Just like the nation’s retailers — who sweated out a disappointing Christmas shopping season until postholiday sales finally brought mobs to the malls — Hollywood’s winter offerings attracted relatively few customers until they showed up in droves for a two-week blitz of moviegoing capped by a blockbuster New Year’s weekend. While James Cameron’s Titanic has cruised commandingly ahead of the pack, it isn’t the only success story. After a hitless year, MGM launched Tomorrow Never Dies to worldwide grosses that will probably exceed the previous Bond record, GoldenEye’s $350 million. Scream 2, like its predecessor, will drop $100 million in Miramax’s coffers. And TriStar’s Oscar wannabe As Good as It Gets will benefit from good word of mouth straight through Oscar-nomination season.
But if Hollywood rang out ‘97 on a high note, getting there was definitely not half the fun. Not losing money, rather than actually making it, seemed to be the goal for most studios. And even though Hollywood approached the season defensively — Fox teamed with Paramount on Titanic, and TriStar and Disney joined forces for the $105 million bugs-in-space movie Starship Troopers — there was still plenty of red ink to go around.
FALSE STARTS: In an attempt to jump-start the season — which gets longer every year — TriStar opened Troopers to an impressive $22.1 million its first weekend, Nov. 7, but the movie never expanded beyond its core audience of rabid teen boys, falling out of orbit after taking in just $54 million. And Fox’s high hopes for Alien Resurrection were slimed when the movie collapsed after a strong Thanksgiving start (though it’s performed better overseas). Adults were no more dependable: John Grisham’s The Rainmaker earned decent reviews and launched Matt Damon’s movie-star trajectory, but its grosses just managed to cover its budget. Clint Eastwood’s frostily received Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was quickly remaindered as well.
KID STUFF: In an effort to invade Disney’s animation turf, Fox’s Anastasia muscled into the marketplace to the tune of $60 million — an equivocal happy ending. The studio pegged the film’s cost at $53 million but spent another $50 million to get its new animation division up and running; and the $25 million that Disney’s rereleased Little Mermaid attracted clearly cut into Anastasia’s business. When it came to pulling in kids and their baby-boomer parents, DreamWorks’ Mouse Hunt (the most successful of its first three movies) and Disney’s Flubber, a remake of 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor, proved shrewder bets, while the failure of Home Alone 3 and Mr. Magoo only proved that kids are discerning too.