1993 crawls to record B.O. year

As 1993 winds down, the biggest cliffhanger has been whether box office revenues would set a new annual record. Though official tallies will not be available until Monday, Daily Variety is projecting that a new benchmark was set Wednesday — but barely.

The domestic B.O. is expected to wind up posting revenues of $ 4.98 billion, topping by 1% the presumed champ — 1990 — which had totals as high as $ 4.93 billion.

Record-breaking summer and fall sessions provided every indication that 1993 would become the first $ 5 billion-plus year. But the Christmas Grinch was having no part of that scenario. Nonetheless, year’s earnings represented a 7% increase from 12 months earlier, when the box office rang up $ 4.65 billion.

Admissions will also see a sizable boost from a year ago with early estimates coming in at almost 1.1 billion stubs. That translates to an increase of about 400 million filled seats.

Industry trackers agree that the past year will emerge as a record breaker. But final figures vary slightly. David Davis of Paul Kagan Associates pegs 1993 at $ 4.96 billion; Tom Borys of Entertainment Data Inc. estimates $ 4.8 billion. Those projections — and others from studio sources — fall within an accepted statistical range.

Daily Variety, through Sunday, had tracked domestic grosses for 342 titles. Those films totaled $ 4.8 billion. An additional 1.5% “sludge” factor was added for those films that “fly below the radar.” The sludge attempts to recognize box office from ethnic theaters and other non-mainstream venues, most significantly Spanish and Chinese-language operations. It also includes other non-mainstream venues.

Davis said that Kagan’s 2.5% sludge factor probably will be reassessed and reduced, since hebelieves that box office reported in Daily Variety accounts for 98.46% of all commercial revenues. He added that when his company assessed Motion Picture Association of America figures, the conclusion was that it employed a 15% to 20% sludge factor. The MPAA figures will be announced at ShoWest in February.

The individual market share leaders and top films can now be clearly identified, although final percentages and figures will change slightly by Saturday. Warner Bros. will win its third consecutive market crown with approximately 18% of the pie on domestic revenues of more than $ 900 million.

Buena Vista is assured second place, but third ranked Universal will likely emerge with the best revenue return per release. U also walked away with the year’s top grosser, “Jurassic Park.” With more than $ 338 million in the bank, it virtually doubles Warner Bros.’ second place finish for “The Fugitive.” The list continues with Paramount’s “The Firm,””Sleepless in Seattle” from TriStar and, on 1993 B.O. alone, Disney’s “Aladdin.”

The indies — fueled by a banner year for New Line Cinema — had the best showing since 1988. Films from outside the majors represented about 8% of the market. Still, indie prospects for the coming year are not optimistic. Disney scooped up Miramax in May and New Line can’t maintain its maverick pose as a key cog in the Ted Turner empire. That places enormous weight on Savoy, the newest production/distribution outlet.

In light of a dwindling number of indie distribs, more dependent independents , including Cinergi and Largo, are popping up, along with Euro concerns ready to split costs and rights on studio ventures.

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