Sony leads way as B.O. enjoys record paydays

The domestic box office broke $2 billion Sunday, setting a record pace to reach that level. Propelled by Fox’s first-quarter reissue of the “Star Wars” trilogy and Universal’s Jim Carrey comedy “Liar Liar,” box office sped along at a clip 17% faster than ever before.

The anticipation of bronto summer biz provides the strong prospect for the year to conservatively reach $6.5 billion.

Sony consistently has led since the first of the year and reigns with a 19.7% market share on combined grosses of $398 million. However, the crown has been attained largely on volume, with 18 company releases — including 12 debuting films — tracked in 1997.

On an average gross return, Sony ranks third, trailing overall second- and fourth-place Fox and Universal, respectively. Sony’s $33 million per-pic return compares with a $46 million average gross for Fox product and $49 million for Universal’s movies.

Exhibitor cries of a more even spread of high-profile event and star vehicles as a means to expand the marketplace received validation this year. Pictures that benefited the most from reduced competition included “Dante’s Peak,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Private Parts” and “Anaconda.”

At the same time, other areas saw erosion. The traditional Oscar bump accorded nominees and winners was less fulsome and expansion in the specialized arena simply didn’t match mainstream activity. The latter factor can be explained back to the availability of screens. Whereas major chains have been on a building spree that’s increasing at 6% to 8% annually, niche fare still is limited to approximately 450 dedicated screens.

Top-grossing titles for the first third of 1997 (in descending order) were:

“Liar Liar” (Universal), “Star Wars” (Fox), “Jerry Maguire” (Sony), “Scream” (Miramax), “The Empire Strikes Back” (Fox), “Dante’s Peak” (Universal), “Michael” (New Line), “Jungle 2 Jungle” (Buena Vista), “The English Patient” (Miramax) and “Evita” (Buena Vista).

“Maguire,” “Scream,” “Michael,” “English Patient” and “Evita” B.O. does not include the pictures’ 1996 grosses.

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