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

By EW Staff
July 10, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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1997 MARKET SHARE 11.8% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 25.8%

THE STORY SO FAR Two words: Ti Tanic. In what turned out to be the shrewdest—or luckiest—Hollywood deal of the decade, Paramount reportedly dropped a mere $65 million for domestic rights to the hugest hit in history. Exactly how much of the film’s global grosses the studio gets to keep—and how much goes to partner Fox—isn’t publicly known, but any way you slice it, $1.7 billion is an awfully big pie. And it’s not just doomed ocean liners that have been floating the studio’s boat. The ecstatically reviewed Truman Show has so far grossed almost $100 million, while Deep Impact has taken in $136 million.

STRENGTHS Paramount’s strategy of cutting risks by coproducing with other studios—it joined forces with DreamWorks for both Impact and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming World War II drama Saving Private Ryan—is paying off. Its lower-priced movies—like Breakdown, Kiss the Girls, and In & Out—have been raking in respectable profits as well.

WEAKNESSES The downside of coproducing is that you have to share the profits. And no matter how you hedge your bets, you can still get stuck with a clunker like Event Horizon. Besides, there’s such a thing as being too risk averse: Before Titanic was released, Paramount was so jittery about the film’s fate that it practically gave away the TV rights to NBC for a reported $30 million, only slightly more than the network paid for Godzilla.

CORPORATE CULTURE Drive through its famous Melrose gates and you can almost hear the suits singing “We’re in the Money.” Bonuses are fat this year. Filmmakers, on the other hand, often complain about stingy budgets and long waits to get a greenlight from bosses Sherry Lansing and Jonathan L. Dolgen.

THE BIG PICTURE Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV and Nickelodeon, a handy source for big-screen crossover material (like an upcoming animated Rugrats movie and Beavis and Butt-head sequel). Paramount’s TV division also helps (Star Trek: Insurrection beams up in December). And the Blockbuster video-store chain, once an albatross that was rumored to be earmarked for selling off, has surged in the rental marketplace in recent months after instituting an innovative revenue-sharing deal with the studios that allows the stores’ new-release shelves to stay heavily stocked. All that’s missing from the mix is one of those upscale indie divisions: Paramount has dragged its feet launching its much anticipated “classics” label.

INDUSTRY TAKE “It’s having the best year imaginable,” says the former studio chief. Says the producer, “They’re not really responsible in any way for Titanic, but they are the recipient of enormous amounts of money and goodwill as a result.” Agrees the director: “Paramount is easily the luckiest studio. It’s eerie.”

WHAT’S NEXT Any Oscar nods for Private Ryan (early buzz is great) will fall to DreamWorks, which has domestic-distribution rights—so Paramount is pinning its Academy hopes on Truman and the upcoming thriller A Simple Plan. Looming problem: Next year’s release schedule is somewhere between light and nonexistent. With no Titanic sequel in sight, expect Lansing to push hard for Mission: Impossible 2 and Indiana Jones 4.

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