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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summer Hits Belie a Tepid Hollywood Forecast

SANTA MONICA, California -- Five movies grossed more than $100 million -- and two stormed past $200 million. Jim Carrey collected $20 million and Demi Moore $15 million. One theater chain's popcorn profits soared.

Fortunes indeed flew this movie season in the United States, yet industry executives and filmmakers say the summer of 1996 will best be remembered for several lessons, some of which bode badly for Hollywood's economic and creative future.

With two weeks left in the season, summer revenues were running 4 percent ahead of last year. A good improvement but at a cost: Production and marketing costs have never been higher, and the moviegoing audience isn't growing -- attendance is flat. Which leads to the first lesson:

1. Bigger isn't necessarily better.

All of the expensive, presumptive blockbusters -- "Twister,'' "Mission: Impossible,'' "Eraser'' and "Independence Day'' -- met or exceeded box-office expectations.

Their success, however, sets a troubling precedent: movies as theme park rides, not stories. "It's very dispiriting for someone like me,'' says one Academy Award-winning producer. "I don't know how to make those kind of movies.''

If pyrotechnics overshadowed plot in 1996, the ratio could become even more lopsided in 1997. The major studios will release an unparalleled number of "event" movies next year, costing on average more than $100 million to produce and distribute. The megamovie slate includes "Dante's Peak,'' "Volcano,'' "The Lost World,'' "Batman and Robin,'' "Speed 2,'' "Aliens 4,'' "Starship Troopers,'' "Titanic,'' "Air Force One,'' "Men in Black'' and "Face Off.''

2. Murphy's law works.

Audiences had come to detest Eddie Murphy, who had played a succession of misanthropic characters from "Boomerang'' to "Vampire in Brooklyn.'' In "The Nutty Professor,'' Murphy played an underdog and made fun of himself -- the film's Buddy Love was nearly an amalgam of his past unlikable movie personas. Result: Murphy's second-best opening ever, and a new $15 million salary.

Carrey made exactly the opposite move. The winning dolt of "The Mask,'' "Dumb and Dumber'' and the "Ace Ventura'' movies was paid $20 million to play against type in "The Cable Guy.'' His turn as an odious cable installer turned Hollywood's most bankable star into one of its most-avoided performers this summer.

3. Summer doesn't start in the summer.

Warner Bros. moved its "Twister'' release up to early May, weeks before school let out. The switch, keeping the tornado movie away from "Mission: Impossible,'' may have brought Warners an additional $30 million in ticket sales. Look for the 1997 "summer'' to start even earlier: Universal Pictures plans to release its disaster movie "Dante's Peak'' on March 7.

4. To the spoils goes Victor.

Children were not impressed with the Disney reworking of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame.'' The movie featured a grown-up story line, forgettable music and generally unattractive merchandise -- were kids really supposed to cuddle up with a Judge Frollo doll?

"Hunchback'' will still be strongly profitable, but with less than $100 million in ticket sales it will not come close to matching the returns of "The Lion King.'' Disney's prospects look better for the fall (a live-action "101 Dalmatians'') and next summer (an animated "Hercules'' musical).

5. Reeves is no Superman.

Keanu Reeves' "Speed'' was among 1994's biggest hits, but the actor's career hasn't had much velocity since. Suddenly touted as an action star, Reeves couldn't carry "Chain Reaction,'' the second straight flop from "The Fugitive'' director Andrew Davis, who also struck out with "Steal Big, Steal Little.'' "Chain Reaction'' was further derailed by screenplay problems (with scenes overhauled almost daily during production) and a glut of action films.

Twentieth Century Fox is making a "Speed'' sequel with Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric. Patric is replacing Reeves so that Reeves can tour with his rock band. He may have better luck on guitar anyway.

6. Castle Rock is in a hard place.

The once highflying producers of "A Few Good Men,'' "When Harry Met Sally" and "In the Line of Fire'' is bleeding money ($88 million in 1996 movie losses) and on the block following the failures of "City Hall,'' "Othello,'' "A Midwinter's Tale'' and "Striptease.'' The latter film might be irredeemable, but Castle Rock blundered by first marketing Moore's gyrations as erotic drama and then touting them as comedy. The movie fell somewhere in between: humorless and undramatic.

7. The message is not the medium.

Very few of the medium-budgeted summer movies did very well. For every "Phenomenon'' hit there were three "Multiplicity,'' "Kingpin'' and "Courage Under Fire'' underachievers. Very few independent films -- with the exception of "Lone Star'' -- generated significant returns.

The behemoth action films simply steamrolled the competition, no matter how good the other films' reviews. "Good movies are getting killed,'' says the maker of one of the summer's midrange films. "They can't open and they can't hold theaters.''