But Universal executives are betting the tide will turn on Friday, when the studio releases the first of its holiday films, Meet Joe Black, a Brad Pitt remake of the 1934 movie Death Takes a Holiday.
Up next is the Babe sequel, which hits Nov. 25 and features the talking pig on the loose in the city with a menagerie of friends. The Oscar-nominated original took in $70 million domestically and was embraced around the world.
Universal is hoping to lure screaming teens to Psycho, a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller by Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant. The film, which opens Dec. 4, stars Anne Heche in the Janet Leigh role.
But the film generating the most buzz is Patch Adams, a dramatic comedy featuring Robin Williams as a renegade doctor with an unconventional healing method, which comes to theaters Christmas Day.
A rebound at the lumbering studio couldn't come too soon. Universal's woes date to 1995, when Bronfman acquired 80 percent of Universal's parent, MCA, for $5.7 billion. Bent on pumping up the studio, Bronfman anointed a new management team. But the abrupt changes led to turmoil at Universal.
Although Bronfman recently extended studio chief Casey Silver's contract until 2002, insiders wonder how long Silver will remain if the studio continues to stumble. Bronfman, in turn, has long been derided by Wall Street for his push into show business, a move that has depressed Seagram's stock price.
For now, Wall Street analysts and Hollywood insiders said, Bronfman has reason to be hopeful. Universal started off the fall with a strong jolt from the low-budget Bride of Chucky, which took in more than $20 million in its first two weeks.
One critical change at Universal is the volume of product it is churning out, said Jessica Reif, a Merrill Lynch media analyst.
Because of management upheaval, the studio's production faltered this year, yielding just 14 movies. But next year, Universal will rev up with 24 releases, including fantasy film Ed TV from director Ron Howard and a remake of The Mummy.