When "Blue Sky" opened Friday, it was not particularly a day for its studio, Orion Pictures, to celebrate.
The Tony Richardson-directed drama, which stars Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones, is the last film produced by Orion--a studio that has been limping along since it emerged from bankruptcy on Nov. 5, 1992.
This is the same Orion that was once known for catapulting the careers of some of Hollywood's greatest talents, including Kevin Costner, who was given the chance to direct "Dances With Wolves" when other studios rebuffed him; Jonathan Demme, who got the nod to tackle a risky project called "The Silence of the Lambs," and Woody Allen, who released several of his best films on the imprint.
When Orion originally went into Chapter 11 reorganization in December, 1991, Orion was $450 million in debt ($270 million of which remains), and had 10 completed features in the can. Since late 1992, the studio began to release the films; "Blue Sky" is the last of the pre-bankruptcy films to be released. Any of the incoming cash from these films has been used to blacken Orion's red margins. But that cash flow hasn't been big.
While hopes are somewhat high for the prestige project "Blue Sky," the previous nine Orion films have performed miserably:
* "Love Field," starring Michelle Pfeiffer, was released briefly in December, 1992, and re-released in February 1993; it grossed $519,218 on 128 screens. Pfeiffer was nominated for a best actress Oscar.
* "Married to It," starring Cybill Shepherd and Ron Silver, released in March, 1993, grossed $1.75 million on 622 screens.
* "The Dark Half," a Stephen King-based film starring Timothy Hutton, released in April, 1993, grossed $8.99 million--the largest gross of the films so far--on 500 screens.
* "RoboCop 3," released in November, 1993, grossed $8.94 million on 933 screens.
* "Car 54, Where Are You?" a remake of the TV show, was released in January, 1994, grossing only $1.1 million on 403 screens.
* "China Moon," a thriller starring Madeleine Stowe, released in March, grossed $2.68 million on 216 screens.
* "Clifford," a comedy starring Martin Short and released in April, grossed $6.48 million on 782 screens.
* "The Favor," a sexual comedy that also opened in April, grossed $2.57 million on 1,021 screens.
* "There Goes My Baby," starring Rick Schroder, was released Sept. 2 in Dallas, Atlanta and Oklahoma City; it grossed just $108,573 in the first 12 days of release.
On Friday, Orion also released what is called a pickup film, "Nostradamus," which was produced by Allied Entertainment and Vereingte Film Partners. It stars Tcheky Karyo as the French physician, astrologer and tortured visionary who lived in the mid-1500s and predicted many of the 20th Century's cataclysms, including the two world wars, the rise of Hitler, the assassination of President Kennedy and the onset of a deadly blood disease, now believed to be AIDS.
"Orion is far from being out of business," insists Orion President Len White. "And we're hoping that if all goes as planned, we'll be back in production in a year or so."*