Studios soar to new box-office nirvana

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Like the elements of this year's blockbuster "The Perfect Storm," numerous factors converged to make 1999 a remarkable year for film studios. In the process, studios pushed ad spending 7.7% to $2.7 billion and scored a record $7.4 billion in box-office receipts in 1999.

Advertising of more than $10 million each backed 77 movies in 1999, with expenditures on 17 of those hitting more than $20 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


As a category, movies would rank third in the Top 100 at $2.55 billion, up 6.4% from eight studios whose expenditures would put them in the Top 100 if Ad Age megabranded studios. But it doesn't.

Megabrands are a collection of brands, and one might argue studios are a collection of film brands, but unlike other megabrands, there is no continuity in spending on a film. Advertising is a shot heard no more, making studio spending largely a function of the number and magnitude of new movie releases.

No single film had expenditures large enough to make the Top 100.

Walt Disney Co. claimed the largest box-office dollar share among studios (17%) through Buena Vista Pictures, which spent more than $10 million each on 15 films, five of those attracting more than $20 million in advertising, according to CMR.

Its $20 million-plus crowd included "Tarzan" at $27.8 million, "The Sixth Sense" at $21.7 million, "Bicentennial Man" and "The Insider," both $21.6 million, and "Toy Story 2" at $21.1 million.


"Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace," the hand's down box-office winner, drew only $14.1 million in advertising from parent News Corp., nominal advertising compared with other blockbusters. But the fall release from 20th Century Fox was so trumpeted by the press that it needed very little else to generate hype.

The only other blockbuster of 1999 was "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," from Time Warner's New Line studio. The film pulled $18 million in advertising. Time Warner meanwhile backed 15 films from Warner Bros. at $10 million each. Only two, "The Green Mile" and "The Matrix," pulled more than $20 million in ad spending.

In a year so captivated by the Internet, it seems only proper that the Web should conspire to produce the year's big sleeper: Artisan Entertainment's "Blair Witch Project." The film pulled a mere $11 million in advertising but grossed a remarkable $140.5 million in its first run, success attributed in part to the buzz it got in cyberspace.

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