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Dinos are ‘Wedding’ bridesmaid

“Jurassic Park” may have been the top-grossing film of 1993, but when measured as a percentage of cost, the most profitable film of the year was Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet,” a quirky saga of a gay Chinese-American businessman who stages a marriage of convenience. Conversely, River Phoenix’s screen swan song, “The Thing Called Love,” enters the Hall of Shame as having the worst cost-to-return ratio in 1993.

Grossing $ 23.6 million worldwide and costing a mere $ 1 million to make, “The Wedding Banquet”– released domestically by Goldwyn — ends the year with a cost-to-return ratio of 23.6-to-1. Paramount’s disappointing “Thing” cost $ 14 million and grossed only $ 1 million, making its ratio .071-to-1.

“Jurassic Park” may have grossed $ 845.2 million more than “Banquet,” but with a negative cost of $ 63 million, its cost-to-return ratio clocks in at No. 13.79-to-1.

The Variety/Daily Variety cost-to-return index is designed to give some measure of a film’s profitability, regardless of B.O. gross. The index divides a film’s worldwide theatrical gross by its negative cost to determine a base ratio. Not included are costs for marketing, interest charges and talent participation; nor is income from video, television or merchandising. But even without those deductions and ancillaries, the index illustrates whether a film is likely to break even or do better.

For the majors, a flop is mitigated by video sales and pre-negotiated output deals covering TV. The big risk, considering average commitments of roughly $ 40 million in production and marketing costs, is that the $ 100 million surplus of a monster hit evaporates in the face of a couple of $ 40 million writedowns.

For that reason, the business is structured to virtually insure that studio product will at least break even. At the same time, independent product beats fantastic odds anytime it can generate even a modest profit. Fifteen of the 20 best returners originated from the majors, most designed as blockbusters fueled by star names.

Studio surprises

Studio films that did exceptionally well without marquee value or an obvious commercial hook were Disney’s “Cool Runnings,” Warner Bros.’ “Free Willy” and 20 th Century Fox’s “Rookie of the Year.” Clearly, 1993 was a very good year for family entertainment.

The top indie successes, not surprisingly, mined niche audiences. “Menace II Society” had specific ethnic appeal, while “The Piano” and “Much Ado About Nothing” played primarily upscale.

The flip side of the equation reveals that conspicuous film failures played out in the media didn’t translate into the most catastrophic results. Any film whose name was familiar to the public likely generated significant revenue — perhaps not enough to post profits, but far from being a 100% write-off.

Columbia’s “Last Action Hero,” the whipping boy of 1993, generated global box office of almost $ 150 million — double the combined gross of the 20 films listed as the worst cost-to-return ventures.

And “Action Hero” will generate more money in ancillary markets: Guess the average video renter’s choice when confronted with “Action Hero,””Father Hood, “”The Real McCoy,””Rich in Love,””Money for Nothing” and “This Boy’s Life.””Action Hero” may have missed the bull’s-eye, but the biggest losers of ‘ 93 weren’t even within eyesight of the target.

Honorable dud

Take Disney’s “Bound by Honor.” The saga of an Hispanic crime dynasty opened in early 1993 on a regional test basis and slowly filtered across the country. Its box office sputtered to $ 4.5 million domestically. The absence of marquee names, dismal domestic performance and lack of obvious foreign appeal destined the picture for the most limited of international theatrical releases. At best, “Bound” returned $ 2.5 million to the studio, or less than what was spent to put it into theaters.

Current cable deals return about 50% of theatrical rentals, adding an additional $ 1.25 million. A network TV sale would be a long shot. The film’s worth in syndication sales is probably no better than $ 1 million.

With heavy promotion, “Bound” might sell 100,000 videocassettes — a maximum return of about $ 3.5 million. International ancillaries could generate revenues comparable to domestic figures.

All included, “Bound by Honor” might account for $ 14 million — a great figure if your production and marketing costs total $ 6 million. Disney, however , was on the hook for about $ 40 million.

For ’93 preems only

Only films first premiered in 1993 are considered in the chart, and only those films that had a national release or premiered on more than 400 screens are included.

The last factor weeds out pictures that were ultimately deemed direct-to-video fare but were contractually required to have a minimum theatrical exposure. It would also include platform releases that never expanded , such as TriStar’s “Wilder Napalm,” Fox’s “Freaked” and WB’s “M. Butterfly.”

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