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Pic Release Pace Off through April

The flow of 1991 film releases slowed in April, as 21 fewer domestic pictures opened through the first four months of the year compared to 1990. This year’s tally of new pics is down 54 compared to 1988’s output.

But the majors are still getting the job done, as is evident in the weekly grosses. This year’s total domestic boxoffice continues to run 7% above last year’s record-setting pace.

The lower number of releases is not due to a product shortage, but rather to distribution delays at some companies, e.g. MGM/ Pathe and Orion.

Only eight new films opened from the majors in April, compared to 18 in April 1990. After the retrenchment in the independent ranks during 1989 and 1990, a further decline of 10 films has occurred for indie distribs as well this year.

These numbers represent not only the postponements of many completed 1991 pictures’ debuts, switched to summer or fall berths, but also a more efficient distribution system. Last year the majors dumped eight films in four months in dead-end regional releases, including the token San Francisco booking of the long-delayed Bob Dylan vehicle “Hearts Of Fire.” Other casualties getting token theatrical exposure included MGM’s “Mortal Passions” and “Instant Karma,” Triumph’s “Modern Love” and Fox’ “Sideout.”

By contrast, this year only one major release has received a regional opening, Paramount’s baseball film “Talent For The Game,” which bowed in Florida last Friday. Paramount, in the midst of management upheavals, also has the narrowest major release of the year so far, Herbert Ross’ “True Colors,” which bowed at just six screens five weeks ago and has only reached eight sites.

Also in limited release are Columbia’s “Men Of Respect” and Triumph’s “Eminent Domain,” a Canadian-Israeli-French co-production filmed in Poland.

For the four-month period in 1990, 30 major films utilized 700 prints and up, nearly identical to 31 this year. It is the marginal releases that the majors have largely wrung out of the system.

This April, 30 new films from majors and indies opened, but only five of them had a national saturation release of 700 or more screens, led by WB’s “Out For Justice” with over 2,000 sites. A year ago 10 films were widely released, and in April 1989 15 debuted with 700-plus print runs.

The independent distribution sector has refined alternative strategies rather than merely imitated the majors as was often attempted five years back.

This year only three indie releases have been mounted on a national scale: Studio Three’s debut pic, “Popcorn,” with 1,055 prints in February; Goldwyn’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” bowing at 850 sites in March; and New Line’s jumbo 2,868-print launch (initially servicing over 3,000 screens at multiplexes) of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II,” also in March.

Two of these distribs plan to be back in the marketplace nationally: Studio Three with “Rich Girl” in May and New Line with “House Party II” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street 6” in October. Otherwise, regional distribution has become de rigueur for indies, with Trimark successfully moving around the country gradually with a maximum of 293 prints for “Warlock.” New Line released 148 prints of “Cadence,” but with weak results.

Not included in the 1991 statistics is a pair of Miramax releases that came out last year to qualify for Academy Awards. The distrib relaunched “The Grifters” with 766 prints and gave “The Long Walk Home” a second life with 270 screens.

One bright spot among the indies is on the foreign film front, which saw 29 subtitled imports opening, nearly double last year’s pace. Among these, Goldwyn’s “La Femme Nikita” already has reached a 64-screen count in the seventh week of its platform run.

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