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‘Batman’ Tops at Nation’s Theaters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Oscars and various critics’ awards are one thing, but when report cards are handed out in Hollywood, not much is sweeter than leading the domestic Top 10 box-office list.

The results are now in: The movie “Batman Forever” is the domestic box-office champ of 1995.

With ticket sales of nearly $184 million, Warner Bros.’ third installment of the Caped Crusader of comic book fame outdistanced Universal Pictures’ space thriller “Apollo 13,” which landed in second place at $172 million.

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Joel Schumacher, who directed “Batman Forever,” said even he had his doubts about the movie’s box-office potential despite an all-star cast that included Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris O'Donnell and Nicole Kidman.

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“I had never done a Batman movie,” Schumacher explained in a phone interview from New York City, where he is scouting locations for “Batman and Robin,” the fourth installment of the Dark Knight.

“We had replaced Michael Keaton with Val Kilmer [in the lead role],” Schumacher said. “I think it was a big risk. The cast took a big chance on me. Everybody took a big chance on me. I think had the Good Movie Fairy Godmother appeared last year at this time and said to me, ‘You’ll be on top of the Top 10 list next year,’ I would have been worshiping at her shrine--or his shrine if it’s the Fairy Godfather.

If there was a pattern to be found in the yearly figures, it might be that mainstream fare reigned supreme--and the public still loved Disney animation.

After “Batman Forever” and “Apollo 13,” the 1995 Top 10 included:

Disney’s animated films “Pocahontas” ($141 million) and “Toy Story” ($115 million); the Jim Carrey sequel “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” ($102.8 million); Universal’s “Casper” ($100.2 million); 20th Century Fox’s Bruce Willis sequel “Die Hard With a Vengeance” ($100 million); Disney’s submarine thriller “Crimson Tide” ($91.3 million); Universal’s “Waterworld” ($88.2 million); and, New Line Cinema’s gritty detective yarn “Seven” ($86.9 million).

And, there were these tidbits to be gleaned from 1995:

* When foreign revenues are counted, the top prize goes to “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” with $352 million reported earnings--2 1/2 times more than it made in the United States.

* “Toy Story” will almost surely hit $200 million domestically by the time its current run ends, but because it was released at Thanksgiving it only managed to reach fourth place for the year just ended.

* Overall, American moviegoers shelled out $5.43 billion for tickets, according to Exhibitor Relations Inc., a company that tracks box-office results. That was a slight increase over 1994’s $5.39 billion.

* Of the top 100 films, 46 were rated R; 29 were PG-13; 20 were PG; four were G; and, only one, “Showgirls,” was NC-17.

* The top grossing independent film was the bittersweet comedy “Circle of Friends” from Savoy Pictures, which debuted in March and made $23.4 million domestically, Exhibitor Relations reported. Close behind was “The Usual Suspects,” the offbeat whodunit from Gramercy Pictures with $22.7 million.

* The year’s top 25 independent movies earned a total of $238.5 million, a plunge from the previous year, when they brought in $414.7 million, largely on the strength of “Pulp Fiction,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “The Crow.”

* Seven films grossed $100 million or more during the year, compared with 10 the previous year. But 1995 also saw eight films that grossed between $75 million and $100 million, while in 1994 there were only two.

* Attendance remained relatively stagnant at 1.29 billion compared to 1.24 billion a year earlier. There were approximately 500 screens added nationwide during the year, for a total of 27,086 screens.

Meanwhile, the average price of producing, marketing and distributing a Hollywood movie was $50 million--$34.3 million in production costs plus $16 million for prints and advertising. In 1980, the average production cost was $9.4 million.

The reasons for the skyrocketing costs vary, but no one disputes that escalating star salaries bear much of the blame. Hollywood’s gold standard is now $20 million a movie for such box-office draws as Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford.

Schumacher said that until “Batman Forever,” he had never made an expensive movie. “The Client” cost $25 million, he said, as did “Falling Down.”

“Batman Forever” cost $78 million. “But then you look at what it’s done and it seems cheap,” Schumacher said. “So many movies today cost $100 million and more.”

If any studio had reason to breathe a sigh of relief in 1995, it was Universal. Studio executives had endured months of press scrutiny as Kevin Costner struggled to complete his action film “Waterworld,” the most expensive movie ever made at nearly $175 million.

Many doubted the studio would recover its costs. By year’s end, “Waterworld” had grossed $254.5 million worldwide (studios typically split revenues 50-50 with exhibitors), with video and TV still to come.

Paramount Pictures, meanwhile, had a string of movies during the second half of the year that didn’t click with the public, including “Virtuosity,” “Vampire in Brooklyn,” “Jade” and “Nick of Time.”

Still, Paramount executives pointed out that the way movies are financed today, studios cushion themselves. For example, Eddie Murphy’s “Vampire in Brooklyn” made a mediocre $19 million domestically, but Paramount sources said the studio persuaded Murphy to take only $4 million up front, instead of his normal $12-million fee, in return for a percentage of the gross.

In 1996, the pattern is sure to be repeated. Big-budget films scheduled for release in the coming year include “Twister,” a thriller about tornadoes from the director of “Speed,” the Sylvester Stallone action film “Daylight,” about a bomb blast caving in the Lincoln Tunnel and “Eraser,” an action film starring Schwarzenegger and Vanessa Williams.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Top-Grossing Films of ’95

(As of Dec. 26)

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Title Domestic Gross Distributor in millions 1. ‘Batman Forever’ $184 Warner Bros. 2. ‘Apollo 13’ $172 Universal 3. ‘Pocahontas’ $141 Disney 4. ‘Toy Story’ $115 Disney 5. ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’ $103 Warner 6. ‘Casper’ $100 Universal 7. ‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’ $100 Fox 8. ‘Crimson Tide’ $91 Disney 9. ‘Waterworld’ $88 Universal 10. ‘Seven’ $87 New Line

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SOURCE: Exhibitor Relations Co.


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