The failure of Columbia Picture's "Last Action Hero" to live up to high box-office expectations has many theater owners across the country gritting their teeth and wondering: "Now why didn't I book that dinosaur movie instead?"
The nation's theater circuits could wind up losing millions of dollars on a film they thought would be one of the summer's sure-fire hits.
A representative of one national theater circuit, who did not wish to be named, said because "Last Action Hero" was expected to hit big and because of heavy marketing costs that had to precede the June 18 opening date, Columbia asked for unusually large cash sums upfront from any chain that wanted to book the film.
One report in the trade newspaper Variety placed the amount of advance money that Columbia received in the neighborhood of $60 million. However, a source close to the production said the figure was somewhat lower.
Whatever the amount, a good deal of money from exhibitors has been in Columbia's hands for many months and will continue to be for as long as the film plays in theaters.
If the movie does not return at least $60 million to Columbia, the studio will refund the difference to the exhibitors. It will also renegotiate the terms of how it splits the box-office gross with the theaters to induce them to play the film a little longer, as well as working to ensure good ongoing business relationships.
The likelihood of Columbia earning $60 million from the national release, however, is dim. The film would have to gross in the neighborhood of $120 million. But most observers now believe the gross, currently at $30 million, will fall far short of that and will more realistically bring in between $50 million and $60 million.
But in the meantime, as more than one exhibitor pointed out, Columbia has enjoyed the advantage of having the cash.
Columbia declined to comment on what it said were confidential business matters.
Several exhibitors contacted for this article said they expect to play the film for a minimum of four weeks--which is a standard stipulation--despite the relatively poor business. Some may split screen playing time and show "Last Action Hero" with another film.
"Look, this picture's still doing business. Last weekend it had an $8-million gross. It's just not as much as we expected," said one exhibition executive.
The worse situation is for exhibitors in big urban markets where Columbia reportedly received a commitment to play "Last Action Hero" for about 12 weeks. If business continues to drop off sharply, that will mean a long dry spell at the box office, not to mention the lucrative concession stands.
With so many summer movies on tap, speculation surfaced that chains would replace "Last Action Hero" with another film on some screens. The thinking was the Columbia would excuse the four-week minimum commitment if those screens held on to "Last Action Hero" until the July 9 opening of its highly anticipated Clint Eastwood movie "In the Line of Fire."
But a Columbia spokesman said that the two movies were booked separately and not intended to follow one another in the same theaters.