Times Staff Writer

“Back to the Future,” which opens today across the country, officially launches TV star Michael J. Fox in feature films. But the feature he actually made first comes second.

“Teen Wolf,” a low-budget horror spoof in which Fox plays a timid teen-ager whose genetic clock turns him into both a werewolf and the high school hunk, was made just before “Back to the Future,” but won’t be released until Aug. 9, nearly five weeks later.

The two films actually overlapped in production, but when Eric Stoltz was fired from “Back to the Future” after four weeks of work in the lead role, there was Fox--engine running--ready to take over.


“For a while, we were part of the limousine shuffle between ‘Family Ties,’ ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Teen Wolf,’ ” says Kathryn Galan, creative affairs vice president at Atlantic Releasing Corp., which produced and is distributing “Teen Wolf.” “Michael actually shot two special-effects scenes for us after he started on ‘Back to the Future.’ ”

Atlantic Releasing, a New York-based company that specializes in low-budget films, usually watches its advertising and distribution pennies by opening its films regionally (to avoid expensive national ad costs) and moves its prints from market to market (to save on print costs, which invoice out at about $1,200 each).

Not this time.

Atlantic is going national with the $4-million “Teen Wolf,” planning to open it in more than 1,200 theaters and back it, says marketing vice president Ron Wanless, with a major-league ad budget of more than $4 million.

Wanless says “Teen Wolf” is not being positioned to exploit the anticipated success of “Back to the Future,” or the $6 million to $10 million of advertising money Universal will have spent on it by Aug. 9. But no one at Atlantic is complaining.

“We were delighted when we saw ‘Back to the Future,’ ” he says. “It’s a reasonable assumption that it will do very well and that it will help us.”

“Teen Wolf” is the first Atlantic film put into wide summer release. “Night of the Comet” was released nationally last fall, but fell $3 million short of becoming the company’s most successful release.


The Atlantic champ: “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute,” which grossed $18.8 million.

CHORUS SALE: When the Coca-Cola Co. announced it would buy Embassy Communications three weeks ago, the deal didn’t include “The Emerald Forest,” which opens today across the country, and “A Chorus Line,” which was to be Embassy’s Christmas movie.

Since the films represent combined liabilities of more than $40 million, no one was immediately blaming Coke for excluding them.

As it turns out, neither film was part of the Embassy package, which is costing Coca-Cola $485 million. They belong to Embassy Film Associates, a money-raising partnership formed by Jerry Perenchio and Norman Lear outside the corporate realms of their Embassy Communications and Tandem Productions.

Embassy Pictures is presumably getting the standard 25%-30% distribution fee on “The Emerald Forest” (the studio would not comment), and Coke would eventually benefit from the John Boorman adventure if it becomes a box-office smash.

As for Richard Attenborough’s “A Chorus Line,” it’s for sale.

Executives from other studios have reportedly been kicking its tires and looking under its hood, but so far no one has taken it home. At more than $30 million, it could be the Christmas gift no one can afford.

Another Embassy project outside the Coke takeover is Rob Reiner’s “The Body,” in production in Oregon. Reiner has given Embassy its two biggest critical successes--”This Is Spinal Tap” and “The Sure Thing”--and is doing “The Body” for Embassy Film Associates.

Coke, which bought Embassy for its hot library of TV syndication properties, did assume three completed films and several others that are in development.

The finished films are: “Saving Grace,” a comedy starring Tom Conti that is now on the October release schedule; “The Goodbye People,” a Martin Balsam/Judd Hirsch comedy that opened briefly to negative reviews in the East, and Sam Raimi’s “The XYZ Murders,” a detective spoof that has been sitting on Embassy’s shelf.

Martin Shafer, Embassy production chief, says the status of all Embassy projects is quo until Coke decides what to do with the company’s film division. Among projects in development are comedies connected with Reiner, director Richard Lester and actor Robin Williams.

HELLO, L.A.: In his review of Amos Kollek’s “Goodbye, New York,” The Times’ Kevin Thomas used such words as inept and feeble and said it “is not representative of the often impressive Israeli cinema.” Other critics were less generous.

It’s hard to get an audience out for a film in an art house setting without good reviews, so why is “Goodbye, New York” doing it? The film broke house records at the Embassy in New York, and just had a $12,000 weekend in three Los Angeles theaters.

“It got great reviews in the Jewish press,” says Mel Maron of Castle Hill Productions, the film’s distributor. “The guy who made it (Kollek) has a magical name in the Jewish community.”

Kollek’s father, Teddy Kollek, has been the mayor of Jerusalem for 20 years, and has gathered some fame that Kollek acknowledges he sometimes resents.

“I always felt, psychologically, it disturbed me,” says the 37-year-old film maker and novelist. “But some ways I see that it helps.”

“Goodbye, New York,” which stars Kollek and American actress Julie Hagerty, cost $1 million to make, and Maron says he’s confident it will do well in other major cities being booked later in the year. But he’s hoping other critics will find more to like about it.

“I see how well it’s doing,” he says, “and wonder what it would do if the reviews were good.”