Bowl weekend--a weekend when much of the audience is otherwise distracted--bites the dust this year. "No one ever used to open a movie that weekend. This year, for God's sake, two will open" (Orion's "Car 54, Where Are You?" and the Samuel Goldwyn Co.'s "Golden Gate" both open Jan. 28).

Probably the biggest collision course of the year was going to happen over Memorial Day weekend, when three high-profile titles were caught in a crush: "City Slickers 2" (from Columbia), "Beverly Hills Cop III" (Paramount) and the live-action "The Flintstones" (Universal). They had been scheduled to open in the wake of "Maverick" (Warner Bros.), with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner, which will open the week before.

To the relief of the other studios, Columbia recently moved the Billy Crystal comedy "City Slickers 2" to June 10. Of course, that now means Crystal bumps into another big competitor, Danny DeVito, in Disney's "Renaissance Man."

But then, that's the kind of year it's going to be. It seems that anywhere a film is moved, it's likely to crash into another.

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