Bigger salaries. Bigger films. Bigger everything. But is it better?

By EW Staff
Updated February 02, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Lest anyone be fooled by 1995’s box office numbers — a record $5.4 billion in ticket sales, and nine movies topping the $100 million mark — keep in mind this verdict from the studios themselves: Hollywood is flirting with disaster. ”It’s a suicidal business,” complains Twentieth Century Fox film president Bill Mechanic. ”There are no low budgets anymore. Star costs are out of control.”

Of course, it’s easy to blame big salaries for escalating budgets: 1995 was the year in which Jim Carrey sealed a $20 million deal — and so did Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford. No doubt others will follow. Price tags like those have boosted the average studio movie budget to $34 million, plus $26 million to market and distribute. But the studios have other reasons to berate themselves. They put too many films out at once (of the movies released over the holiday season, only four were smash profit makers) and they flogged audiences into indifference with the overexposed, overpriced action genre. Sure, 1995 saw its share of kaboom!-driven hits, including Fox’s Die Hard With a Vengeance (which made $354 million worldwide to become the year’s biggest international success), MGM’s series-rejuvenating Goldeneye, and Waterworld, which, with a global take of $254 million, would have been a smash if Universal hadn’t let costs balloon to a ludicrous $175 million.

But look at what’s left in the rubble. Carolco’s $92 million Cutthroat Island helped sink the company and stands as one of the biggest money losers in film history. Action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal went limp in films like Judge Dredd, Assassins, Sudden Death, and Under Siege 2. And forget about trying to spruce up the genre with women: Lori Petty (Tank Girl), Sharon Stone (The Quick and the Dead), Angela Bassett (Strange Days), and Cindy Crawford (Fair Game) all proved they could bomb like the boys.

So what’s making money? It helps to have Tom Hanks seen (or at least heard); Apollo 13, an action film fueled by real-life drama rather than cartoony heroics, and Toy Story, one of the year’s few films in which the heroics were intentionally cartoony, were two of the year’s three biggest hits. Can’t get Hanks? Then keep costs down. The money machines While You Were Sleeping, The Bridges of Madison County, Clueless, and Waiting to Exhale combined cost less than half of what was spent on Waterworld. ”We have to make more Babes that work on a worldwide basis,” says MCA vice chairman Tom Pollock, ”without paying out humongous salaries.”

Meanwhile, MCA will drop $20 million on Carrey to star in the comedy Liar, Liar, and for all the talk about out-of-control costs, there probably isn’t a studio in Hollywood that wouldn’t happily cut Carrey the same check. The problem is that for every marquee name that pays off, there’s a Sabrina, a First Knight, or a Money Train to write off — and the next Cutthroat Island is probably already visible on the horizon. ”Everyone needs to wake up with chills in their bones,” says Mechanic. ”It’s time to get real and fix what’s broken.”


1995 MARKET SHARE: 19%
HITS: Toy Story, Pocahontas
MISSES: Judge Dredd, Nixon
BIG DEALS: Next summer’s cartoon The Hunchback of Notre Dame could be Beauty and the Beast Go to Paris. And Glenn Close vamps (and camps) it up as Cruella DeVil in John Hughes’ live-action 101 Dalmatians.
BIG RISKS: Will Madonna prove herself a film star in the long-gestating Evita? And will James and the Giant Peach‘s weird, Nightmare Before Christmas-style animation please or perplex audiences?
SLEEPER: Ellen DeGeneres’ idiosyncratic humor could translate nicely to the big screen in Mr. Wrong.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 16.3%
HITS: Batman Forever, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
MISSES: Assassins, Fair Game
BIG DEALS: Two action-packed summer releases: Speed director Jan De Bont’s Twister, estimated to cost $70 million and starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and a whole lot of stormy weather; and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to action-adventure in Eraser.
BIG RISK: Kevin Costner will attempt to recapture his regular-guy appeal by taking to the golf links in Tin Cup.
SLEEPER: Sharon Stone takes on another bad-girl role as the cynical mistress in a remake of the French thriller Diabolique.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 12.8%
HITS: Jumanji, Bad Boys
MISSES: Money Train, First Knight
BIG DEALS: $20 million man Jim Carrey should draw massive crowds to the black comedy The Cable Guy; and Demi Moore takes it all off for $12.5 million in Striptease.
BIG RISKS: The release of the oft-postponed Jekyll-and-Hyde horror story Mary Reilly could be scary news for Julia Roberts and John Malkovich. And on the troubled set of The Mirror Has Two Faces, director-star Barbra Streisand has already replaced her cinematographer and Dudley Moore.
SLEEPER: Ricki Lake’s mistaken-identity makeover in the romantic comedy Mrs. Winterbourne could play like While You Were Sleeping II.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 12.5%
HITS: Apollo 13, Casper
MISSES: Village of the Damned, The Cure
BIG DEALS: It’s Die Hard in an underwater tunnel as Sylvester Stallone struggles to reach Daylight. And Eddie Murphy may revitalize his career by playing seven roles in a remake of The Nutty Professor.
BIG RISK: Sean Connery supplies the voice for Dragonheart‘s ILM-created dragon, but can a computer-generated title character command the screen in a live-action film?
SLEEPER: Flipper, a big-screen update of the ’60s series, would love to swim in Free Willy‘s wake.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 10%
HITS: Congo, Clueless
MISSES: Jade, Nick of Time
BIG DEALS: Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible should ignite over Memorial Day weekend, and Patrick Stewart battles the Borg in Thanksgiving’s Star Trek: Resurrections.
BIG RISKS: The Phantom, starring Billy Zane, will either launch a franchise or disappear a la The Shadow. Shirley MacLaine will be competing against memories of Terms of Endearment in its sequel, The Evening Star.
SLEEPER: Writer Winnie Holzman and director Scott Winant, both of thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, hope to strike sparks between Jeanne Tripplehorn and Dylan McDermott in ‘Til There Was You.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 7.6%
HITS: Die Hard With a Vengeance, Waiting to Exhale
MISSES: Strange Days, Bye Bye, Love
DIG DEALS: July 3 brings Stargate director Roland Emmerich’s mega-budget alien movie Independence Day; Keanu Reeves gets buff again in the thriller Dead Drop, directed by The Fugitive‘s Andrew Davis.
BIG RISK: Fox tries to rejuvenate a franchise with Alien 4, scripted by Speed writer Joss Whedon.
SLEEPERS: Two movies about young love: Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play Romeo and Juliet; Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman costar in The Truth About Cats & Dogs, a female Cyrano.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 6.6%
HITS: Seven, Mortal Kombat
MISSES: The Basketball Diaries, Angus
BIG DEALS: Bruce Willis stars in the Yojimbo remake Last Man Standing. As young Hemingway and his nurse, Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock make love in the World War I drama In Love and War.
BIG RISK: Geena Davis and her husband, director Renny Harlin, need to wash Cutthroat Island out of their hair with the new thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight.
SLEEPER: Can Asian action star Jackie Chan conquer America with the English-language Rumble in the Bronx?


1995 MARKET SHARE: 6.2%
HITS: Goldeneye, Get Shorty
MISSES: Fluke, Tank Girl
BIG DEAL: Bill Murray costars with a cute circus elephant named Vera in Large as Life.
BIG RISK: Mike Nichols will try to recapture the success of the 1978 drag comedy La Cage aux Folles in his remake The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
SLEEPER: Small-time hustler Woody Harrelson befriends Amish bowler Randy Quaid in Kingpin.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 3.5%
HITS: The art-house successes Smoke and The Postman (Il Postino)
MISSES: Four Rooms, Picture Bride
BIG DEALS: Frenchman Vincent Perez (Queen Margot) takes over for Brandon Lee in The Crow: City of Angels. And the Jane Austen bandwagon rolls on with Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and The Net‘s Jeremy Northam.
BIG RISK: The expensive, exotic WWII drama The English Patient, with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.
SLEEPER: The comedy The Pallbearer could give Friends’ David Schwimmer life beyond sitcoms.


1995 MARKET SHARE: 1.1%
HIT: The Usual Suspects
MISS: Mallrats BIG DEAL: For the Baywatch crowd, Pamela Anderson Lee plays the buxom title character in Barb Wire; for the Masterpiece Theatre set, Nicole Kidman stars in Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady.
BIG RISK: In the wake of Comedy Central’s cancellation of the television cult favorite comes Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie—will moviegoers actually pay to watch moviegoers watching a bad movie?
SLEEPER: The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) return to their Blood Simple roots with the Dakotas-set crime story Fargo.