U.S. Majors Take 80% Of The Pic Pie

The U.S. majors’ collective grip on the British b.o. strengthened last year, although some studios could not maintain the momentum of 1989.

By VARIETY’S estimate, the majors collared some 80% of the nationwide annual gross of about £240 million, while many indies struggled, slimmed down or disappeared.

United Intl. Pictures, the Paramount/Universal/MGM combine, posted a 10% rise in billings for the 12 months ending June 30, its third consecutive record year.

Paramount’s “Ghost” gave the distrib a mighty kick in the second half of the year, and it’s expected to overtake “Crocodile Dundee” to claim the title of UIP’s most successful release ever in the U.K. and Ireland. The “Croc” grossed £ 22 million, and “Ghost” began 1991 just £ 2 million short of that, playing on 250 prints.

Last year (Dec. 1, ’89 to Dec. 20, ’90), UIP’s 30 releases racked up an aggregate gross of about £ 82 million, a market share of around 35%.

The Warner Bros./Disney/Touchstone stable’s combined business edged up 3%, rated by U.K. managing director Maj Britt-Kirchner as “quite amazing considering we did not have a ‘Batman’ or ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.'”

She would not volunteer exact figures, but said the Warner side was down while the Disney stream was up; the latter was boosted by “Pretty Woman,” “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids,” “Dick Tracy” and others. The distrib issued 29 pictures which grossed some £ 74 million, cornering about 30% of the market.

20th Century Fox’ billings doubled last year, propelled by “War Of The Roses,” “Die Hard 2” and “Home Alone,” said U.K. m.d. Joanna Johnson. She added, “We were very pleased with the year. All our releases did comparatively well and we covered our p&a, which is an achievement.”

At Columbia/Tri-Star Film Distributors, U.K. m.d. Jimmy Katz reported, “We were pretty much the same as [1989].” His standout titles included “Ghostbusters II,” “Look Who’s Talking” and “Flatliners.”

Almost, but not quite

Distribs estimate admissions last year just failed to hit the hoped-for 100 million mark, perhaps winding up at 97 million to 98 million, a modest improvement on 1989’s 94 million.

“That’s a very satisfying result considering the [hot, dry] summer and the Christmas period was not as buoyant as expected,” said UIP U.K. m.d. Chris Hedges.

Professional optimists all, the major distribs are bullish about the prospects for this year, despite a deteriorating economy. UIP expects a robust first quarter with “Rocky V,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “The Russia House” and “The Godfather Part III.”

Fox is upbeat about “Edward Scissorhands,” “Life Stinks,” “Predator 2” and “Sleeping With The Enemy.”

The WB camp’s hopes rest on “Green Card,” “Three Men And A Little Lady,” “Scenes From A Mall” and, despite its fate Stateside, “Bonfire Of The Vanities.”

Col/Tri-Star’s Katz is beefing up his release schedule with 20 to 25 titles this year, boosted in part by taking on Orion product from Rank Film Distributors; first Orion film due out under Col/Tri-Star’s banner will be “F/X 2” in August.

This summer in Britain looms as one of the most competitive, crowded and potentially lucrative for many years. Among the majors’ scheduled offerings are “The Naked Gun 2 1/2,” “King Ralph,” “Stepping Out,” “Backdraft,” “The Hard Way,” “Oscar,” “Cinderella,” “The Marrying Man,” “The Rocketeer,” “Prince Of Thieves,” “Hudson Hawk” and “Return To The Blue Lagoon,” plus “Terminator 2” from indie Guild.

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