Led by "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Robin Williams and Sally Field, and "The Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, the motion picture business ended 1993 with a rousing week at the ticket windows--a week that pushed the year's box-office gross to a record high.
Depending on which box-office sources one consults, the box-office "year" ended a week ago, ended Friday, or will end in a few days. But on one point all agree: It was a record year.
Veteran analyst A. D. Murphy of the Hollywood Reporter said the 1993 total gross hit $5.2 billion, beating the former record of $5.03 billion set in 1989. The results reversed the downward trend of 1990, 1991 and 1992.
The final week of 1993 and the New Year's Day weekend ending Sunday were among the best of the year, with some analysts saying the total gross of $165 million to $170 million will be among the best ever for a seven-day period. The 20th Century Fox release of "Mrs. Doubtfire," which has been in release since late November, scored a huge $17 million for the weekend. Warner Bros.' "The Pelican Brief" earned $12.5 million.
The year also will be remembered as the year of "Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg's dazzling tale of a dinosaur theme park that goes out of control.
In 1993, seven movies ("Jurassic Park," "In the Line of Fire," "The Fugitive," "The Firm," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Indecent Proposal") surpassed the magical $100-million mark at the box office, compared with eight during 1992.
But in 1992 the biggest film was "Batman Returns" with $163 million. In 1993, "Jurassic Park" alone grossed twice that amount. With its $339-million gross to date in the United States and Canada, the Spielberg film is the equivalent of at least two blockbusters. ("Jurassic Park" still has not surpassed Spielberg's reigning box-office champ in the United States and Canada, "E.T.," with an estimated $359-million gross in its initial release. But, worldwide, "Jurassic" is the king, with a gross of $531.4 million, for a total to date of $870.4 million.)
"Jurassic Park" was just the kind of movie that theater owners dream about. It drew huge crowds and played for months. The longer a movie plays, the bigger the share of the gross that goes to the theaters, the less to the studios.
Late last week, veteran Southern California movie exhibitor James Edwards Sr. of the Orange County-based Edwards Cinemas chain was reflecting on 1993, and he recalled a Hollywood truism: "There's nothing wrong with the movie business that a good movie won't cure."
At least a dozen popular movies fit that category during the year, Edwards recalled. "In my 60 years in the business, I've never seen a string of strong box-office movies as we had last summer."
In addition to the blockbusters, there was also robust business in 1993 for a few specialized titles, said Gary Meyer, president of the Landmark Theater chain that is owned by the Samuel Goldwyn Co. Among the better performing titles were Goldwyn's release of Kenneth Branagh's widely hailed adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing," which grossed $23 million, and "The Wedding Banquet" with a gross of $6 million. Miramax Films did well with "Like Water for Chocolate," with a gross approaching $20 million, and "The Piano," which has accumulated $13 million to date. Sony Pictures Classics scored with about a $12-million gross on "Howards End," the 1992 Oscar-nominated movie that played strongly in the first quarter of 1993.
If 1993 produced some major original hit movies, it was also a year that was unkind to sequels--with the exception of the current family film "Beethoven's 2nd" from Universal.
That was a major difference from 1992. At the end that year, the top three grossing movies were sequels--"Batman Returns," "Home Alone 2" and "Lethal Weapon 3." At the end of 1993, there is nary a sequel in the top 10.
Most '93 sequels--including the much-anticipated Disney/Touchstone "Sister Act 2" and Paramount Pictures' "Wayne's World 2" and "Addams Family Values"-- didn't live up to expectations. Only a year ago, "Sister Act" and "Wayne's World" were on the list of the top 10 grossing films of 1992; "Addams Family" was a $113-million grossing picture from 1991.
"Sister Act 2," despite a big New Year's weekend, has grossed only $40 million to date; "Wayne's World 2," $39 million; and "Addams Family Values," $45 million. Successful sequels generally perform about two-thirds as well as the original; none of these has come close.
It was also a year of some major turkeys--a year when even box-office champ Arnold Schwarzenegger took a free fall in the over-hyped dud "Last Action Hero." That costly, action- and effects-laden movie from Columbia Pictures eventually drew $50.2 million but could not overcome the negative rap that it simply did not work and possibly has not even recouped its $80 million estimated cost. In international markets the movie eventually grossed about $102 million, for a total of $150.2 million--but only about half of which is returned to the studio as film rentals.
The current "Geronimo: An American Legend," also from Columbia, is estimated to have cost at least $40 million to produce and has grossed only $15.2 million after a month in release and despite the studio's pride in the film. "Everyone really liked the picture and we are surprised by the results," said Columbia's Jeff Blake, president of domestic distribution.
The Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stone "Demolition Man" from Warner Bros. also ranks among the year's biggest losers. With a costly production estimated by some sources at well over $50 million, the film took in about $56 million--only about half of which goes back to the studio.
Even such popular stars as Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood appearing together in "A Perfect World" didn't fare well, proving that perfect casting doesn't necessarily make for a perfect world at the box office. The skimpy gross for the Warner Bros. release has been $29 million.
On the other hand, it was a great year for Clint Eastwood, the director and star of the 1992 Oscar winning "Unforgiven," which did big box-office in the first quarter of 1993, and his artistic and box-office success in summer's "In the Line of Fire," one of Columbia's bright spots in a generally slow year for that studio. And Stallone, despite "Demolition Man," scored what was considered a comeback with TriStar Picture's "Cliffhanger," which ranked among the year's top 10.
The year's most profitable movie will certainly be "Jurassic Park," with eventual earnings of as much as $2 billion, including home video and related products. Other winners include Warner Bros.' "Free Willy," with a $25-million budget and $77 million in domestic gross, and "Sleepless in Seattle" with a budget of $25 million to $30 million and $125.1 million in gross.
For all the talk of 1993 being the year of family films, the only true "family film" among the top 10 is "Free Willy." Not a single film on the top 10 was from Disney; the closest it came was with "Cool Runnings," which cost under $10 million and has grossed$59.3 million.
The last week of 1993, ending with the New Year's weekend, was among the best the industry has ever recorded. After "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Pelican Brief" in first and second place, the weekend's No. 3 and No. 4 films look to be in a dead heat: "Tombstone" and "Sister Act 2," with about $8.5 million each. "Grumpy Old Men," came in fifth with $7.8 million.
After that: "Beethoven's 2nd," $7.1 million; "Wayne's World 2, $3.9 million; "The Piano," $2.3 million; "Geronimo," $2.1 million, and "Ghost in the Machine," $1.5 million. In limited release: "Schindler's List" did $1.4 million on 76 screens; "Philadelphia," $150,000 on four screens; "Six Degrees of Separation," $210,000 on 19 screens; "Shadowlands," $61,000 on three screens; and "The Summer House," $300,000 on 60 screens.
Although ticket prices are somewhat higher than they were in 1989, the number of tickets sold in 1993 was the highest since 1989, reversing a three-year decline. In 1989 the number of tickets sold was 1.13 billion. Using Murphy's $5.2 billion figure, and the Motion Picture Assn. of America's figure on average ticket price of $5.09, the number of tickets sold in 1993 would be about 1.01 billion--up from 964.2 million in 1992 but still down from 1989.
Daily Variety reports in today's editions that the year was a record $5.04 billion. Variety analyst Leonard Klady, who uses Dec. 31 as the cutoff date for the year (rather than a box-office week, which would run through this coming Thursday), said his figures show that 1993 beat the previous record of $4.6 billion set in 1992.
At the Top in '93
The top-grossing films in the United States and Canada released last year:
Movie (Company) Gross in millions 1. "Jurassic Park" $339 (Universal) 2. "The Fugitive" $179 (Warner Bros.) 3. "The Firm" $158.3 (Paramount) 4. "Sleepless in Seattle" $126.4 (Sony/TriStar) 5. "Mrs. Doubtfire" $123.5 (20th Century Fox) 6. "Indecent Proposal" $107 (Paramount) 7. "In the Line of Fire" $102.2 (Sony/Columbia) 8. "Cliffhanger" $84 (Sony/TriStar) 9. "Free Willy" $78 (Warner Bros.) 10. "Groundhog Day" $71 (Sony/Columbia)
Films released at the end of 1992, but that earned a large portion of their box-office gross during 1993 include: "Aladdin" (Walt Disney), $217 million; "A Few Good Men" (Columbia), $141.3 million; "The Bodyguard" (Warner Bros.), $122 million; "Scent of a Woman" (Universal), $63 million; and "The Crying Game" (Miramax), $62.5 million.
Source: Exhibitor Relations Co.