They do some things better in Hollywood than anywhere else in the world. Valet parking, for instance. And tacky awards shows. Sucking up, nose jobs, not returning phone calls, lounging around swimming pools — this town excels at them all.
And, oh yeah, they used to be pretty good at making movies. In fact, until recently, mainstream filmmaking was the one thing Hollywood did best, its humming dream factories producing dozens of quality, easy-to-love films a year. Not anymore. Not by the dozens, at any rate. An occasional surprise may sometimes plop off the assembly line, like Warner Bros.’ L.A. Confidential — the sort of film that almost restores our faith in the studios. But far more frequently it spits out clanking monstrosities like Warner’s Wild Wild West — a film that makes us want to pass out pink slips to the entire town and do the job ourselves.
Actually, as it happens, there is an opening at Warner right now — studio coheads Bob Daly and Terry Semel resigned on July 14 (see story on page 16) — so perhaps this is a good time for us to apply for the position. And not just at that studio, but at Paramount (where we never would have promoted The General’s Daughter), MGM/UA (we never would have paroled The Mod Squad), Sony (that giant lizard in Godzilla would have been luggage), and at all the other studios, none of which have been performing up to our exacting expectations.
What would we do if we ran Hollywood? First, the staff of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY would type up a bunch of snappy memos (like the ones printed in these pages) to show the suits who’s in charge. Then we’d take a fat red pencil and start slashing budgets. Because as far as we can tell, the dumbest mistake our predecessors ever made was thinking bigger bucks make better movies.
To us, all these $200 million event films are just plain nutty. It’s not simply that they risk losing huge sums of money (most of them, in fact, end up recouping a big chunk of the investment; even Godzilla earned $379 million worldwide). It’s that they almost never make any money. These mega-flicks are so expensive to market and distribute — and have so many back-end deals plugged into the box office — they usually have to gross at least two and a half times their budgets before the studios see a penny of profit. And pretty much the only films that can do that feature either a sinking ocean liner or a finicky robot named C-3PO.
Which means studios have had to scramble to find other ways of milking money from their films — like action figures, fast-food tie-ins, and theme park rides. And that’s changing the dynamics of the business, turning movies into what accountants call ”loss leaders”: products that aren’t supposed to make money on their own but generate enough ancillary profits to cover their losses and then some. While that may make a certain amount of business sense, it seldom makes for watchable movies. After all, any film that’s earning more from its deal with Kentucky Fried Chicken than it is at the box office is a film not worth seeing.