Hollywood’s number crunchers have closed the books on 1993, and there’s universal agreement: The box office take was the biggest in history. How big was it? Somewhere between $5.04 billion and $5.24 billion, depending on whether you, along with the rest of the world, believe that 1993 ended at midnight on Dec. 31 or whether you, along with many studio executives, believe that 1993 continued through the end of the New Year’s weekend, to Jan. 2, 1994. The dispute underlines an important point. In Hollywood, all truth is relative. Consider the following ”facts.” —Jurassic Park is the biggest movie ever.
True and false. Steven Spielberg’s dino-blockbuster has grossed more worldwide—$870 million-than any film in history. But its final estimated domestic tally of $346 million won’t surpass the $359 million that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial racked up in 1982. Still, the industry had every reason to cheer Jurassic‘s success: The film single- handedly turned an average year into a record breaker.
—Last Action Hero was 1993’s biggest flop.
False. It was certainly the noisiest, and one of the costliest (estimates ranged from a low-ball $47 million to an exaggerated $120 million). But Last Action Hero ended the year as the 12th-highest-grossing movie worldwide, with a take of more than $140 million. The year’s real bombs were the quiet ones, films like Josh and S.A.M. and The Thing Called Love, which cost millions and made pennies.
—Hits make careers; flops destroy them.
False—at least at Sony Entertainment. Mike Medavoy, chairman of Sony’s TriStar Pictures, was responsible for two of the year’s most resounding successes—Sylvester Stallone’s comeback, Cliffhanger, and the summer romance Sleepless in Seattle, as well as Philadelphia, which is shaping up as a controversial hit in the making. But, tired of clashing with Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Peter Guber, Medavoy began the new year by resigning. Stepping in will be Guber loyalist Mark Canton, who as chairman of Columbia Pictures oversaw Last Action Hero, not to mention such costly duds as Geronimo: An American Legend and My Life.
—Family films can’t miss. False. Eager to secure the next Aladdin or Home Alone, Hollywood’s boomer execs jumped on the PG bandwagon. They soon discovered that without the Disney label or Macaulay Culkin in the lead, families don’t necessarily come running. In fact, even Culkin himself was no guarantee—his dance turn in The Nutcracker proved one of the year’s most flat-footed failures, earning barely $2 million. The year’s only family hit to crash into the top 10—and its biggest surprise—was the starless Free Willy. —1993 was a year Hollywood could be proud of.
True—with reservations. Stalwart leading men and solid moviemaking turned summer entertainments like The Fugitive and In the Line of Fire into critical and commercial hits. And there was also room for quirky specialty films like The Crying Game (which collected an astounding $59 million domestically, most of it in 1993), Like Water for Chocolate, Much Ado About Nothing, and Menace II Society. But don’t forget: 1993 was also the year of Super Mario Bros., Coneheads, and So I Married an Axe Murderer, disasters all—as well as salutory reminders that even a year of record highs had its share of embarrassing lows.