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 10.9% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 10.7%

THE STORY SO FAR Coming off a ’97 slate that went from bad (Fathers’ Day, Batman & Robin) to worse (The Postman), the studio’s ’98 results have been haphazard, with the high-priced Sphere sinking, while the modestly budgeted City of Angels soared to $75 million. Lethal Weapon 4 only underscores the studio’s willingness to gamble big bucks on formulaic plots and aging stars, although chairs Bob Daly and Terry Semel have recently changed their tune, announcing their intention to focus on mid-priced projects. Focusing may be easier now that infighting between coproduction chiefs Bill Gerber and Lorenzo di Bonaventura has been resolved, with Di Bonaventura in charge and Gerber escorted into a production deal.

STRENGTHS Reputation. Despite its recent performance, Warner Bros. has the clout—and financial backing—to do as it pleases; even after a bad year, its biggest risk is a red face, not Chapter 11. Directors, producers, and top talent like Tom Cruise continue to feel comfortable making movies here.

WEAKNESSES Despite a shifting market, Warner has clung to old moneymakers (and money spenders) like producers Joel Silver and Jon Peters and actors Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner; in doing so, the studio has made a costly mistake in overlooking the burgeoning youth market. Warner Bros. also lost an edge when New Regency, which had supplied the studio with ’97 bright spot L.A. Confidential, hopped to Fox. And after a year of disappointing films, dumping marketing head Chris Pula seemed like killing the messenger.

CORPORATE CULTURE Housed on L.A.’s most beautiful lot, Warner keeps up the plushness with an ’80s-holdover mentality that extends past its luxe offices. The studio’s ability to keep A-list talent happy with perks ranging from shuttle service on the company jets to access to prime vacation getaways is rivaled only by Sony.

THE BIG PICTURE Time Warner includes huge cable holdings, a studio that does know how to court youth (New Line), HBO, music labels, Time Inc. (of which EW is a part), and DC Comics, which provides the movie and TV divisions with franchise superheroes. While Warner Music has slipped in the last few years, the booming TV division has made the movie-side wobbliness easier to bear.

INDUSTRY TAKE “It’s not just that they’re having a bad year, it’s that they fell from such heights,” believes the screenwriter. “They aren’t making good choices,” says the former studio head, while the producer thinks the problem is “too much reliance [by] Terry and Bob on these guys from the ’80s to pull them through…hopefully Di Bonaventura can bring some youth to the dinosaur culture.” The director agrees that “Warner has gone to the well that has sustained them too often.”

WHAT’S NEXT Speaking of the ’80s, the very expensive Lethal Weapon 4 is the next possible land mine on the horizon; its summer sister, The Avengers, is another costly gamble. Later in the year, Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and Practical Magic, with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, should court the important female audience, largely ignored by the studio until now.

Lethal Weapon 4
  • Movie