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Gauging the Heat of Competition as Post-'Menace' Season Begins

June 11, 1999|CLAUDIA ELLER

When the final summer count is tallied, it's a good bet there will be a plenty of films grossing well more than $100 million. Two, "Phantom Menace" and "The Mummy," have already achieved that. Others expected to attain that level are "Notting Hill," starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant (which has grossed more than $50 million in its first two weeks); "Austin Powers II"; "Tarzan"; "Big Daddy"; Universal's teen comedy "American Pie,"; "Wild Wild West"; and Paramount's "Runaway Bride," pairing Roberts and Richard Gere.

There are also some wild cards, including "Eyes Wide Shut," with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman; Disney's family picture "Inspector Gadget"; and DreamWorks' horror film "The Haunting," directed by Jan De Bont.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office results, expects this summer to beat last year's record take of nearly $2.6 billion.

According to Dergarabedian, this summer the major studios will release 47 films (exactly the same as last summer), the independents will release 76, and Disney-owned Miramax Films will release 12.

Dergarabedian, like many industry executives, believes the popularity of the to "Star Wars" prequel "created momentum at the beginning of the summer which has set the tone for moviegoing."

Blake said that "Phantom Menace," released May 19 by 20th Century Fox, will contribute "added value" to the summer box office overall.

"It really turned out well for everybody," Blake said. "The film is taking out a lot of money on its own and has clearly set a path for itself. And there was a lot of fear that 'Star Wars' was going to be so dominant, it would flatten movies for the entire summer--but that doesn't look like it's going to be the case."

Despite the onslaught of competition from new releases during the next several weeks, "Phantom Menace"--which amassed $255.7 million in a record 19 days--is expected to add $100 million to $150 million more to its domestic gross, bringing its total to between $350 million and $400 million.

"As the summer truly begins, let the force be with us all," said an enthusiastic Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Century Fox Domestic Film Group.


The Biggest Summer?

George Lucas' "Star Wars" sequel has set the tone for what is expected to be a record summer. Hollywoods' major studios have been saving their big guns, planning to release them over the next eight to 10 weeks. This weekend's "Austin Powers II" release begins the fierce competition. A look at the box-office tally for the Memorial Day to Labor Day period, in billions of dollars:

Summer of 1998: $2.58 billion

Source: Exhibitor Relations Co.

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