Orion Pictures went into Chapter 11 reorganization in December 1991, with $690 million in debt and 10 completed features waiting for release. We are going to take a look at the 10 very delayed movies that were Orion’s last hope to remain a functional financier and distributor post-bankruptcy — an insurmountable challenge when your strongest commercial picture was the legendary turkey RoboCop 3.
Orion Pictures was founded in 1978 by Arthur Krim (but relied on WB’s distribution operations for their movies until they became a standalone company in 1982) and the mini-major was largely regarded as a filmmaker friendly haven that, in its relatively short operational period, won Best Picture for “Amadeus,” “Platoon,” “Dances With Wolves” and “Silence of the Lambs.” However, starting in 1989 the indie studio weathered a series of flops, such as “She-Devil,” “Valmont, “Great Balls of Fire,” “The Hot Spot” and “The Last of the Finest” which left the company in financial shambles.
In late 1990, Orion scored a brief financial lifeline with the smash Dances with Wolves, which pulled in $184 million in the US and about three months later The Silence of the Lambs grossed $130 million. The profits of these pictures were not nearly enough to offset the debt and continued box office failures released by Orion and fresh off the Best Picture win for Lambs, bankruptcy was a looming inevitability.
Desperate to raise cash, Orion sold Paramount the rights to “The Addams Family” which was in production at the time, for the amount of money they had so far invested into it, which was $14.6 million. The picture became a blockbuster that grossed $113 million stateside for Paramount.
When Orion went into Chapter 11 in December 1991, they had 13 completed features waiting for release. Woody Allen’s “Shadows and Fog,” Jodie Foster’s “Little Man Tate” and “Article 99” were extricated from the bankruptcy and put into theaters, but the unlucky remaining 10 films were cast aside while the reorganization was being settled.
In Orion’s quarterly reports, Shadows and Fog and Article 99 ended as write-downs and the Jodie Foster film did modest business that managed not to lose Orion their investment. The 10 completed films were lined up to be Orion’s post Chapter 11 lifeline and would dictate if the struggling studio could get back into the movie funding/producing business or if they would be relegated to rent-a-distributor status for smaller company’s movies — or sold off and dissolved completely. Most of the 10 pictures were viewed as having mixed commercial potential, but they had at least one potential savior: RoboCop 3. So you know things won’t end well here.
Orion emerged from bankruptcy on Nov. 5, 1992, and had earmarked $72 million for P&A for the 10 pictures. Every single one was a commercial failure. These films were initially set for release in 1992, but the bankruptcy led to a staggered release through 1993 and 1994. Most of these movies were ignored upon release and then subsequently forgotten.
After they wasted most of their capital on their 10 in-house movies, they did act as a rent-a-distributor for a few years and then made a handful of small investments into some small pictures, but Orion was shuttered in 1999.
Here are the 10 movies that cemented Orion’s status as a has-been mini-major:
1. Love Field (1992)
Orion rushed Love Field into a few theaters in NY/LA in Dec ‘92 to qualify Michelle Pfeiffer for award consideration. It paid off — not in box office receipts, but Pfeiffer did land a Best Actress nomination for this poorly reviewed drama. Love Field cost $18 million and Orion’s first film from the unlucky 10 grossed all of $1,014,726.
2. Married to It (1993)
Arthur Hiller’s poorly received relationship comedy was the second Orion movie to be unloaded. It sported no bankable leads, was dismissed as sitcom quality, and bombed with just $2,059,832 on a $14 million budget. Don’t waste any more time even thinking about this one. Moving on…
3. The Dark Half (1993)
Horror vet George A. Romero’s big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel was beset by an unpleasant production stemming from studio interference, a difficult lead actor, and a cinematographer who was less than collaborative. Romero said of the production: “I had such a bad experience with [The Dark Half]. Orion was supposed to be the filmmaker’s studio, but I had bigger trouble with them than Universal. I was terrified of Universal! But Orion was really terrible to work for. It was really tough.” “With The Dark Half, I had a DP who thought he was going to win an Oscar, and just gave me grief every minute. He quit indignantly about six times, and I thought I was gonna get canned because of my problems with Tim Hutton. I was ready to just throw my hands up, it was really hard to keep a rope on that one. But that’s what happens.”
The Dark Half was finally released on April 23, 1993, and received a muted response from critics. It quickly bombed out of theaters with just $10,611,160 on a $16 million budget. Out of the entire slate of delayed Orion movies, the terrible box office returns from The Dark Half was their second-highest. After The Dark Half flopped, Romero was not able to get another movie off the ground until he made the low budget Bruiser in 2000.
4. RoboCop 3 (1993)
Before it was released to universal hate and cemented its reputation as one of the worst sequels of all time, RoboCop 3 was considered Orion’s strongest property. This potential cash cow for the studio was designed for the family market, dropping the extreme violence from the first two installments and was made on the cheap for $23.5 million.
RoboCop 3 was first scheduled to open during the prime summer slot on July 16, 1993, but Orion moved it out of the competitive summer frame and into November to keep it away from oversized fare like Jurassic Park. RoboCop 3 was still expected to give Orion a much needed profitable theatrical performance, but the movie was dead on arrival — both creatively and commercially. It became the highest-grossing movie of the Unlucky 10 with just $10,696,210 — just a few thousand more than The Dark Half. This stinker derailed the franchise and Fred Dekker’s career. Orion announced a $4.4 million write-down in their financial quarter report.
5. Car 54, Where Are You? (1994)
This cinematic crime against humanity was greenlit along with another film based on an old sitcom, The Addams Family — but Orion sold off that box office hit in production and held onto this embarrassment. Shot in 1990 with musical numbers throughout, the film was carved up by Orion, delayed and then delayed again from the bankruptcy. After 4 years on the shelf, Car 54 opened with most of the musical segments excised from the edit and rock bottom reviews that don’t get much worse. It was a fiasco, grossing just $1,238,080 on a $10 million budget.
6. China Moon (1994)
This noir thriller was not given much of a commercial push by Orion and was booked into only 377 theaters. Reviews were mixed and unenthusiastic and box office receipts were $3,038,499 against its $14 million budget
7. Clifford (1994)
This oddity was filmed in 1990 when studios were still testing the waters to see if Martin Short could carry a picture solo and despite being filmed after Clifford, the Short vehicle Pure Luck (1991) was released first to awful reviews and poor business. Audiences and critics found no novelty or humor in watching the 40-year-old Martin Short play a 10-year-old brat and Clifford became yet another Orion box office casualty — grossing a dreadful $7,408,745 on an $18 million budget and slamming the breaks on further studio movies built around Short.
8. The Favor (1994)
Filmed in 1990 with a pre-famous Brad Pitt in one of the lead roles, the 4-year delay came to an end as Pitt was gearing up for a big 1994 with Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall. The $13 million budgeted film had no hype, landed mixed to poor reviews, and quickly faded into obscurity after pulling in $3,134,381 from its fleeting theatrical run.
9. There Goes My Baby (1994)
This wannabe American Graffiti took a stab at being profound but failed with critics and Orion dumped the $10.5 million budgeted There Goes My Baby with a token theatrical run that grossed $123,509.
10. Blue Sky (1994)
Blue Sky was the final release of the Unlucky 10 from Orion. Completed in 1991, Blue Sky was a prestige picture positioned as an Oscar hopeful for Jessica Lange. It was released in September ‘94 where it did poor business that topped out at $3,359,465. Lange eventually won Best Actress for the film, but Blue Sky had already exhausted its box office run and Orion could not capitalize off the Oscar attention. Reportedly, video sales were also extremely poor.