They promised. All winter, studio execs whined about what a long, hard summer it would be. They said that there’d be too many movies flooding the box office, that audiences would have too many choices, and that multiplexes would turn into buyers’ markets. And we believed them, rushing to theaters at the first sign of spring, only to find that a month into the summer, our choices have been limited to Twister or Mission: Impossible (unless you consider Spy Hard, Flipper, or Eddie to be choices). Just compare the lineup with that of last summer, when, by this time, Casper, Crimson Tide, Die Hard With a Vengeance, The Bridges of Madison County, and Braveheart were already playing, and the glut looks more like a rut.
This summer, the film industry seems to be scared of its own shadow: Instead of a bunch of movies opening each week, one big film is being parceled out every two weeks. The pace — first Twister, then Mission, now The Rock, and on June 21, Eraser — is an ominous sign that this summer may not be in the consumer’s best interest after all. Besides which, big movies are hogging the cineplexes. Twister — already the 34th top-grossing film ever — is on 2,808 screens, and Mission is on 3,012, leaving no room for competition; even some six-screen theaters are offering only one or two movies.
But while Paramount and Warner Bros. have reveled in having most filmgoers to themselves, other studios may be less fortunate. ”[Fox’s] Independence Day probably won’t open at the same level as Twister and Mission: Impossible because they won’t get 3,000 screens,” says Larry Gleason, MGM/UA’s president of worldwide theatrical distribution. ”They’re going against six other films. Instead of grossing $35 million in three days, they might have to settle for $30 million.”
Even so, no one doubts Independence Day will be a smash, but it will have to compete with Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor, Jim Carrey’s The Cable Guy, and Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Which will survive? Gleason is betting on films that have an audience to themselves, like his studio’s Moll Flanders, ”because it’s a women’s picture, and there are so many action movies out, you have a clear window.” Others say that kind of explosion- and hype-free movie will be clobbered. ”Midsize movies, good night,” says one executive. ”Movies that hoped to make $50 million will be lucky to get $20 million. Moll Flanders? Killed.” The Dumb and Dumber team’s new release, Kingpin? ”Killed.” Paramount’s The Phantom? ”Killed.” In other words, unless a movie’s huge, it could be caught between The Rock and a hard place.