'100 YEARS...100 MOVIES'

Here’s a hard question that the video industry hopes to convert into hard cash: What’s your favorite movie?

In coming days you’ll hear a lot about the American Film Institute’s ”100 Years…100 Movies,” a ”definitive selection of the 100 greatest American movies.” More than 1,500 notables, including actors, directors, critics, Al and Tipper Gore, and Bill and Hill Clinton, were invited to vote. A three-hour CBS special hosted by Jodie Foster, Richard Gere, and Sally Field kicks it off on June 16, and such enticements as 10 one-hour TNT programs, consumer sweepstakes, and Blockbuster’s ”Legends” — this last being a movie museum in an 18-wheeler — follow.

The AFI’s director and CEO, Jean Picker Firstenberg, envisions ”a program to recognize the affection that people have for the American movie.” The studios are praying for a monetary expression of that affection. They’ll have most of the 100 anointed titles in stores by June 17, ”treating them like new releases,” as Warner Home Video marketing director Mike Saksa says, and hoping they’ll outperform fresher product. Industry sources estimate that rentals are up only slightly over last year’s dismal performance and that sales are just below 1997’s healthy pace. Could Citizen Kane save the day? Though she declines to talk numbers, market analyst Barbara McNamara of Alexander & Associates thinks so. She predicts the campaign ”will definitely help pull the industry out of its slump.”

Warner Bros. stands to gain the most. ”We have the larger share — about half — of the top 100 titles,” says Saksa, who isn’t naming names. Among the half-dozen studios contacted, only an exec at Artisan had loose lips, letting slip that of its mere two finalists, Oliver Stone’s Platoon made the list and On Golden Pond didn’t. Score one for Charlie Sheen.