Sony Pictures Releasing, which has enjoyed one of the most remarkable reversals of fortune in recent film history, is expected today to smash the all time domestic gross record of $1.202 billion in a single year.
Led by such blockbusters as “Men in Black,” “Air Force One” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Jerry Maguire,” the studio will blast past the previous high-water mark set by Buena Vista in 1996 — with a month and a half to spare.
Sony, whose ticket sales account for 23% of the year’s domestic total — the largest market share for a distributor since 1982 — appears on track to finish the year at about $1.3 billion. That’s nearly double its 1996 annual gross.
The studio has dominated the box office for virtually the entire year, reaching each $100 million milestone between $200 million and $1.2 billion in record time. Sony releases were ranked No. 1 for fully a third of the year’s 45 weekends to date. The studio has had a picture in the top 10 every week of the year but one.
Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing, credited Sony president and COO John Calley for fostering a team approach and an aggressive attitude. Blake went on to say the record should be shared by “the creative executives who guided the films, the marketing group that so effectively brought them to the public and the distribution team that put them in a record number of theaters.”
The year has been a tumultuous turnaround for Sony’s American film operations, once dubbed “Sony’s Folly” in the dark 1980s for its inability to transmute a lavish operational philosophy into box office gold.
The increase in year-to-date grosses for ’97 over ’96 exceeds 100% — certainly one of the most extreme turnarounds in studio history — and however much the industry at large may cavil about which studio executive put which film into “go” status, the fact remains that it was the new team, led by Blake and marketing chieftain Robert Levin, who brought the films they had to market and gave them winning support.
Levin noted that the Sony team first had an inkling that a banner year was in the making around mid-April, when TriStar’s December 1996 release, “Jerry Maguire,” finally ran out of legs and, already ahead of last year at that point, the studio had all of its major weapons ready to go.
“When we saw that we had high-quality and high-potential films still to go out, like ‘Anaconda,’ ‘The Fifth Element,’ ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding,’ ‘Men In Black’ and ‘Air Force One,’ we all sort of broke out smiling,” he recalled. “But at that point we were mainly looking just at the summer playout.”
When every one of its summer films outperformed internal expectations, he continued, the smiles broadened. “But you can never take anything for granted in this town,” Levin added.
“It’s like the sports analogy,” Levin said. “Consistent success comes from believing you can win. And we really worked hard to instill that feeling everywhere around here.”
Levin credits Calley for instilling that attitude. “It’s rare to get the kind of support that John gave us,” Levin said. “But I think that’s what made all the difference.”