Sunday, 8 November 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 21 - Blockbusting

George Lucas had been through thick and thin to complete his space opera, and he was hoping to just sit back and watch it roll out. Lucas was anticipating a colossal disappointment in box office returns, with such a tumultuous production and several executives at 20th Century Fox calling for his blood as payment for what they considered to be a waste of their time and resources. Lucas and the producers were all anticipating the worst, fearing that it would be a film that they would want to forget, when in reality, most would never want to forget it.
They had good reason to be worried though, executives were worried that ‘Star Wars’ would be beaten by competing summer movies like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ they moved the date to May 25th, far from a prime release date, with few rivalling films out at the same time. Even then though, less than 40 cinemas actually agreed to show ‘Star Wars’ causing 20th Century Fox to strike a deal and release it in conjunction with ‘The Other Side of Midnight’, meaning that if they wanted to show the eagerly anticipated adaptation of the best selling book, they had to show this science fiction picture that was relatively unknown apart from the infamous rumours circling cinema insiders of disastrous productions and an insane young director. Incidentally I have yet to see ‘The Other Side of Midnight’, though critic Roger Ebert called it ‘awful’ so I can assume it did not set the world on fire, unlike the film it was released next to. But again you would not think it as there was no time for press screenings, advertisement campaigns of a large nature or mass production of merchandise.
So on that fateful day of May 25th 1977, ‘Star Wars’ erupted onto cinema screens (and when I say cinema screens I still mean a relatively small amount, some theatres got around Fox’s ultimatum by showing it mostly at late screenings). Within the first day it had started to break records as out of the 36 theatres showing ‘Star Wars’ that day all of them broke their all-time house records for a single day, 20th Century Fox quickly broadened its release (though still having little reason to believe it was anything other than a peculiarity). Producer Gary Kurtz later revealed that he went on a radio talk show to promote the film on its premier date and was startled to be given a very detailed description of the movie by one caller, who revealed that he had already seen it four times.
There is of course a famous story of George Lucas, believing the film would fail, taking a vacation in Hawaii upon its release and was naturally staggered to find his film playing at a theatre near his resort, weeks ahead of schedule. He then saw Walter Cronkite discussing the film and its success on CBS and realised he had created something quite remarkable. Francis Ford Coppola even heard in the Philippines and sent a telegram to ask his now much wealthier friend for emergency funding for ‘Apocalypse Now’.  Another friend of Lucas that gained a significant sum of money from the film’s success was Steven Spielberg as he and Lucas had agreed to give each other 2.5% of the profits of their current movies ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Star Wars’ as a way of casting a wager of which would be more successful. As of today Spielberg has made $40 Million from that small bet.
In the wake of the film everyone had their names thrust into stardom, Hamill, Ford and Fisher became household names and even crew members were being stopped on the street for autographs. The indie filmmaker who had openly despised commercial Hollywood was now credited with reinvigorating it. Before 1977 20th Century Fox’s biggest profit from a single year was a total of $37 million, but they broke that record that year with a staggering $79 million. ‘Star Wars’ itself would go on the overtake ‘Jaws’ to become the highest grossing film of all time.

No comments:

Post a Comment