STUDIO SPOTLIGHT The defending market share champ of 1997, Sony Pictures Entertainment, placed fourth in 1998, just a hair beneath Warner Bros. with about $748M in ticket sales. While other studios have been cutting back on their film slates, Sony just kept the movies coming with 20 new wide releases in 1998. A large number of the films were modestly priced, featured up-and-coming young stars, and aimed at high-spending teens and young adults. Only 5 of the 20 pictures crossed the $30M mark in ticket sales, but only a small handful were expensive productions so Sony should end up with a whole collection of titles that will eventually deliver modest profits.

December 1997 holdover As Good As It Gets kept the riches flowing as most of its $147.7M cume was earned in 1998. Golden Globe and Oscar statues helped keep the comedy in the top ten for months. Before Godzilla arrived, Sony was busy releasing a new film every other week. None were huge hits, but a few were low cost pictures that pulled in respectable business like Spice World ($29.3M), Wild Things ($29.8M), and The Big Hit ($27.1M) which were all slickly-packaged films aimed for teens and young adults.

But over Memorial Day weekend, that monster film that was hyped since the beginning of time, Godzilla, attacked multiplexes from coast-to-coast bringing in grosses that could not meet the industry's inflated expectations. Regarded as one of the biggest movies of the summer, the giant lizard couldn't even break the top five list of summer box office champs and ended its domestic run with $136.2M. The important lesson that Hollywood learned was that there was such a thing as overselling a movie. But worldwide, Godzilla has chomped on over $375M so it should be profitable for Sony in the end. The studio did see strong results from its other summer player, The Mask of Zorro, which whipped up $94M. Possible sequels have been mentioned for both Zorro and Godzilla so this may not be the last we've seen of these beasts.

Sony's strategy of low-priced thrillers targeted at the under-25 crowd continued with Urban Legend ($38M) and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer ($39M) once students were back in class in the fall. Its Christmas release Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, grossed a hefty $50M in ten days and looks to be another winter winner for Sony following As Good As It Gets and Jerry Maguire from the last two years.