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Arthouse, haunted house buoy Miramax

HIGH POINTS: Buoyed by five films that each rang up more than $ 20 million, Miramax Films’ total domestic box office reached a record $ 250 million in 1996, a 35% gain over the previous year’s grosses of $ 184.9 million.

“It was a banner year for us. Who says you need a ‘Pulp Fiction’?” said Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, referring to the company’s all-time grosser of $ 107 million.

Of the pics in the $ 20 million club, three were released by Miramax’s genre label, Dimension Films. Robert Rodriguez’ vampire Western, “From Dusk Till Dawn,” drank in $ 25.8 million, making it Miramax’s top grosser for the calendar year. Its success has inspired Dimension to create a franchise by simultaneously shooting a “Dusk” sequel and prequel this year.

Wes Craven’s “Scream,” released on Dec. 20, scared up $ 24.4 million in just 11 days. The Drew Barrymore-Courteney Cox starrer faced little competition for

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younger audiences in the onslaught of holiday prestige pictures, and made Miramax’s earlier decision to ink a multipic pact with Craven look smart indeed.

The other Dimension standout was Shawn and Marlon Wayans’ “Don’t Be a Menace ,” a $ 7.5 million acquisition that grossed $ 20.1 million. “We had a great year at Dimension,” said Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein. “I only hope we can better ourselves (this) year.”

In its traditional stronghold of upscale, specialized pics, Miramax scored with “Emma,” Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which it produced for $ 5.9 million. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, the film won $ 22.2

million at the box office.

The only other arthouse pic to hit $ 20 million was “The English Patient,” a Nov. 15 release that grossed just shy of $ 24 million by the end of ’96. Miramax president of marketing Mark Gill is projecting grosses of at least $ 50 million for “Patient,” which cost Miramax $ 27 million and producer Saul Zaentz another $ 5 million. Miramax wants to sign helmer Anthony Minghella to a multipicture deal, but nothing has been finalized yet, Harvey Weinstein said.

The high-rolling Weinsteins once again demonstrated their ability to play for high stakes in the acquisitions game in 1996 by paying an astonishing $ 10 million for Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial debut “Sling Blade” and $ 5 million

for Doug Liman’s “Swingers,” written by and starring Jon Favreau.

According to Harvey Weinstein, Miramax was willing to pay big bucks for both “Sling Blade” and “Swingers” in order to establish relationships with up-and-coming talent. Thornton subsequently signed a multipic deal with the

company, and Favreau is working on “The Marshal of Revelation,” an offbeat Western featuring an Hasidic Jewish gunslinger.

If return on investment is the sole criterion, “Trainspotting” may have been Miramax’s most successful acquisition. Created by the “Shallow Grave” team of

producer Andrew Macdonald, director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge, the high-voltage tale about Scottish heroin junkies cost Miramax just $ 750,000 and

shot up $ 16.5 million at the box office.

LOW POINTS: Although “ER’s” George Clooney jump-started his bigscreen career with “Dawn,” the same could not be said for David Schwimmer, the “Friends” cast

member who starred in “The Pallbearer.” The film, which cost Miramax $ 8 million, was considered a disappointment with grosses of $ 5.6 million.

The $ 1.04 million gross for Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man” was so weak that it prompted the veteran indie director to take aim at Miramax during the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner on Sunday. “There must have been more press screenings than theatrical showings,” said Jarmusch, in presenting the circle’s cinematography award to DP Robbie Muller for his work on “Dead Man” and

October’s “Breaking the Waves.”

“The Crow: City of Angels” managed to scare up $ 22.2 million, but this was less than half of the $ 52 million gross of “The Crow,” a 1994 release that still ranks as one of Miramax’s most successful films ever.

Miramax suffered a setback when producer Cary Woods announced he would exit when his three-year exclusive production deal expired at the end of 1996. With his former partner Cathy Konrad, Woods produced eight films for Miramax, including “Beautiful Girls,” “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” and “Kids,” which was released under the Weinsteins’ Shining Excalibur banner after receiving an NC-17 rating.

OUTLOOK FOR ’97: Following the lead of parent company Walt Disney Co., Miramax plans to cut its production and acquisitions. According to Harvey

Weinstein, the company will release no more than 30 films in 1997 and no more than 20 in 1998. Commenting on the cutback, Harvey Weinstein said he “feels good” about the decision inspired by Disney, with which the Weinsteins signed seven-year employment agreements in May after a year of difficult negotiations.

At least two upcoming films, “Copland” and “Mimic,” have budgets of more than $ 25 million, well above the average $ 12.5 million cap that Miramax and Disney

agreed upon. To compensate for the high cost of the two pics, Miramax will release films that have budgets significantly below the cap,Weinstein said.

Starring an ensemble cast led by Sylvester Stallone (who agreed to work for scale in hopes of profiting on the back end), “Copland” is one of Miramax’s most highly anticipated releases of the year. Woods produced, and Sundance Film

Festival fave James Mangold directed.

DIVERSIFICATION: During 1996, Miramax teamed with corporate neighbor Tribeca Prods. and emerged as the winning bidder for the film rights to the acclaimed Broadway musical “Rent.” The adaptation will mark the first time that Miramax has produced a musical. Also in the works is a film version of “Chicago,” the revival of the Bob Fosse musical that is currently playing on the Great White

Way.

Miramax announced last year that it would enter the TV syndication business for the first time by teaming with All American Television to bring back the classic game show, “What’s My Line?” The move does not, however, signal the formation of a full-scale TV operation, according to the Weinsteins.

The other issue occupying a great deal of the Weinsteins’ time is how to leverage the nearly 400 films in the Miramax library. In studying the history of the major Hollywood studios, Harvey Weinstein said he and his brother observed that “even when there was a bad year, the library always produced profits.”

During the next two years, the rights to many titles in the Miramax library will revert to the company as they come off their first video cycles. “By 1998, we will be in an enviable position,” said Harvey Weinstein. “Everyone else is getting insane prices for their product in places like France and Germany. Why shouldn’t we?”

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