STUDIO SPOTLIGHT The comeback kid in 1999 among major studios was without a doubt Universal Pictures. After a year-and-a-half drought, the studio came roaring back with its best session on record grossing $934M in 1999 giving it a stunning 138% improvement over the previous year. Three summer hits each crossed $100M domestically and another four pulled in $60-70M in sales. Plus, stellar business abroad gave the studio another $1.1 billion in overseas grosses for the year. Universal placed a film in the top ten during 50 of the 52 weekends last year indicating a consistently strong release schedule.
The studio began the year in first place with Patch Adams which collected over half of its $135M take in 1999 spending the first six weeks of the new year nestled in the top five. The spring was mixed as Universal won with Life which grossed $64M, but failed with Ed TV which stumbled to $22.4M amid comparisons to The Truman Show. October Sky was embraced by critics and school teachers for its encouraging story and eventually collected a decent $32.6M.
But it was the summer season when Universal truly sparkled as the studio aggressively counterprogrammed the monster that was The Phantom Menace with two hit titles. For fans looking for action and special effects before the availability of Star Wars there was The Mummy, while for those seeking a romantic alternative there was Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. A flood of cash awaited each film as The Mummy grossed $155.3M domestically and $413M worldwide, while Notting Hill collected $116.1M here and $362M globally. And if that wasn't enough, Universal unleashed the low-budget teen sex comedy American Pie and knocked the megahyped tentpole pic Wild Wild West out of the number one spot in its second weekend. Carrying a modest $11M price tag, Pie went on to gross an amazing $101.8M proving that you don't need overpaid stars and expensive special effects to make money at the box office.
The rest of the year saw mixed results for the studio. Disappointments like Mystery Men ($29.8M), Dudley Do-Right ($9.8M), For Love of the Game ($35.2M), The Story of Us ($27.1M), and Man on the Moon ($25M to date) followed. But The Bone Collector and End of Days each grossed over $60M while the inexpensive picture The Best Man opened at number one and went on to capture over $33M.
For the year 2000, Universal plans to keep the momentum going strong and has put together one of the most impressive release slates in the business. Upcoming contenders include Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts, The Nutty Professor 2, Jim Carrey in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.