Sizing Up Summer's Stock
A few clunkers couldn't stop Hollywood from hitting its dog days stride
Kevin Costner, take comfort: Waterworld, while still the most expensive movie ever made, will not be the biggest bomb of the summer. That honor goes to First Knight, which will lose even more money for Sony Pictures than its 1993 disaster Last Action Hero. The reason is simple: International grosses are more important than ever. While Waterworld may gross $150 million abroad, First Knight is a dud in any language.
It’s also the exception in a summer that was unusually sunny for a great number of films. Although this season lacked $300 million-plus blockbusters on the order of last year’s The Lion King and Forrest Gump, so many films did at least some business that the summer’s box-office total should still wind up neck-and-neck with 1994’s $2.2 billion. Some of the season’s winners, losers, and trends:
PRICEY LOSERS Though not the disaster that many predicted, Waterworld — a movie that might have made money had its budget been kept under control — did not win the war of public relations, and it won’t end up enjoying the bragging rights of a $100 million hit. Wondrous special effects couldn’t save The Indian in the Cupboard‘s dull story, and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory proved that the $83.5 million success of the first Siege was an aberration — the box-office ceiling for Steven Seagal movies remains under $50 million, and so should their budgets. The $80 million comic-book adaptation Judge Dredd, hurt by misfocused marketing and an R rating, was Sylvester Stallone’s first major bomb since the early ’90’s comedies that nearly undid his career.
WINNING WOMEN In a season that saw such macho stalwarts as Stallone, Costner, and Seagal run aground, a number of actresses demonstrated more box-office clout than anyone predicted. Sandra Bullock consolidated her stardom by carrying The Net to a strong opening. Michelle Pfeiffer — abetted considerably by a hit soundtrack — powered Dangerous Minds to hit status and proved that her turn as Catwoman established her as one tough chick with young male moviegoers and the urban black audience. The success of Julia Roberts’ Something to Talk About surprised industry-watchers who felt that the film was too low-key to survive summer competition. And Meryl Streep had her biggest hit since Out of Africa with the grown-up romance The Bridges of Madison County.
MIGHTY MEN It’s no longer a novelty to talk about a Tom Hanks hit, but no one expected Apollo 13, a real-life ensemble story with a known ending, to do the business it did. Apollo ”will continue to play past the summer,” says MCA vice chairman Tom Pollock. ”With Oscar nominations, it will pass Batman Forever.” But the men of Batman have nothing to regret — Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, and Chris O’Donnell all moved several notches higher on the list of bankable leading men. Bruce Willis’ third Die Hard extravaganza couldn’t surpass the second film’s domestic gross, but the $200 million it made overseas turned it into the season’s top worldwide hit. And Hugh Grant starred in three summer movies: a winner (Nine Months), a recouper (The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain) and a loser (An Awfully Big Adventure). Guess which one was an all-stops-out, silly Chris Columbus comedy?