It's turning out to be a summer of split personalities for the movie business. First, there were the pre-"Terminator" days when hopes ran high for a string of hits that would carry through the summer. And now there's the post-"Terminator" period, where the dog days of reality have definitely set in.
With three weeks until the Labor Day conclusion of the lucrative summer movie-going season, it looks as if the movie industry isn't going to set any records for ticket sales. According to the entertainment industry trade newspaper Daily Variety, this summer's $1.25 billion in ticket sales to date is lagging behind last summer's $1.29 billion. The box-office drought, that seemed to have been terminated with the smash July 4th weekend opening of "Terminator 2," appears to have returned.
Even so, the trade paper estimated, by the season's end on Labor Day, the box office will still be enough to make summer 1991 the third biggest season ever.
For the moviegoer, this is a period where there is no must-see film in the marketplace and few new titles to lure audiences the way such earlier summer hits as "Terminator 2," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "City Slickers" and "Naked Gun 2 1/2" are still doing.
Recent weeks have seen disappointing results from a number of movies, some with major name talent: Kathleen Turner's "V.I. Warshawski," "Return to the Blue Lagoon," John Candy's "Delirious," "Mobsters," Harrison Ford's "Regarding Henry," "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," "Point Break" and "Bingo"--all of which have practically fallen off the box-office charts altogether.
And there is anxiety among some in the business that this late-summer period isn't going to produce any fresh hit films that will generate business in the way that the sleeper hit "Ghost" injected new life into the box office a year ago this month.
"There just aren't the titles out there that look like they'll connect with audiences," said one veteran film buyer for a major chain.
"This summer is still riding on the early hit films like 'Terminator 2,' 'Robin Hood' and 'City Slickers,' all of which have produced more than $100 million at the box office," said Daily Variety analyst Art Murphy. He said the top trio have been supported by a secondary tier of hits, including "Boyz N the Hood" with $41 million to date, and "101 Dalmatians" with $47 million to date.
The recent strong opening of two comedies--Michael J. Fox in "Doc Hollywood" and Charlie Sheen in "Hot Shots"--have helped, Murphy said. "But they haven't been enough. The summer's second wave of films didn't perform."
Consequently, Murphy predicted that ticket sales for the summer of 1991, while off the record set in 1989 when "Batman" was in release, and last summer's second-best-ever season, will come in third. Summer of 1989 produced nearly $2 billion in ticket sales, while Murphy estimates this summer's final tally will be $1.8 billion.
"Right now the outlook is less-than-favorable," said John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co., a firm that tracks box-office data. Beyond summer, he said the industry is looking for that "undiscovered" hit that will generate ticket sales after Labor Day. He noted the prospects for autumn were further "complicated" when Columbia Pictures postponed release of the Barbra Streisand-Nick Nolte film "Prince of Tides" to Christmas, a film that had been expected to generate box-office heat for the post-Labor Day period.
"Every summer can't be a record summer," Krier said. "And this season was not helped by its relatively late start (neither Kevin Costner's 'Robin Hood' or Billy Crystal's 'City Slickers,' opened until June).
"And (there was) no big sequel picture coming out on Memorial Day weekend, which has been the industry's tradition for the last ten years," Krier added.
The summer's downturn continued over the weekend just ended, as box-office admissions across the board were once again off from last year's corresponding pace, according to Exhibitor Relations figures.
20th Century Fox's "Hot Shots" with a box-office take of $8.1 million, was down only 25% from the previous week. "Double Impact," the new action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, opened in second place with ticket sales of $7.5 million.
The summer's top gun, "Terminator 2" slowed to third place, for a total to date of $159 million after six weeks of release.
Weekend Box Office
Weekend Gross/ Screens/ Weeks in Movie (Studio) Total (millions) Average Release 1. "Hot Shots" $8 1,968 2 (Fox) $29 $4,070 2. "Double Impact" $7.6 1,735 1 (Columbia) $7.6 $4,366 3. "Terminator 2" $6.7 2,389 6 (TriStar) $159 $2,815 4. "Doc Hollywood" $6.2 1,575 2 (Warner Bros.) $17.8 $3,956 5. "Pure Luck" $5 1,561 1 (Universal) $5 $3,210
SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co.