Let the blood bath begin.
Nearly 60 major feature films and about a dozen smaller movies, produced and marketed at a cost of $2.7 billion, will do battle this summer. Few will succeed. Many will flop.
The battle for box-office champ looks like a duel between Steven Spielberg's dinosaurs and Arnold Schwarzenegger's humorous heroics.
Both movies are the overwhelming choice among Hollywood and industry veterans as the summer's potential biggest hits. Universal Pictures will release Spielberg's nearly $60-million production of "Jurassic Park," a thriller about modern-day dinosaurs, on June 11.
Columbia Pictures follows one week later with "Last Action Hero," another $60-million-plus production. It's the action star's first movie since his 1991 monster hit "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
" 'Jurassic Park' really stands out from the crowd as the 'want to see picture of the summer,' " said Howard Lichtman, executive vice president of the nationwide Cineplex Odeon Theatres circuit. " 'Last Action Hero' is another epic film."
Those two pictures are also tabbed by AMC Theatres' director of marketing Tony Adamson as the summer films to beat. "Both have the potential for a wide audience because they are not only massive-sized films, but PG-13 rated (parental guidance suggested), making them accessible to a wide audience."
Executives at the major film studios also concede that much of the moviegoing focus during the first part of summer will be on the Spielberg and Schwarzenegger films.
"They're two high-profile movies and the potential is clearly there," said Barry London, president of worldwide distribution for competitor studio Paramount Pictures.
But after those two movies, opinion is divided over what the other heavyweights will be.
There's a strong feeling about "Cliffhanger," a film starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by "Die Hard 2's" Renny Harlin, that has reportedly wowed test audiences with its daring mountain-climbing and rescues. London, of course, thinks his studio's "The Firm," starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman and based on the best-selling novel by John Grisham, will be one of the summer's hottest tickets, and other industry observers agree.
The battle for box-office dollars involves some of the industry's top names, including: Mel Gibson directing himself in "Man Without a Face"; Bette Midler in the comedy "Hocus Pocus"; feature-film newcomers Jason Priestley (of TV's "Beverly Hills, 90210") in "Calendar Girl" and singer Janet Jackson in "Poetic Justice," the first film from director John Singleton since his "Boyz N the Hood." Even a couple of well-known Nintendo video game plumbers--Mario and Luigi-- get to star in their own movie, "Super Mario Bros."
And the competition has Hollywood buzzing:
* Will Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent be as popular as he was as a gunslinger last year?
* Can Sharon Stone, so steamy in "Basic Instinct," deliver in "Sliver"?
* Can Whoopi Goldberg top, or even match, her "Sister Act" with this summer's "Made in America"?
* Will "Sleepless in Seattle," with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, be the summer's adult romance?
* Can a movie about singer Tina Turner--"What's Love Got to Do With It"-- attract audiences willing to sit through the ferocious beatings that she endured from her former husband Ike? The Walt Disney Co. obviously believes they will: The studio has scheduled the movie to open June 11 in some big cities--the same day as "Jurassic Park." (It opens June 9 in Los Angeles.)
* Can the somber "Rising Sun" with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes become a late-summer box-office hit in much the same way that "Unforgiven" did last year?
Paramount's London, like several other high-level executives, is concerned about the logjam of movies. Instead of the typical 45 or so major summer releases, the major film distributors and some of the more active independent distributors have scheduled about 60 this season.
That means the summer box office, which represents 40% of the whole year's business, will be sliced many more ways.
"It's hard to imagine that the market can handle this many pictures," London said. "There are not enough screens and the other question is how far can the marketplace expand? I think some movies will be pushed back to the autumn."
"It's probably the most crowded summer I can ever remember," said 20th Century Fox Executive Vice President Tom Sherak.
"If these movies live up to their potential, some of them have to get hurt," he said. "It's impossible to shoehorn all these films on first-run screens. . . . It will be the bloodiest summer since the Little Big Horn."
A key early summer clash will occur on the Memorial Day weekend as "Cliffhanger" meets "Super Mario Bros." meets "Made in America." That trio will join two major films that open Friday: "Sliver" and "Hot Shots! Part Deux."
Of the bunch, TriStar Pictures Chairman Mike Medavoy naturally boasts that his company's "Cliffhanger" is "an E-ticket ride." The film is a Carolco Pictures production, in which TriStar also has a stake. It comes on top of two blockbusters both companies jointly launched: "Terminator 2" and "Basic Instinct."
But Medavoy also gives high box-office potential to Warner Bros.' "The Fugitive," starring Harrison Ford in a film based on the popular '60s TV series, and to Paramount's "The Firm."
Another contender frequently cited by studio executives is Columbia's "In the Line of Fire," starring Eastwood, hot off the Oscar trail.
Universal Pictures' Chairman Tom Pollock believes that his studio's "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" "jump-started" the summer, and he also expects that Warner Bros.' "Dave," starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, "will have very big legs and play through the first half of the summer."
It was no surprise to Pollock that "Jurassic Park " is regarded by the industry as the big summer movie. After Pollock and other Universal executives saw the completed film for the first time early last week, he said, "My palms are still wet and my brain is still saying, 'How did they do it?' If it is not the biggest film of the summer, I will be shocked." As for "Last Action Hero"? "We'll gladly take on that challenge," Pollock said.
A studio chief from a rival company agreed with other top executives that "Jurassic," based on the novel by Michael Crichton, will wind up the summer's box-office champ. And he was upbeat about 20th Century Fox's "Hot Shots! Part Deux" with Charlie Sheen and Paramount's "The Firm."
Another studio chief, who wished to remain anonymous, suggested a late summer surprise would be "The Son-in-Law," starring Pauly Shore, from Disney. "Shore is a star for young moviegoers. On the other hand, I would worry a lot about 'Coneheads,' " he said. The film based on the pointed-head characters from TV's "Saturday Night Live," stars Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. "I just don't know that it's a movie kids have any interest in seeing.
Paramount's London acknowledged that "Coneheads" may be "unusual. But that's what people thought about 'Wayne's World' and 'The Addams Family.' " Both films, also based on TV characters, became huge box-office attractions.
Going into the summer, Walt Disney Studios holds a slight edge in year-to-date market share among the major studios, followed by Warner Bros. The two also lead the majors in the sheer volume of movies scheduled for release in the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Disney plans on releasing 10 pictures and Warner has nine, while the other major film companies are releasing an average of five.
The crowded field of more than 60 films has both pleased and alarmed exhibitors. It means that a film that does not immediately perform strongly is likely to be yanked for the next big title that comes along. There is no time for a small movie to find an audience.
That kind of thinking is why some observers say that both Disney and Warner Bros. have scheduled so many summer releases in a row. The idea is to "sell" an entire package of movies to a theater circuit and that way the two studios can ensure they will retain prime theaters around the nation, even if one of their films flops.
The crowded summer is both a predicament and the blessing for Michael Patrick, the chairman of the Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas, which operates about 1,500 screens in 26 states. He doesn't have many multiplexes, so it's tough to accommodate all the films. But he welcomes the steady flow of film product.
"It looks like every week there will be a big picture with big-name stars," Patrick said. The Memorial Day weekend movies and "Jurassic Park" and "Action Hero," are "only the beginning," he noted.
"June 25, there's 'Dennis the Menace,' then 'The Firm' and Eastwood's movie. On July 16, we have five pictures, including Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus,' which I hear being described as 'Bewitched, Part 2.' On July 23, there's 'Coneheads' and then on July 30, you have Sean Connery in 'Rising Sun. After that, there's Harrison Ford in 'The Fugitive.'
"The problem is I haven't got enough playing time for all the movies," he lamented. "It's a wonderful position to be in."