American distributors debuted only 28 new films during January. That is the same amount as last year, but is far off the usual 40-plus total that typically kicks off a new year.

The unusual strength of the Christmas holdover films has caused many distribs, notably independents, to postpone their film openings by several weeks. This affects not only the January pace but has resulted in February debuts being delayed until March, and so on.

‘Beauty’ postponed

One prominent case is a further postponement of the debut of “The Object Of Beauty,” originally scheduled to open as early as last October but now planned for April. The pic stars Andie MacDowell and John Malkovich. The current strength of MacDowell’s Disney release, “Green Card,” has convinced distrib Avenue to open “Beauty” after that success has been in the field for a while, rather than compete with “Card” during what shapes up to be a long theatrical run during the Academy Award season.

Not included as January releases on the accompanying historical chart are several films that have expanded their run during the month or, as in the case of Miramax’ “The Grifters” and Skouras’ “The End Of Innocence,” reentered the marketplace in earnest after popping up for a week in December to qualify for 1990 Academy Award consideration.

Major distribs displayed a pattern virtually unchanged over the past three years, opening seven new films during the month that were all made by U.S. production entities. The very low major output of 1987 and 1988, representing only three films each year, reflects the impact of a 1987 strike that caused distribs to reshuffle their release schedules both in anticipation of the labor action and as a result of the disruption of the production cycle.

British are coming

The absence of new films from the British Commonwealth countries is striking, but is only a temporary phenomenon. Many British and Canadian films are in the pipeline for U.S. release and even a British tv pic, the BBC’s “Cello,” has been acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Co. to open theatrically with the title “Truly, Madly, Deeply.”

Concorde Pictures led indies, with four films bowing near the end of the month, and would have had five new pics out if the Christmas product had faded faster (its fifth title is now set for a February launch).

Last year one indie, New Line’s “Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” bowed at over 1,000 screens in January. This year more closely resembled 1989, with all the indie pics launched on a regional basis with modest initial print orders.

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