It's Slump Time At The Box Office For The Latest Hollywood Films

Posted: April 16, 1995

Tank Girl tanked. Born to Be Wild, born to bomb. Bye Bye, Love, bye bye.

Week after week this winter and early spring, the Hollywood studios have released new batches of movies, and week after week, with only a few exceptions, nobody went to see them. Ticket sales in March were at a five-year low, down 11 percent from last year, and year-to-date box office is down more than 10 percent from last year's totals.

Slump time has hit Hollywood hard. Only the Dustin Hoffman viral thriller Outbreak and the goofball '70s nostalgia trip The Brady Bunch Movie can qualify as out-and-out hits, and the list of releases that will recoup their production and marketing costs is a modest one indeed.

The reason? The same old reason that comes up every time the motion-picture biz hits one of these revenue ditches: bad movies. Tank Girl, with Lori Petty in the title role, was a loud and grungy niche picture aimed at the MTV crowd and fans of the British comic book on which it was based. Obviously, there weren't enough fans. It cost $35 million to make, and, in three weeks of release, has earned only one-tenth of that in ticket sales. Bye Bye, Love, starring Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid and Paul Reiser, was a sitcom stretched to feature-length - complete with its own built-in McDonald's commercial. And Born to Be Wild was a movie about a boy and his gorilla. Need we say more?

There have been a few bright spots: Circle of Friends, an Irish coming-of- age tale with Yankee Chris O'Donnell lending a little marquee cachet, has topped $10 million and is slowly expanding to more screens. And Rob Roy, which debuted last weekend on just 133 screens, pulled in $2 million - and the highest per-screen average ($15,213) of any film currently in release. If the Liam Neeson-Jessica Lange highland fling can sustain those kinds of numbers as it moves into more multiplexes, distributor United Artists could redeem some of those heavy losses incurred by its Tank Girl.

And in just a few weeks, the big guns of summer will be fired. Crimson Tide (the submarine suspenser with Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington and an uncredited Quentin Tarantino rewrite); Die Hard: With a Vengeance (Bruce Willis saves New York); Casper (Christina Ricci and some reportedly spectacular spectral effects); and Braveheart (Mel Gibson goes on a kilt-trip) are all set for May releases.

SLY-HIGH SALARIES. Reports in the trades say that Sylvester Stallone has signed a deal with Universal Pictures that will fetch him $17.5 million (that's more than the combined grosses of Tank Girl, Born to Be Wild and Bye Bye, Love) to star in an action pic called Daylight. Described as "Die Hard in the Holland Tunnel," Daylight is about an emergency medical worker who must rescue commuters trapped in the underwater Manhattan artery following a tanker explosion. Rob (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) Cohen is attached to direct, with shooting slated to begin in the fall.

Stallone is currently earning a $15 million paycheck for his work in Warner Bros.' Assassins, and after he shoots Daylight, he's commited to star in an as-yet-undetermined Savoy Pictures project. For that one, he'll get $20 mil.

Rocky, we hardly knew ya.

PASS THE O.J. As anyone who has been subjected to a Jury Duty trailer over the last few months knows, the Pauly Shore knuckleheader that opened Wednesday hopes to capitalize on the O.J. Simpson trial. (The sight of airhead Shore - dressed in drag, puckering his lips and cooing, "Say hell-o to Judge Ito" to a prisoner making a conjugal visit - is one of the year's scarier screen moments.) Jury Duty producer Peter Lenkov, referring to all the O.J. attention, told a reporter recently: "You can't buy better publicity than this. We're going to open big . . . I'm almost sure of it."

And Jury Duty's star had this to say about the relationship between the Simpson case and the lame-brain comedy. "America really needs some laugh therapy about the whole thing," Shore told Entertainment News Service, alluding to the nonstop coverage of the trial. "Nobody cares that two people are dead. It's all about what kind of lapel pin (Robert) Shapiro is wearing, and how Kato (Kaelin) is doing on the stand, and what Marcia Clark is teed off about. It's about celebrity, not justice."

A more trenchant observation than anything you're likely to find in Jury Duty.

NOTES. The scouting people for The Alienist, a Paramount Pictures adaptation of Caleb Carr's bestselling, set-in-the-19th-century Mahattan mystery, have been snooping around Philadelphia. The location locators have taken particular note of such period edifices as the Academy of Music (which played a New York opera house in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence), Eastern State Penitentiary (a mental hospital in Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys), and the Waterworks (creditless to date). Scott Rudin is producing the high-profile project, with Curtis Hanson attached to direct, and stars yet to be named. . . . Speaking of adaptations, Emma Thompson's screenplay of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is in production, with Thompson starring alongside Hugh Grant, Heavenly Creatures' Kate Winslet and The Piano's Anna Paquin. Eat Drink Man Woman's Ang Lee is directing, after Thompson's husband, Kenneth Branagh, ran into scheduling problems. . . . Taking a cue from Keanu Reeves and Speed, Johnny Depp will make his first foray into the action genre with Nick of Time, directed by John Badham (Blue Thunder, Point of No Return). Depp, in the words of a Paramount Pictures news release, plays a "young professional . . . who finds himself in one of the most unthinkable and dangerous situations imaginable. His 6-year-old daughter is taken hostage by conspirators who tell him she'll die unless he follows their instructions to kill the governor of California within the next 90 minutes." The unfolds-in- real-time Nick of Time also stars Christopher Walken (in the Dennis Hopper- villain role), Marsha Mason, Charles Dutton and Roma Maffia. . . . Tom Arnold will star as the patriarchal ninny in the movie version of Harry Allard's children's book series The Stupids. John Landis directs. . . . Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep will team up for Marvin's Room, an adaptation of Scott McPherson's play about a woman's struggle to deal with illness, an estranged sister and a dying father. If things go as planned, Keaton, Streep and company will go in front of the camera in August. . . . The Film Forum in New York (212-727-8110) will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause with a two-week presentation of a new 35mm CinemaScope stereo print of the James Dean-Natalie Wood troubled-youth classic. The run is set for April 28 to May 11. . . . "Video and Film by Philadelphia Artists," a program presenting work by 13 area artists, will run through June 11 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Video and film folk represented are Connie Coleman and Alan Powell, Christopher Daniels, Cheryl Dunye, Glen Holsten, Eugene Martin, Louis Massiah, Robert Mugge, Frances Negron-Muntaner, Michael O'Reilly, Peter Rose, Margie Strosser and Lise Yasui. Information: 215-684-7500.

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