The movie to beat this summer appears to be Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” which Warner Bros. plans to open on June 14. You can tell the movie has heat by the way the other major studios are avoiding opening their own movies the same day.
“The idea is to get a strong position,” said a spokesman for Castle Rock Entertainment, whose “City Slickers,” starring Billy Crystal, was first scheduled to open on June 21, then changed to June 14. Then, once the June 14 date for “Robin Hood” became “firm,” Castle Rock shifted “Slickers” to June 12.
The reason for the earlier scheduling? “We were buoyed by the reaction from test audiences, the movie’s ready, and this way we get a nice jump on ‘Naked Gun 2 1/2,’ which also is a comedy,” the spokesman said.
“Naked Gun 2 1/2,” the sequel to Paramount’s successful 1988 comedy, will open on June 28, but it was pushed back from an opening date of May 22 that had been originally announced. That date would have put it in direct competition with Universal Pictures’ highly anticipated “Backdraft,” opening May 24. And so the jockeying goes. . . .
With an estimated 55 films scheduled to be released by the major studios in the highly competitive mid-May to early September summer season, the positioning of opening dates becomes a critical marketing decision. This summer will be even tighter than last year, when the major companies opened 37 movies during the same period.
“No one wants to break five big pictures on the same date. They’ll get killed,” said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc., a company that supplies box-office data to theater operators.
“A case in point was the recent opening of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II'--no one wants to go up against it. As a result, it was the only movie to open nationally that weekend,” Krier noted. Last year, the original “Turtles” movie was a surprise winner, scoring $133 million to date at the box-office.
Some studios, like Fox, MGM and Orion, are playing their release dates close to the vest and haven’t designated any film to open after mid-May. All the jostling is leaving theater owners in a cloud as to how to book their screens this summer, Krier said.
Fox Executive Vice President Tom Sherak said, “Every year you go through a period of jockeying around . . . you have to consider what’s going on with the opposition. They’re jockeying like we’re jockeying.
“You don’t want to open two adult pictures the same day. You don’t want two teen pictures the same day,” Sherak added.
One of the drawbacks with setting dates earlier, Sherak said, is the rumor factor. “Last summer, we changed the opening date of ‘Die Hard 2' four different weeks. Suddenly you start reading, ‘Oh, oh. There’s something wrong.’ ”
Sherak said this year, Fox will start its summer on May 17, with the opening of John Hughes’ next production, “Only the Lonely,” with John Candy and Ally Sheedy. Orion said its summer begins as early as May 10 with its special-effects sequel, “F/X 2.”
In previous years, the traditional summer opening weekend has been the three-day Memorial Day holiday--favored by the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to open their “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” blockbusters.
This year, it appears the weekend has been abdicated by most of the major studios in favor of Ron Howard’s action film about firefighters, “Backdraft,” from Universal, starring Kurt Russell, William Baldwin and Robert De Niro.
Tri-Star’s “Hudson Hawk,” with Bruce Willis, James Coburn, Andie MacDowell and Danny Aiello, which at one time also had been penciled in for Memorial Day weekend, will open in early summer, according to the studio.
Another film originally announced for a late May opening was Tri-Star’s “The Fisher King,” starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. However, the reaction to the film’s trailer was so favorable at the ShoWest convention of theater owners in February, that the studio is pushing back the film for a fall release--traditionally the launching time for the year’s more serious work. A source at the studio said, “It has the smell of Oscars.”
Instead of front-loading the summer with the high-profile films, tentative release schedules from the major studios show a pattern of openings spread out over the three-month period--at least that’s how it stands for the moment. With so many films yet to be scheduled from the studios, not to mention the independent entries, Krier said the situation could change dramatically.
Fox’ surfer-set thriller “Point Break” with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, was set to open this month but now is slated for July, and Columbia’s “Return to the Blue Lagoon” will open Aug. 2 instead of July 19.
Disney’s Buena Vista distribution arm will release the high-flying action picture “The Rocketeer” on June 21--a day that has few films opening as of now, and its “Billy Bathgate” starring Dustin Hoffman will go up against “Naked Gun 2 1/2" on June 28.
As of now, it looks like the coast is clear for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” distributed by Tri-Star, to open on July 3--almost all alone--the day before the long July 4 holiday weekend begins.