SONY: 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 20.4% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 14.5%
THE STORY SO FAR What can you do for an encore after becoming the biggest turnaround story of the ’90s? How about treading water without trying to look spooked? After the studio’s zero-to-hero finish last year (thanks to megahits Men in Black, Air Force One, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and As Good as It Gets), Sony learned the hard way that hype doesn’t matter. In other words, Godzilla hurt—both in terms of a potential franchise that’s slipped through Sony’s fingers, and in the ill will it may have engendered from theater owners by originally demanding 80 percent of opening-weekend ticket revenues. Eighteen months into the gig, seemingly invincible studio chief John Calley is still in Tinseltown’s catbird seat, but with a sketchy (i.e., Will Smith- and Harrison Ford-free) slate lined up for the rest of ’98, the ride may get bumpy.
STRENGTHS Calley deserves props for overseeing one of the least tumultuous executive purges in recent memory. With a well-respected team that includes ex-Warner Bros. production guru Lucy Fisher as well as Amy Pascal and Chris Lee, Sony looks to have one of the most stable—and talented—executive rosters in Hollywood. In fact, the new team has already inked glitzy talent deals with John Woo and Sydney Pollack.
WEAKNESSES Despite the kudos, the town continues to whisper that last year’s box office bonanza was more a lucky inheritance from the previous regime than the product of the current one’s brilliance. And, for the top-dog studio, Sony sorely lacks a franchise of any heft (Zorro hasn’t been a name brand since the 67-year-old Calley was a tot).
CORPORATE CULTURE Once the source of citywide schadenfreude, Sony has gone from the den of personal and professional excess chronicled in Kim Masters and Nancy Griffin’s book Hit & Run to a popular, whistle-while-you-work outfit.
THE BIG PICTURE The movie biz accounts for only 10 percent of the Japanese parent company’s total revenue — and those deep pockets can keep the studio flush during lean times. But if the film division is a small wheel, its squeak, as the recent past has proven, can be disproportionately loud. No wonder the buzz on the lot—following Fox’s announcement that it is selling part of its studio to the public—is that Sony might do the same with its movie arm, perhaps in tandem with its music business.
INDUSTRY TAKE “Their strong suit is taste and money, and I don’t see a weakness,” says the producer. Not that all that money is trickling down. “In the Guber/Peters/Canton era, those guys were profligate,” says the screenwriter. “This group doesn’t seem to be—they’re not the ones hiking up actors’ salaries, hiking up spec screenplay sales, [or] overpaying producers.” Adds the agent: “They’re very good to talent”—in other words, guess who gets free TVs, stereos, and home-entertainment systems?
WHAT’S NEXT Hard to spot the potential blockbusters in a crazy quilt of trend-tapping teen chillers (Urban Legend and the sequel to the $72 million-grossing I Know What You Did Last Summer), high-concept guy fare (Nicolas Cage’s 8mm and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Knock Off), and some class-and-sass movies for the ladies (Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon’s Stepmom and Sharon Stone’s dust-gathering remake of Gloria).