In Art Buchwald's lawsuit over the story credit for "Coming to America," Paramount Pictures offered a lesson in Hollywood-style accounting, explaining that even though the movie had grossed in the neighborhood of $150 million, it hadn't turned a profit. And last week, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offered another, far more wide-ranging accounting lesson at the Cinetex convention in Las Vegas.
Last year, according to AMPTP President J. Nicholas Counter III, Hollywood's major studios lost money -- more than $2 billion -- despite the fact that 1989 was by far the biggest year for movie grosses in history. And while many in Hollywood think that the boom in subsidiary markets like cable TV and home video has made it easier to earn back money spent on a film, Counter disagreed: Now, he said, studios have "to wait through the whole distribution chain in order to recoup motion picture costs," and that waiting costs additional money.
Of course, just as in the "Coming to America" trial, there may be a good reason for this gloomy accounting: Beginning in 1992, the motion picture producers will have to negotiate a contract with the actors', writers' and stagehands' unions. In recent years, such negotiations have frequently led to strikes. By announcing his bleak statistics now, charged a Screen Actors Guild executive, Counter is merely "practicing for the 1992 negotiations."
It probably has nothing to do with the new spirit of Soviet-American cooperation, but a Soviet comedy won the top prize at the Cinetex International Comedy Festival, also in Las Vegas. Yuri Mamin's "The Fountain," the winning film, pokes fun at the Soviet Union's stifling bureaucracy and drab lifestyle. It was the unanimous choice of the three-member jury. Top acting awards went to a pair of Americans, Jeff Daniels and Judith Ivey, for their roles in Bud Yorkin's "Love Hurts" ... At the Deauville Film Festival in France, meanwhile, the top prize was shared by two New Line Cinema productions, "Metropolitan" and "Pump Up the Volume." The films were singled out by a jury of six French journalists, who admitted that the movies "are very different in their view of American teenagers." Another prize, for the film judged to be the audience favorite, went to "Tune In Tomorrow," the movie version of the novel "Aunt Julia and the Screenwriter." Deauville is a French festival devoted to American films.
In the Money
Virtually every movie in release last weekend took a significant drop at the box office from the previous week -- but as usual, "Ghost" fell the least. The movie has now passed "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" to become the year's second-biggest film, behind "Pretty Woman." That's a lineup nobody would have predicted: As of mid-September the year's three biggest films are two spring releases and one midsummer sleeper.
The final tally is in for the summer of 1990, and the season's top studios are the two that have dominated the business for the past few years, Buena Vista (Disney) and Paramount. Buena Vista captured 19.9 percent of the summer business and Paramount (for a while the undisputed king of summer films) had 19.5 percent; Universal trailed those two studios with 16 percent, while Fox and Tri-Star topped 10 percent by slim margins. If the tally were restricted to movies released during the summer, though, Paramount would have taken the top spot, because Disney's figures got a significant boost from summer business done by "Pretty Woman," a spring release ... While this summer will be remembered as a lackluster one for the movie industry, things actually got better once the hoped-for blockbusters were out of the way. Last month -- when the spotlight turned from big-budget disappointments like "Days of Thunder" and "Back to the Future III" to smaller-scale pictures like "Ghost" and "Darkman" -- was in fact the biggest-grossing August ever ... And when you look at the year to date, 1990's highly successful spring season was enough to make up for the summer: The year is now running just about even with last year's record totals. Which means, presumably, that the major studios stand to lose another $2 billion or so before the year's out.