Gramercy sees near record ’96

HIGH POINTS: Polygram-owned Interscope scored more than $100 million at the domestic box office with “Jumanji,” released through Sony, and “Sleepers” brought a decent return through its Warner Bros. release.

For Gramercy, this year saw the bulk of its receipts from 1995’s “Dead Man Walking,” as well as big B.O. and critical acclaim for Joel and Ethan Coen’s black comedy “Fargo.”

“We came close to equaling our best year,” said Gramercy president Russell Schwartz, referring to 1994, when the company distribbed the runaway hit “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

This also was the year that Gramercy, formerly a joint venture between Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Universal, stood on its own after Polygram bought out U’s share. The move comes as Polygram pushes forward in its plan to establish its own U.S. distribution apparatus by late ’97.

LOW POINTS: Polygram came close to being the winning bidder for MGM, but was beat out by an MGM management team backed by former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian and Aussie Seven Network. A win would have been a short cut to achieving Polygram’s goal of establishing itself as a major Hollywood player.

“Barb Wire,” the actioner starring “Baywatch” babe Pamela Lee that received a lot of promotional push, fell short at the B.O., as did the Allison Anders-helmed pop music drama “Grace of My Heart.”

OUTLOOK FOR 1997: Without the Universal connection, Gramercy will release fewer pics this year, said Schwartz, but will be handling films from Polygram labels including Working Title, Propaganda and Interscope, once the latter’s output deal with Disney ends.

“We will continue to have a mixed bag of product,” said Schwartz, “from wide releases to platforms.”

The Coen brothers’ next film, “The Big Lebowski,” will be Gramercy’s biggest pic in 1997, heading a busy third quarter. Schwartz said he also is excited about “Commandments,” an offbeat romantic fantasy starring Aidan Quinn and Courteney Cox.

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