The 1998 Studio Scorecard: 20TH CENTURY FOX
The movie business has always been a rat race. Which studios are making strides, and which are just limping along this year?
Star Wars Trilogy
1997 MARKET SHARE 10.4% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 6.9%
THE STORY SO FAR Forget cats; it’s Fox that has nine lives. What other studio has jumped off a financial ledge as often and lived to purr about it? Sure, last year Volcano tanked, along with Speed 2 and a passel of duds (Inventing the Abbotts, A Life Less Ordinary) that couldn’t even crack $6 million. And the new animation division’s Anastasia did unspectacular numbers. But Alien Resurrection, a $47 million disappointment in North America, did three times that abroad. The Star Wars rereleases went into box office hyperdrive. And the production ordeal of Titanic ended up a dream come true for cofinancer Fox when the movie grossed a record $1.7 billion worldwide.
STRENGTHS A knack for targeting underexploited markets, whether youth (Romeo & Juliet), African Americans (Waiting to Exhale, Soul Food) or gay moviegoers (The Object of My Affection). Fox also remains friendly with Jim Cameron, a headache of a man who’s come through with lots of pain relief for the studio in the past. And with owner Rupert Murdoch’s deep pockets, plenty of projects get greenlit, which makes producers eager to pitch there. Those pockets will get even deeper in the wake of Murdoch’s June 29 announcement that he’ll spin off the studio and broadcast-TV divisions of News Corp. into the newly created Fox Group; the initial stock offering could raise $3 billion to $4 billion.
WEAKNESSES While Fox has snagged George Lucas’ three Star Wars prequels, it’s not going to get much money from the deal, since Lucasfilm is financing the films. That leaves the studio franchise-impaired: There’s no Speed left, Die Hard has rigor mortis, and Alien 5 holds little conceptual thrill.
CORPORATE CULTURE All that Titanic cash has rejuvenated a once paralyzed, parachute-ready staff. Genial marketer Tom Sherak and plainspoken chief Bill Mechanic have a lot of goodwill in the community, and Fox seems like one of the more laid-back, do-as-you-please places in town.
THE BIG PICTURE News Corp. titan Murdoch is so busy trying to control global cable markets that he stays away from the film division (though he was notably supportive when Titanic‘s budget began ballooning). Meanwhile, Fox’s network has handed the studio a possible new franchise: X-Files features.
INDUSTRY TAKE Says the producer, ”You can get the greenlights, because they’re very cash rich. And because of all of News Corp.’s outlets, they need software, so it’s a place that’s actively making movies.” Adds the screenwriter: ”The guy who looked certain to be the goat [over Titanic], Bill Mechanic, is smiling a lot these days. They’re flush with cash. And from the new Star Wars [they] get market share and excellent relationships with theater owners for providing a hit.”
WHAT’S NEXT Somewhat slim pickin’s till the Force is with us again next Memorial Day. Anticipation is strong for this summer’s gross-out comedy There’s Something About Mary, from the makers of Dumb and Dumber. But come fall, Fox’s slate leans toward mid-budget, script-driven pictures, a type of marketing challenge the rest of the industry is abandoning. At least the enormous all-star cast of Terrence Malick’s ballyhooed WWII epic The Thin Red Line should garner lots of media attention.
Star Wars Trilogy