The movie business has always been a rat race. Which studios are making strides, and which are just limping along this year?

By Benjamin SvetkeyRebecca Ascher-WalshChris Nashawaty and Steve Daly
July 10, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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We are standing on the precipice of Armageddon—and we aren’t just referring to the most recent Killer Rock From Outer Space flick. Halfway through the 1998 summer movie season, studio execs are biting their nails, nervously studying the latest box office reports to see who’ll live and who’ll…well, let’s just say certain suits may want to start dusting off their résumés. A perfect time, we figure, to make their lives even more miserable by offering our own take on how each of the studios is faring so far. And not just our take: We’ve consulted with several so-prominent-we-can’t-reveal-their-names Hollywood insiders—an agent, a former studio head, a director, a screenwriter, a publicist, and a producer—for their opinions. The bottom line: The sky isn’t falling yet, but some studios should probably run for cover.

DREAMWORKS SKG

1997 MARKET SHARE 1.4% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 2.7%

THE STORY SO FAR They built what looked to be the ideal Oscar-trawling ship and broke out the champagne bottles. Then Amistad, Steven Spielberg’s debut picture for the investor-funded studio he launched with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg back in October 1994, hit iceberg-studded seas, earning only $44 million. Other flicks, like Paulie and The Peacemaker, also disappointed domestically, although Mouse Hunt managed to nibble up some nice numbers ($60 million in North America). But hold on—it looks like turnaround time. With a $136 million U.S. take, Deep Impact is the year’s biggest grosser so far (though SKG, as a cofinancer with domestic distributor Paramount, has to split the profits). Early word on Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (also a Paramount coproduction) is rhapsodic. And SKG pulled off an amazing tactical coup June 24 with the news that its computer-animated talking-insects feature Antz will beat Disney-Pixar’s A Bug’s Life into theaters this fall. Take that, Michael Eisner.

STRENGTHS In a word, Spielberg, whose towering reputation is a talent magnet. Meantime, Katzenberg’s politicking skills (and promises of profit sharing) helped him snag some of Disney’s finest talent for SKG’s in-house animation division.

WEAKNESSES With so few movies (six or eight a year) and so many cofinancing deals, DreamWorks hits have to be huge to make investors happy, and so far they haven’t been. And by all accounts, folks who sign on expecting to power-lunch with Spielberg more often wind up with his bad-cop micromanaging lieutenants, the husband-and-wife team of Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald.

CORPORATE CULTURE With SKG’s plan for a utopian campus-style lot in L.A.’s Playa Vista district still far off, the offices for everything but the 650-member animation unit (now housed in its own new facility in Glendale) remain tucked into a corner of the Universal lot, Spielberg’s old Amblin turf. Don’t let the mellow-looking bungalows fool you: This is one high-powered, super-demanding snake pit.

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