MOVIES : OFF-CENTERPIECE : Then There Are Always Those Poor Movies the Grinch Stole

The crowded Christmas releases schedule is only one reason that about 40 of the movies listed in Calendar's annual January preview of the year's movies won't make it to the screen this year.

The glut of holiday films has made TriStar Pictures rethink the release of the serious drama "City of Joy," from "The Killing Fields" director Roland Joffe. And the competition the studio's thinking about is from within --it already has two other major holiday releases, Steven Spielberg's "Hook" and Barry Levinson's "Bugsy," starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. One insider says the movie is being pushed back until February or March to give Joffe more time for post-production work.

You won't see "Radio Flyer," a family drama from director Richard Donner, starring Adam Baldwin, Lorraine Bracco, John Heard and Rhea Perlman. It was announced as a fall release. Now it has a January opening.

Then there's the World War II spy thriller "Shining Through," with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas, which was scheduled for autumn but now may open at the end of January.

A whole slate of movies from financially strapped Orion Pictures have been pushed back to 1992. These include "Car 54, Where Are You," "Married to It," "Love Field," "RoboCop 3" and the Woody Allen movie "Shadows and Fog."

Previews of the Emilio Estevez futuristic action movie "Freejack" wowed theater owners at the Showest convention last February. But the autumn opening was pushed back to January.

"Mom and Dad Save the World," a sci-fi comedy with Teri Garr, Jon Lovitz and Jeffrey Jones, was first penciled in for a mid-summer opening, then fall and now sometime next year.

"Many times the studio chiefs say, 'Let's get it right, not get it wrong," says analyst Jeffrey Logsdon of Los Angeles' Seidler Amdec Securities.

"Sometimes it's because summer is too crowded. Or Christmas is crowded. Maybe there are competitive factors that influence the studio executives . . .like one too many movies that are too similar in the same month."

In some cases, such delays can add major costs to a film in the form of interest payments on production loans, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Logsdon says. But, he pointed out, if it means another $2 million in interest in order to make improvements on a $30-million movie, sometimes it's worth it.

Sometimes the force is in the opposite direction. Oliver Stone's "JFK" was pegged for 1992 release, but the movie, starring Kevin Costner, is now due just before Christmas. The explanation from insiders is that distributor Warner Bros. wanted a potential Oscar contender, and if Stone could deliver the edited movie in time, "JFK" would open in a very limited run before the year ends.

Some films, of course, may as well have their opening dates cast in the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre--so confident are the studios about the rightness of timing.

"For the Boys," starring Bette Midler and James Caan, has been 20th Century Fox's big Christmas "event" film for a year, says Executive Vice President Tom Sherak.

TriStar has for months planned on Spielberg's "Hook" (opening Dec. 11) as its big holiday entry. Likewise, Disney has never veered from the long-announced Nov. 15 opening of its new animated musical, "Beauty and the Beast."

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