Bulging pipeline piles up pix in summer rush
The jockeying for summer release slots continues well into August, and it’s “Ghosts of Mars” neck-and-neck with “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” into the final turn of “Rat Race.”
In a month usually given over more to exec vacations than box office competish, there’s sudden frantic movement among several distribs to position late-summer releases for the biggest opening bang.
The developments follow lock-step a recent trend that’s seen most big bows this summer followed by equally sizable soph-sesh drops (Daily Variety, Aug. 2).
The past weekend served up the latest evidence of this revolving-door trend. New Line’s “Rush Hour 2” grossed a super-charged $67.4 million, which prompted a whopping 60% drop for 20th Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes,” king of the B.O. jungle just one week earlier.
Now, the creeping traffic jam of titles has parked five wide releases on the final weekend in August — normally a throwaway sesh prior to Labor Day. That’s more wide releases than any previous sesh this summer. (Things could have been even more crowded, but Artisan previously reskedded suspenser “Soul Survivors” from Aug. 24 to Sept. 14.)
Of course, some suggest the worst is still to come, with many observers predicting the looming holiday season will be the most competitive in recent memory. But distribs seemed resigned to the situation, which some consider inevitable after springtime production pushes at most studios.
“I think it’s partly a result of the volume of product that was put into the pipeline because of the threat of a strike,” Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen observed.
“I think it’s going to stay very crowded for the next 15 months and difficult to find any weekend that’s not crowded,” DreamWorks distrib topper Jim Tharp said. “I don’t know for certain what caused it, but there were a lot of movies pushed into production last spring.”
In the latest moves, DreamWorks has bounced Woody Allen’s “Jade Scorpion” again — to Aug. 24 — after previously delaying it a week from its originally skedded Aug. 10 bow to avoid the “Rush Hour” traffic. (DreamWorks also was anxious to get some daylight between “Jade Scorpion” and Paramount’s Jerry Zucker-helmed comedy “Rat Race,” which was skedded for an Aug. 10 bow.)
But when “Jade Scorpion” had shifted to Aug. 17, it was joined by Paramount’s reskedded “Rat Race,” looking to distance itself from the Aug. 10 release of Universal’s presumed hit “American Pie 2.”
So “Jade” shifted again to Aug. 24, though Sony crashed that weekend’s party too, by bumping sci-fi actioner “Ghosts of Mars” back a frame.
In addition to “American Pie 2,” this Friday will see the wide release of Miramax suspenser “The Others” and Warner Bros.’ animation/live-action laffer “Osmosis Jones.”
Current wide-bow plans for Aug. 17: Warners’ Jesse James Western “American Outlaws,” U’s World War II drama “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and “Rat Race.”
Wide releases skedded for Aug. 24 along with “Jade Scorpion” and “Ghosts” include Miramax laffer “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” Warners’ baseball romancer “Summer Catch” and Disney romantic comedy “Bubble Boy.”
Will one of those be tempted to resked for the following weekend? Labor Day weekend had three wide openers, but that field is now narrowed to two. On Monday, Fox postponed the release of its rock drama “Glitter” from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21.
The distrib said the delay will allow topliner Mariah Carey, currently hospitalized for what publicists describe as exhaustion, to participate in pre-release promo.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to watch “Rush Hour 2” for signs of sturdier legs than previous big openers, as rivals predict the New Line pic could play well for a while. Sony marketing/distrib boss Jeff Blake said a move to a crowded Aug. 24 holds some benefit for “Ghosts of Mars,” as it provides the John Carpenter-helmed pic greater breathing room from “Rush Hour.”
“We were going to seek the action audience on whatever date we picked, but Aug. 24 is one week further away from ‘Rush Hour,’ ” Blake said.
“Jade Scorpion” likely will be released on 850-900 screens, Tharp said, competing with limited-release arthouse fare as well as targeting the popcorn-and-Jujubes crowd.
“(But) Woody’s audience grosses well in the large markets, so you have to look at the movies that you think will gross best in those markets” when picking a release date, the DreamWorks exec added.
On Aug. 17, competish was expected from “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” he noted. So, after moving off Aug. 10 to avoid “Rat Race,” the distrib finds itself docked in an Aug. 24 frame so claustrophobic Tharp is telling himself that at least it’s close to fall, historically a particularly Woody-friendly season.
“There’s a plethora of product at the studios right now, and they just have to move some of it out,” said box office analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management in Los Angeles. “You can’t just leave a picture in the can, accumulating interest costs. You’ve got to get it out.”