MOVIES : OFF-CENTERPIECE : Visions of Sugarplums File: Christmas Stockingbusters

Now that the Tyson-Holyfield fight's been postponed, if you want to see people duke it out on a grand scale just go to your local movie theater this Christmas.

Entertainment industry executives are saying they can't remember so many big-budget, big-star, big-director, big- everything movies being released so close together. It's a Big Event holiday season.

Huge is the only word to describe "Hook," and other Big Events including "The Addams Family," "Bugsy," "The Prince of Tides," "For the Boys," "JFK," "Star Trek VI" and the animated feature "Beauty and the Beast." And they're being released with full-frills premieres on both coasts.

"If you added together all the budgets of these movies, you'd have almost enough money to wipe out the federal deficit," said one veteran Hollywood producer.

You'd think after the wreckage of "Bonfire of the Vanities," or "Hudson Hawk" that the studios might be scared to bank so much on just one monster movie--or two for the season. In fact, just the opposite is happening.

"It's clear to me that audiences need events every so often, and you've got to give it to them," explains TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy, who is releasing "Hook" and "Bugsy" this Christmas.

This holiday season recalls an earlier period when, once upon a time, the studios used to rely on one or two must-see "tent pole" movies every year to prop up their film rosters. Back then, studios would stagger them throughout the year. But summer '91 was disappointing, to say the least.

And this year's traditional fall season was almost nonexistent, since many many studios--like Columbia with "Prince of Tides"--decided to wait until Christmas to unleash their bombshells, creating this unusual bottleneck. As a result, executives are predicting "major wreckage" at the box office following Christmas, since only three or four films are expected to earn more than $100 million, thanks to the recession.

Already, handicappers are laying odds on what's going to be big this Christmas. Next to "Hook," which is being regarded as a foregone conclusion, many people are willing to bet on the "Addams Family," which Barry London--president of the Paramount motion picture group--snapped up from Orion in what was tantamount to a fire sale.

John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, reports that during screenings for theater owners, "the kids seemed to love it." And market research shows an unusually high awareness level across the board for ages 12 to 35, especially teens and boomers, the same kind of wanna-see that helped make "T2" and "Robin Hood" hits, thanks to teaser trailers that were in theaters May 31.

Also expected to do well is the last of the "Star Trek" series with the original Enterprise crew. The Buzz is that Nicholas Meyer's writing and directing is first-rate and Krier says theater owners "can't wait."

Paramount chairman Brandon Tartikoff says he is a proponent of Big Event movies for the '90s--"though in today's market, you can't be too greedy," he sighs from his car phone. "It takes an awful lot to get people out of their armchairs. It takes an event movie to get everyone to go to the theater these days, not some glorified version of a USA Network cable movie."

In his view, a Big Event movie has to embrace all demographics. But he isn't looking upon these big-budget pics as "savior movies," even though he's hoping that "Addams Family" will help "erase a bunch of mistakes" at Paramount this year.

Like summer, Christmas is an important time for studios to release pictures since it historically garners high movie attendance. And it's also from these movies that Oscar contenders are picked. "So we want our biggest guns available," Tartikoff said. "But the pressure this year is even more enormous if the market doesn't rebound at Christmastime."

One thing in short supply this Christmas are two genres: action-adventure and comedy.

Touchstone is banking on Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride," a normal movie in both budget and scope. Touchstone President David Hoberman isn't worried that his film will get lost at the box office. "The fact that this Christmas there are very few comedies makes 'Father of the Bride' an event in itself," he says buoyantly.

Also benefiting from this lopsidedness is "The Last Boy Scout," the Joel Silver-Bruce Willis slam- and bang-fest that stands alone this Christmas.

So important was having a Big Event movie at 20th Century Fox that director Mark Rydell says he got everything he wanted on "For the Boys." And how often does a director say that?

"I literally never once heard the word no through the entire production process," he gushes. "The executives at Fox supported my vision 100%. It amazed me."

Rydell believes the success of the video market is responsible for creating the necessity for Monster Movies. "The availability of 49-cent videos made people so selective, it needs to be a real event to get them into theaters."

Rydell also notes that the studios seem to want to go back to the kind of movies whose experience can't be duplicated on television--like the spectacle of "Hook," or the big-screen musical numbers of "For the Boys."

Also, many of the Monster Movies are clocking in at over two hours ("For the Boys" runs 2 hours, 20 minutes) and, despite some initial executive grumbling, the feeling is that audiences want more for their money, like they got with the three-hour-long "Dances With Wolves."

The prospect of having two Big Movies do big business--"Hook" and "Bugsy"--is making Medavoy positively giddy. "If those two pictures work, and remember we also had 'T2' and 'Fisher King,' this could turn out to be a Big Event year for us."

But word from the theater owners is that they're cool to "Bugsy," mobster movies and Warren Beatty. "That's because nobody's seen it," defends Medavoy. "I've seen it and, mark my words, Warren Beatty will be nominated for an Academy Award for 'Bugsy.' "

Other movies whose quality is indisputable but whose mass-market appeal may be questionable, according to theater owners, include "Cape Fear," "JFK" and "Prince of Tides," though all are expected to bring broad support come Oscar nomination time.

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