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Deck the Theaters: Christmas Movie Season Has Hollywood Stirring With AM-Holiday Movie-List

November 14, 1991

Deck the Theaters: Christmas Movie Season Has Hollywood Stirring With AM-Holiday Movie-List Graphic

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hollywood is loading its sleigh with a bundle of holiday films this year, hoping to coax a Scrooge-like public back into theaters.

Inside the wrappings are treats such as ″Hook,″ the Steven Spielberg picture starring Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, and ″The Addams Family,″ a remake of the hit television series.

More than two dozen big-ticket movies, including the Bruce Willis comeback attempt ″The Last Boy Scout,″ will debut before year’s end. Children will have two animated films to go see, ″Home Alone″ star Macaulay Culkin will die of bee stings in ″My Girl″ and Oliver Stone will offer his controversial assassination schemes in ″JFK.″

But there may be little joy in Tinseltown. Although several films certainly will emerge as hits, many others are likely to deliver nothing more than coal to studio stockings.

Hollywood can’t afford such lumps as it suffers through one of the worst box office declines in years. The Motion Picture Association of America says 1991 revenues may be down as much as 10 percent from a year ago.

Studio executives hope a few smashes - perhaps ″Hook,″ ″The Addams Family″ or ″Beauty and the Beast″ - will revive the entire film business.

″If you have some good pictures in the marketplace, people will come back to theaters,″ said Si Kornblitt, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for Universal Pictures. ″The market has an ability to expand.″

The market also has an ability to crush competitors.

″If we don’t have movies that are really good, they are going to get buried,″ said Tom Sherak, an executive vice president of 20th Century Fox. ″The scary thing is what if they’re good and they get buried? Because only so many pictures can do business.″

A lot of films open late in the year for two reasons. First, students are on vacation - bored and eager for entertainment. Second, Academy Award voters exhibit notoriously short memories: The later a movie comes out, the better its chances when Oscar nominations are revealed Feb. 19.

That award-at-all-costs thinking creates a glut of serious, adult-oriented films as the year winds down.

Thus, Barbra Streisand’s ″The Prince of Tides″ was moved from September to Dec. 18. ″Naked Lunch,″ an adaptation of William Burroughs’ account of his heroin addiction, was moved up from Jan. 17, when it would be ineligible for the next Oscars, to Dec. 27. Stone is racing to finish ″JFK″ for a Dec. 20 premiere.

″Rush,″ a dreary look at two undercover officers turned junkies, will debut Christmas Day.

Producer Saul Zaentz spent more than two decades pursuing and making ″At Play in the Fields of the Lord,″ the film version of Peter Matthiessen’s Amazon novel.

Other year-enders include ″Fried Green Tomatoes,″ adapted from actress Fannie Flagg’s Southern novel; ″The Mambo Kings,″ from Oscar Hijuelos prize- winning novel; and ″Until the End of the World,″ by German director Wim Wenders.

The demand for a slice of the holiday pie is so great that the animated films ″Beauty and the Beast″ from Disney and ″An American Tail: Fievel Gies West″ from Universal will open on the same day, Nov. 22.

This potentially suicidal head-to-head clash will be among the most dramatic showdowns of the season, and it was almost bloodier: 20th Century Fox considered opening its animated feature ″Ferngully: The Last Rain Forest″ around the same time, but fled for safer ground next Easter.

″When you have such a short span between major motion pictures, you always face the possibility of pictures gobbling up other pictures,″ said Fox’s Sherak. His studio also is releasing ″Naked Lunch,″ plus ″For the Boys,″ a World War II story starring Bette Midler, and ″Grand Canyon,″ a drama directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

Many people here expect Spielberg’s ″Hook,″ a spin-off from the Peter Pan story, to be the highest-grossing release of the season. Popularity won’t necessarily make the $70 million film profitable for Sony Pictures, however.

Because Spielberg and his stars receive a huge share of the film’s receipts, ″Hook,″ opening Dec. 11, will have to gross more than $400 million worldwide before it makes a penny, people familiar with the film say.

If ″The Addams Family″ is a box-office smash, it won’t bring any money to the studio that made it, Orion Pictures. Strapped for cash, Orion sold the nearly completed film earlier this year to Paramount.

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