MGM/UA: The 1998 Studio Scorecard
The movie business has always been a rat race. Which studios are making strides, and which are just limping along this year?
1997 MARKET SHARE 2.5% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 4.6%
THE STORY SO FAR The old lion doesn’t roar much anymore—at times it can barely meow—but it is slowly clawing its way off the endangered-species list. Last Christmas’ Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies, was the most profitable in the franchise’s history, earning $340 million worldwide (although, with a budget of more than $70 million, it was also the costliest 007 film ever). MGM/UA got a boost from The Man in the Iron Mask as well, auspiciously released at the height of Leomania (it’s earned $152 million worldwide). But the studio has also spit out furballs like Species II and last year’s disappointing Richard Gere vehicle Red Corner. And MGM/UA’s slow script development can hurt: The studio reportedly paid $3 million for a script called Fool on the Hill as a Jim Carrey vehicle, then lost its chance at both Carrey and a Christmas 1998 release when the rewrites didn’t work.
STRENGTHS Lindsay Doran, who took over UA after John Calley split for Sony in late ’96, gets high marks for keeping the double-0 franchise vital. And although the studio lost most of its MGM library back when Ted Turner was in charge (which is why New Line, not MGM, rereleased Gone With the Wind), it recently acquired Orion Pictures and Goldwyn Entertainment, adding 2,000 film titles and 3,200 TV episodes to its library.
WEAKNESSES Without Bond, the studio would be awfully shaky. And SMERSH isn’t the only one gunning for the superspy: Calley has been trying to start up a competing 007 franchise at Sony (MGM/UA’s fighting him in court). Another problem: The cash-starved studio can’t compete for big-ticket scripts and top-dollar actors. Instead, its development slate is stocked with iffy remakes (including updates of The Thomas Crown Affair, Juggernaut, and Rollerball).
CORPORATE CULTURE Light on Armani, heavy on Labels for Less. But at least “there are no screamers here,” offers one insider.
THE BIG PICTURE Current owner Kirk Kerkorian has bought and sold the studio so often maybe he should consider leasing. Still, the Las Vegas wheeler-dealer has made efforts to solve the cash-flow crisis: He took the company public last November, raising $180 million, although he did have to buy $100 million worth of shares himself to boost the stock price.
INDUSTRY TAKE Talk about kicking ’em when they’re down. “They’re not really a studio,” says the former studio head. “They make a Bond movie every two years, but that’s it. They’re not in the game.” Says the producer: “There’s a reluctance of the creative community to commit there. It’s not a first resort.” The agent: “MGM has a vault full of awful scripts. They’re definitely having problems.”
WHAT’S NEXT The studio has high hopes for its make-or-break slate of 23 films in 18 months. Best bets: the cleverly cast big-screen The Mod Squad (with Claire Danes as Julie) and Walter Hill’s sci-fi thriller Supernova. Other projects—including Carrie II, already on its second director—are shakier.
Gone With the Wind