Cinema: The battle of the blockbusters

Summer's over and the figures are in - Dennis Lim reports from New York

It was supposed to be a prodigious summer at the US box-office, but the early momentum proved to be deceptive. The fireworks of Independence Day were difficult to follow, and recent weeks have seen a sharp downturn in takings with films struggling to break even. Studios need a scapegoat and the official line is that the Olympics side-tracked audiences. Lopsided release schedules are a more obvious explanation: sure-fire money-spinners were pushed forward, and the tail end of summer ended up a dumping ground for doubtful outsiders.

Of the winners Independence Day is comfortably in front (a final US gross of at least $300m looks certain), with Twister a strong runner-up ($238m). As of Labor Day, the official end of summer, three others had crossed the $100m mark: Mission: Impossible ($176m), The Rock ($130m), and, surprisingly, Eddie Murphy's retread of The Nutty Professor ($121m). Eraser, Phenomenon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and A Time to Kill are all edging towards nine figures. After the folly of Waterworld, thrift is the watchword - thrift by Hollywood standards, at any rate - and the $100m Eraser tops the budget list.

The highest profit ratios usually come from art-house breakthroughs, and though nothing matched last year's extremely cheap and inexplicably well-received The Brothers McMullen, there were a few small films that stood their ground, notably Emma, the summer's most lucrative limited release, and Trainspotting, much hyped and a hit in the cities. The most richly deserved indie success, though, was John Sayles's Lone Star, the beneficiary of a publicity campaign that didn't hesitate to play up the minor role of the suddenly very hot Matthew McConaughey.

The old order of stars has every right to feel threatened, with once- safe formulae - Demi Moore undressing (Striptease), Jim Carrey mugging (The Cable Guy) - backfiring. Next summer, the studios will be grateful for the safety net traditionally provided by sequels: attractions include follow-ups to Jurassic Park and Speed, and the fourth Batman and Alien movies. !

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