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The summer of '98 proved to be a record-setting season for Hollywood movie studios, but whether the promotional muscle supplied by marketing partners contributed to that box office success can't be calculated.

Case-in-point: Sony Corp.'s "Men in Black," the summer's blockbuster at $235 million and still growing. A year ago, no one knew what to make of the comic book-based property, so promo partners passed on it in favor of "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "Batman & Robin," sequels to proven brands.

Bausch & Lomb's Ray-Ban scored the tie-in of the summer. The black shades worn by the "MIB" agents became the movie's signature, copied even in various parody ads for other flicks. Ray-Ban reported sales were up two to three times over last summer. "This is a case study of how a movie promotion can work for a marketer," said Mark Workman, senior VP-marketing at Columbia/TriStar Motion Pictures.

Without Ray-Ban's modest $10 million media support, the movie would still have grossed $235 million. In fact, Universal Studios' "The Lost World" would probably have grossed $227.9 million in the U.S. with half of the promo push crafted by Universal and Amblin Entertainment. In the end, the product, stars and the studio's media spending count more.

Most promos this summer were timed to glom onto the hype generated by studios in advance of the film. "Lost World" did most of its business in its first four weeks. Warner Bros.' "Batman & Robin," aided with a $125 million promo push, rocketed to $42.3 million in its opening weekend, but then limped to the $100 million level.

Sony's "Air Force One" ($154.2 million) and "My Best Friend's Wedding" ($119.5 million), and Paramount Pictures' "Face/Off" ($109.4 million), each had no major promo partner.M

'It's pretty subjective science, but no one really knows how many more tickets were sold because of a promotional partner, or [how many] could have been sold if a movie had had a promotional partner," said Michael Schau, editor of The Entertainment Marketing Letter.

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