The summer of 1990 officially ends for the movie business this weekend, and it'll be remembered as a season of great expectations and great disappointments. So many big-budget, hoped-for blockbusters opened in such quick succession between May 23 and June 21 that none of them was able to sustain an audience the way a true blockbuster should: The last few months have seen the release of some of the most expensive movies ever made, and virtually every one of them will end the summer making significantly less money than the studios had hoped.
This includes such $100 million-plus earners as "Dick Tracy," "Die Hard 2" and "Total Recall," which needed to dominate the box office to be considered truly successful. The only real exception was "Ghost," which breezed into theaters after the mega-movies had exhausted themselves and each other -- and which will, within the next two weeks, pass "Total Recall" to become the summer's top-grossing movie.
Another relative sleeper, "Pretty Woman," last week passed "Three Men and a Baby" to become the top-grossing film in Walt Disney history. The spring release is also the year's biggest moneymaker to date, an honor that until now has almost invariably gone to a summer movie... . And the top-grossing movie of two weeks ago, "The Exorcist III," hit the same snag that felled many other recent releases: After a big opening weekend it plummeted a disastrous 61 percent. Precipitous drops were also recorded by "Air America" and David Lynch's "Wild at Heart."
Raimi and the Ratings
The weekend's big box office winner, though, was "Darkman," the major-studio debut of "Evil Dead" director Sam Raimi. The movie's $4,510 per-screen average was far from spectacular, but it did squeak by "Ghost" and far outdistance the weekend's other new films, "Men at Work," "The Witches," "Delta Force 2" and "Pump Up the Volume." And "Darkman," it turns out, is another of the recent spate of films to have a problem with the ratings board -- but in this case, director Raimi says, it wasn't the by now traditional R vs. X rating battle.
"Universal wanted a PG-13, and I really didn't have a problem with that," says Raimi. "So we shot it in a very particular way, cut out all the curse words, did that routine. And we submitted it, and we got an R. But the ratings board only objected to a few things, and I wanted to cut them out. But Universal said, 'No, don't touch the picture.' It's not fair, because now that I know they'd accept an R, I'm sorry that we didn't go harder."
Raimi, by the way, says there were a lot of reasons why he wanted to make a major-studio film after a couple of low-budget independents -- "but mostly," he laughs, "it was the Universal logo up front. That's cool." And in the end, his film got the benefit of a new Universal logo, a 75th-anniversary special that shows the history of the studio's logos, one by one. "It's got this music that's kind of epic and tragic all at once," he says. "You feel like crying after you see the damn thing. I hope the movie can deliver as much as that new logo."
Short Takes Orion Pictures, which made its reputation with prestige, high-quality films rather than blockbusters, has been in a significant slump for most of the past two years. Now the company has announced a lineup of movies with big stars and mainstream themes designed to bring in viewers. Among the projects in the works are "Fatal Voyage," a drama from director Jonathan Demme about the USS Indianapolis, a World War II Navy ship that carried supplies for the bombing of Nagasaki; "The Dark Half," a horror film from "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero and writer Stephen King; "China Moon," an erotic thriller starring Ed Harris and Madeline Stowe and produced by Kevin Costner and his Tig Productions; and "Capone in Laredo," a movie about the young Al Capone from "Bull Durham" director Ron Shelton.