Disney and DreamWorks duke it out

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The song is the same: Walt Disney Co. won another summer theatrical season, making the big mouse a winner the last six of seven summers.

But the win this time was a squeaker, edging out DreamWorks Pictures.

Disney's big hit, "Dinosaur," helped pull the studio to a narrow victory this summer, with $135 million in U.S. box-office receipts to date. Disney's overall total take was $399 million from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Disney was helped by 14 releases that moved through the summer period.

Other contributing Disney films were "Gone in 60 Seconds" ($98.7 million), "Disney's The Kid" ($67 million), "Shanghai Noon" ($56.7 million), and "Coyote Ugly" ($53.5 million).

"We were very judicious in how we were going to attack the marketplace, which was a difficult one at best," says Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. "I don't know if we did anything differently. We just tried to get a little bit smarter."

One of those smart ideas was taking a movie called "The Kid" and turning it into "Disney's The Kid." Though not a world-beater, the movie pulled in more revenues thanks to Disney adding the new moniker to the title.

"Having Bruce Willis in a Disney movie helped broaden the audience," says Mr. Cook. "It was always our intent that this would be a real broad family movie."

SUMMER SLUGGER

While Disney chugged along to the top, the real story this summer was DreamWorks Pictures. The studio bolted into second place this summer. Like a summer slugger, it knocked the ball out of the park with three consecutive $100 million-plus box-office movies in the row: "Gladiator" ($183.6 million); "Chicken Run" ($104.2 million); and "What Lies Beneath" ($136.8 million). And, compared with Disney's 14 releases, DreamsWorks was able to hit the $391.4 million level with just seven movies in circulation during the period from Memorial Day through Labor Day; $109 million of "Gladiator's" revenues started streaming in before Memorial Day.

Marketing experts give the studio an "A" for its efforts on "Chicken Run," especially in bringing in consumers who usually only wait for animated product from Disney.

Branding consciousness of consumers when it comes to Disney and animation is exceeding high. In "Chicken Run" broaching the $100 million level -- a much easier task for live-action movies than animated fare -- DreamWorks earned major kudos among marketing executives.

Warner Bros. was involved in the biggest battle of the summer pitting "The Perfect Storm" vs. Sony Pictures Entertainment's "The Patriot." The battle over wind-and-water won out over the battle of the redcoats in total box-office receipts.

DOWNSIDE TO ENDING

"It was a significant challenge because of the fact the movie doesn't end on a happy note," says Brad Ball, president of theatrical marketing for Warner Bros. "Most importantly, we were being told by the experts to take second place to Mel Gibson and `The Patriot.' "

"The Patriot," launched around the Independence day holiday, was expected to win over "The Perfect Storm."

Warner's marketing efforts focused on the subject of struggling with weather and water, not in touting the film as a George Clooney star vehicle. The decision helped to push the movie over the top, according to industry executives.

Big returns for "The Perfect Storm" also gave a nice lead-in to other Warner Bros. movies, such as "Space Cowboys" starring Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones, as the trailer for "Cowboys" appeared before "The Perfect Storm."

"Cowboys" has pulled in $85 million, and could make it to more than $90 million in U.S. box-office numbers.

Universal Pictures had its own challenges in launching "The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps."

Although Eddie Murphy's original movie scored well with consumers, the second movie faced a significant challenge, says Marc Shmuger, president of marketing. He says, increasingly, there's a tendency among consumers to reject familiar franchise movies this time of year.

"The mindset of the summer, for consumers, is to reject sure things and embrace surprise," says Mr. Shmuger.

Universal took extra care in its marketing materials, noting Mr. Murphy was taking on an extraordinary task of playing five different roles. The film carried the tag line, "Eddie Murphy is the Klumps."

ANOTHER CRUISE VEHICLE

Other season events included Paramount Pictures making its mission possible from another "Mission: Impossible" franchise, "MI:2, " starring Tom Cruise. Fox Filmed Entertainment suffered a disaster with "Titan A.E.," which cost chairman Bill Mechanic his job, according to executives. Fox was able to come back with a "X-Men," bringing to life those dark comics-book characters.

As much as big marketers such as Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony, and Fox could muster in terms of media dollars, the summer season for theatrical films was slightly down, 7%, compared with 1999 numbers.

Box-office group ACNielsen EDI says for the 15-week summer season, box-revenue was $2.7 billion. Last year, with a big "Star Wars" movie in tow, the market pulled in $2.8 billion.

Still, summer 2000 was the second-best all time. No dinosaur, here.