Sure, Charlie’s Angels is all the rage today. But 27 years from now, will filmgoers still line up to see turn-of-the-century girl power in action? Judging by recent events, Drew, Cameron, and Lucy redux may be no match for Linda Blair’s head-turning turn in The Exorcist.
This fall’s successful rerelease of William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic — which has grossed a whopping $39.2 million domestically and is poised to scare up a total of $100 million worldwide — has sent studios racing once more to the vaults. Their goal: to find another cinematic chestnut that will let them mint money all over again.
As a result, next year’s slate is beginning to look like one of those cable classics stations. Coming attractions include Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins, complete with subtitled lyrics for audience sing-alongs, in March; Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 landmark 2001: A Space Odyssey from Warner Bros., with a newly recorded score, in the fall; and even 1978’s Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando, also from Warner. And for spring 2002, Universal is planning a 20th-anniversary edition of Steven Spielberg’s beloved E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial with new footage, a digitally remastered soundtrack, and updated special effects.
Given The Exorcist’s success and the $251 million U.S. box office haul for 1997’s special edition of the Star Wars trilogy, the raiding of studio libraries isn’t a surprise. ”Older popular films can be a gold mine for easy revenue,” notes Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com.
While old films don’t have any production costs, they aren’t completely free. Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., estimates the studio spent $1 million on postproduction for the new Exorcist — not to mention millions more to promote ”The Version You’ve Never Seen.” But the return on investment was huge, with even greater profit potential for upcoming video and DVD releases.
Theatrical rereleases can also be effective in touting DVDs. In September, MGM opened This Is Spinal Tap in 11 cities to coincide with a DVD launch. While the film’s meager $201,000 haul didn’t cover its remastering or marketing costs, the studio scored a publicity windfall that should pay off in the long run. ”If it means that you’re gonna sell an additional 200,000 or 300,000 DVDs, which is what we project for Spinal Tap, it’s well worth it,” explains Larry Gleason, MGM/UA’s president of worldwide theatrical distribution.
And with the possibility of a crippling strike by both writers and actors next year, movie studios may look to their catalogs to help fill the pipeline. ”If there’s a [long] strike, we may see nothing but reissues every week,” says Pandya. ”It’ll be ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark beat out Jaws at the box office this weekend, with Back to the Future up next.”’
A scary prospect, but not a very realistic one. Not only have studios put production into overdrive in preparation for a strike, but their shelves aren’t exactly bursting with Exorcist-caliber films. ”You can’t just take a picture out of your vaults and try to fool the public,” says Universal distribution head Nikki Rocco.
”With 4,500 titles in our catalog, it would be nice to think we could withstand the strike for 10 years with no new productions, but it just isn’t the case,” adds MGM’s Gleason, who is even considering a rerelease of Exodus, the 1960 film about the founding of Israel that stars Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint. No decision has been made, but even Gleason concedes, ”It was not a very well-reviewed film.”
With any luck, that means we’ll be spared a director’s cut of Howard the Duck.