Hollywood is like Wall Street. Actors, writers, directors, and producers know that movie studios are where they invest their talent, so they’re always assessing the downside risks and potential yields. How do the blue-chip studios stack up after the recent wave of shake-ups?
1. Warner Bros. Veteran cochairmen Robert Daly and Terry Semel hold steady in the top spot despite a relatively lackluster spring and summer — call it a loan secured by Interview With the Vampire and Disclosure. *Potential Yield: A strong ‘94, ‘95, and beyond, as long as Warner’s expansive and very stable stable of thoroughbreds (including Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson) remains contented. *Downside Risk: Those stars aren’t getting better, they’re getting older.
2. Disney/Touchstone/Hollywood Even as it leads in market share for 1994, Disney is retooling after Jeffrey Katzenberg’s exit. *Potential Yield: A penny pincher and a perfectionist, Katzenberg drove animation to new heights but faltered with live action; former Fox head Joe Roth’s focused attack could improve that division. *Downside Risk: The animation division (which Katzenberg may raid) falls to laid-back company president Roy Disney.
3. Paramount Forrest Gump has paved Paramount’s comeback trail with cash, and chairman Sherry Lansing has been a guiding light during the corporate turmoil that ended with Viacom’s purchase of the studio last July. *Potential Yield: Deals with Michael Douglas (for a bunch of big-budget movies) and Tom Cruise (for Mission: Impossible) assure a healthy pipeline flow. *Downside Risk: Can the Star Trek and Jack Ryan franchises yield more blockbusters?
4. MCA/Universal Company execs Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg are reportedly trying to buy back resource-rich MCA from Japanese conglomerate Matsushita. *Potential Yield: Universal has a Jurassic Park sequel in its future and relationships with hit makers Ron Howard and Ivan Reitman. *Downside Risk: May eventually lose Spielberg’s Amblin projects; if stymied by Matsushita, Sheinberg may leave.
5. Twentieth Century Fox Former TV exec Peter Chernin has proven to be a quick study, grabbing Speed in turnaround from Paramount. *Potential Yield: Hiring Disney video ace Bill Mechanic as president promises more output (14 to 25 movies a year) and two new divisions: sophisticated films and family fare. *Downside Risk: Pardon their performance during marketing-department overhaul.
6. New Line Cinema The nimble indie lured a golden goose, Jim Carrey, and snagged the services of other top talent thanks to new owner Ted Turner’s money to burn and aggressive production president Michael DeLuca. *Potential Yield: Films from Demi Moore, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer; seven-figure scripts from Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas. *Downside Risk: Talent is no guarantee of box office.
7. Columbia/TriStar Things are not looking good on the Sony lot, despite ex-chairman Peter Guber’s $100 million renovations. In 1993, even as Last Action Hero buffeted Columbia, Sony’s market share was twice this year’s. *Potential Yield: Former CBS programming chief Jeff Sagansky is waiting in the wings to take over while … *Downside Risk: … Mark Canton — running both studios — has yet to shake the perception of studio-wide gridlock.