Tinseltown Marks Best Year Ever In Tickets Sold

There were successes and flops, but when the cash register rang, receipts were up 8 percent

HOLLYWOOD may have been left out of the global-trade accord and be under pressure to curb violence on the big screen, but not all the news is bad: The industry is coming off a record year at the box office.

In a season highlighted, or low-lighted, depending on your aesthetic sense, by tales of marauding dinosaurs, sleuthing fugitives, and Yuppie lawyers, motion pictures took in over $5 billion in ticket sales in 1993 - up 8 percent from last year.

Though there were as many flops as hits, the increase in receipts means some studios may put more films in production next year - one gauge of the pervasiveness of movies in American culture.

``It was a pretty good year,'' says Alan Gould, an entertainment-industry analyst with Kidder, Peabody Inc.

Exact box-office figures vary, depending on whose calculus is being used. Analyst Art Murphy of the Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication, puts the total receipts for the year at $5.2 billion.

His counterpart at Daily Variety, Leonard Klady, estimates it at closer to $5.04 billion. All agree, however, that 1993 was a record year. Mr. Murphy says it surpassed the previous mark set in 1989 ($5.03 billion); Mr. Klady, the one set last year ($4.65 billion).

While a good part of the higher gross reflected higher ticket prices, there were more people going through the turnstiles. Some 1.1 billion tickets were sold in 1993, the most in five years.

The box-office boom was propelled by a big summer, led by ``Jurassic Park.'' Steven Spielberg's tale of a dinosaur theme park has taken in $339 million in the United States and Canada, making it the second-highest-grossing film of all time, behind Spielberg's film, ``E.T.,'' which garnered an estimated $359 million in its initial release.

Seven films surpassed the magical $100-million-gross number in 1993: ``The Fugitive'' ($179 million), ``The Firm'' ($158), ``Sleepless in Seattle'' ($126), ``Mrs. Doubtfire'' ($123), ``Indecent Proposal'' ($107), and ``In the Line of Fire'' ($102).

That is one less film than in 1992, but the number of ticket stubs bought for ``Jurassic Park'' was enough to make up for several films.

A `grand slam' picture

When foreign sales are counted, ``Jurassic Park'' has taken in $870 million - the gross national product of a small country. ``That is like a grand slam,'' Murphy says.

Tinseltown had been hoping for a big holiday season to cap off the year. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's usually accounts for about 20 percent of annual box-office receipts. But only one movie, ``Mrs. Doubtfire,'' did well at first.

The last week of December saw more robust sales, with ``Pelican Brief'' joining ``Mrs. Doubtfire'' as a big draw. A few films released at year's end in a limited number of theaters - largely with Academy awards in mind - have done well, portending a possibly good start to 1994. This includes Spielberg's ``Schindler's List,'' about a Nazi industrialist who saved 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust.

There was also Good & Plenty receipts for a few specialized titles, like Kenneth Branaugh's ``Much Ado About Nothing'' ($23 million) and Miramax Films's ``The Piano'' ($13 million).

Warner Bros. won the box-office sweepstakes for the third year in a row - besting Buena Vista, the distributing arm of Walt Disney Company, by more than $100 million. Even with ``Jurassic Park's'' T-Rex-sized ticket take, Universal was third, while Columbia Pictures took fourth.

Winners and losers

For every blockbuster, there was a box-office buster - or two. Take ``Last Action Hero,'' the Arnold Schwarzenegger extravaganza from Columbia that cost some $80 million to make but has taken in only about $50 million in receipts, though it has done better overseas. The combined star power of Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood wasn't enough to draw big crowds to ``A Perfect World.''

There are plenty of lessons for studio executives sifting through the detritus and darlings of 1993. One would seem to be: Stay clear of sequels. Though they did well in 1992 - with ``Batman Returns,'' ``Home Alone 2,'' and ``Lethal Weapon 3'' - sequels proved less alluring in 1993.

``Sister Act 2,'' ``Wayne's World 2,'' and ``Addams Family Values'' were disappointing draws. Still, industry analysts expect a plethora of sequels again this year, including ``Beverly Hills Cop 3,'' ``City Slickers 2,'' and another ``Karate Kid.''

Two star-packed Westerns, ``Maverick'' and ``Wyatt Earp,'' are early favorites to do well. But will they? ``Geronimo'' fared poorly this year. Better hold off on the Hollywood hype for now.

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