No attendee left the recent global exhibitors' convention ShoWest without one over-riding impression - that Sony Pictures has one of the most promising lineups of any studio in years.
As worldwide marketing and distribution president Jeff Blake screened new trailers for Spiderman and XXX and the full-length feature Mr Deeds to an audience that included Sony bigwigs Howard Stringer, John Calley and Amy Pascal as well as Revolution Studios chief Joe Roth, it was clear that the studio is both confident that it has the potential this year to top its domestic gross record of $1.2bn in 1997 as well as aware of the pressure it is under to do so.
In fact, since 1997, SPE has had sporadic success. Calley had taken over the reins at the studio from Mark Canton in late 1996 in time for a year of success which would start with Jerry Maguire and go through My Best Friend's Wedding, Men In Black, Air Force One, Anaconda and As Good As It Gets. Even though Air Force One wasn't a Sony movie internationally, Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International also crossed the $1bn in '97 and to this date, the studio holds the record for worldwide gross from one studio in one year.
But films initiated under Calley's regime have fared less thrillingly despite hits such as Big Daddy and Charlie's Angels. Many choose to see the expensive Godzilla in 1998 as a flop despite a worldwide take of over $360m, not to mention expensive bona fide losers like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), Hanging Up (2000), 8MM (1999) and Random Hearts (1999).
71 year-old Calley's contract is next up for renewal in April 2003, and until then, he should be basking in box office success. 2002 and 2003 are stuffed full of sequels like Men In Black 2, Stuart Little 2, Charlie's Angels 2 and Bad Boys 2 as well as tentpole pictures with franchise potential such as Spiderman, I Spy and SWAT not to mention one-offs like Enough and Mr Deeds - both riding on furiously high buzz - and a slate of pictures SPE distributes from Roth's Revolution which includes starring vehicles for Vin Diesel, Dana Carvey, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck.
And then there's Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, to which Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International (CTFDI) bought international rights and will release in summer 2003.
Indeed, while naysayers point to SPE's low domestic market share last year of 9% ($730.4m) and of 8.9% ($667.4m) in 2000, CTFDI has been consistently successful, and even took in over $1bn in 2000 from exceptional performances by Vertical Limit and Charlie's Angels (see charts below).
"It's important for us that we have an amazing year both domestically and internationally," said Jeff Blake this week. "One without the other is no good." Since taking CTFDI under his wing in 1999, Blake has championed the concept of day-and-date global releasing tentpole movies and his three big 2002 pictures - Spiderman, Men In Black 2 and Stuart Little 2 - will all open at the same time as the US or at least immediately afterwards.
This policy not only forestalls video pirates and maximizes worldwide publicity opportunities but brings revenues pouring back to Culver City straight away, so that SPE can start seeing profit on these big pictures sooner rather than later - after all, budgets on Spiderman and MIB2 are in the $150m region before P&A costs are factored in. "Day and date releasing is really just a side product of what we really are trying to accomplish which is combining the domestic and international thought processes while still maintaining the integrity of both," says Blake.
Blake says that when he used to run the domestic distribution division, he remembers saying goodbye to the pictures after a few weeks on release and handing them over to the international department. "They would then make the same kind of decisions we would make and have to win the confidence of the film-makers all over again," he says. "Now we introduce the international side from day one and include them in the earliest domestic meetings on any film, so that if we need to release the film day-and-date, we will have the domestic campaign accepted or adjusted for foreign territories and materials and prints ready for delivery."
With Panic Room essentially kicking off SPE's year in a fortnight in North America, the studio is looking to clock up some big global numbers in the next nine months. As for Blake's confidence in simultaneous global releasing, he feels vindicated by the success of Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings. "They are the blueprint," he says. "With these locomotives, you have to have domestic and international on the same page to allow for the possibility of anything like this."
Sony Pictures Entertainment 1997-2001 Top Ten In Domestic Market
Film (Director) US release date Total US box office
1 Men In Black (Barry Sonnenfeld) July 2, 1997 $250.1m
2 Air Force One (Wolfgang Peterson) July 25, 1997 $172.7m
3 Big Daddy (Dennis Dugan) June 25, 1999 $163.5m
4 As Good As It Gets (James L Brooks) Dec 23, 1997 $147.6m
5 Stuart Little (Rob Minkoff) Dec 17, 1999 $140m
6 Godzilla (Roland Emmerich) May 20, 1998 $136.3m
7 My Best Friend's Wedding (PJ Hogan) June 20, 1997 $126.8m
8 Charlie's Angels (McG) Nov 3, 2000 $125.3m
9 The Patriot (Roland Emmerich) June 28, 2000 $113.3m
10 Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott) Dec 28, 2001 $106.7m
Sony Pictures Entertainment 1997-2001 Top Ten In International Market
Film (Year) Total international box office
1 Men In Black (1997) $338.7m
2 Godzilla (1997) $239.8m
3 My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) $172.1m
4 As Good As It Gets (1998) $167.5m
5 Stuart Little (1999) $158m
6 The Mask Of Zorro (1998) $156.2m
7 Vertical Limit (2000) $146.1m
8 Charlie's Angels (2000) $138.7m
9 Erin Brockovich (1999) $131m
10 Jerry Maguire (1997) $117m
Columbia Pictures 2002 Domestic Lineup
Film (Director) Star
March 29 - Panic Room (David Fincher) Jodie Foster
Apr 12 - The Sweetest Thing (Roger Kimble) Cameron Diaz
May 3 - Spiderman (Sam Raimi) Tobey Maguire & Kirsten Dunst
*May 10 - Stealing Harvard (Ed Decter) DJ Qualls & Eliza Dushku
May 24 - Enough (Michael Apted) Jennifer Lopez & Billy Campbell
*May 31 - The Master Of Disguise (Perry Andelin Blake) Dana Carvey
June 21 - Mr Deeds (Steven Brill) Adam Sandler & Winona Ryder
July 3 - Men In Black 2 (Barry Sonnenfeld) Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones
July 19 - Stuart Little 2 (Rob Minkoff) Geena Davis & Jonathan Lipnicki
*Aug 2 - XXX (Rob Cohen) Vin Diesel & Samuel L Jackson
Aug 16 - You Promised (Bruce McCullouch) Tom Green
Aug 23 - 24 Hours (Luis Mandoki) Charlize Theron & Courtney Love (Senator International has international rights)
Fall - National Security (Dennis Dugan) Martin Lawrence (Intermedia has international rights)
Fall - Once Upon A Time In Mexico (Robert Rodriguez) Antonio Banderas
Fall - Swept Away (Guy Ritchie) Madonna
Nov - I Spy (Betty Thomas) Eddie Murphy & Owen Wilson
Nov 27 - Adam Sandler's