Cinergi Pictures was formed by Andrew Vajna after he left Carolco in 1989 and the company was designed to finance big-budget ‘event films’ for Disney. Disney would distribute the movies stateside and contribute 30% – 35% of the budget — but capped their investments on the more expensive fare at $20 million. Most of these movies were commercial disasters and after a string of flops, their 1995 releases (Judge Dredd, The Scarlet Letter, and Nixon) destroyed Cinergi. Of the company’s 12 movie library (we are not including small investments into oddities like Super Mario Bros, just the movies they own), only 3 pictures reached profit.
Let’s take a look at their 12 movies released throughout the ‘90s:
Table of contents
- 1. Medicine Man (1992)
- 2. Tombstone (1993)
- 3. Renaissance Man (1994)
- 4. Color of Night (1994)
- 5. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
- 6. Judge Dredd (1995)
- 7. The Scarlet Letter (1995)
- 8. Nixon (1995)
- 9. Amanda (1996)
- 10. Evita (1996)
- 11. Shadow Conspiracy (1997)
- 12. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1998)
1. Medicine Man (1992)
Medicine Man was the first production from Cinergi after the company’s formation 3 years earlier. Tom Schulman’s screenplay was purchased by Cinergi for a huge $3 million and then an additional $1 million was spent rewriting this turkey. John McTiernan’s production in the Amazon was a mess, with crew beset by stomach viruses, creative arguments, and a miserable Sean Connery, who reportedly walked away from filming with 3 shooting days remaining. Announced as a big-budget $40 million production, costs skyrocketed to $55 million from the troubled shoot
Cinergi’s financial model for their films was designed around foreign pre-sales, an investment from Disney for domestic distribution and capital from Cinergi themselves, usually from bank loans. The funding model was extremely risky since Cingeri would not receive any money back on their movies until the distributors handling the release had their entire investment and distribution costs covered. Then if the movie went into profit, Cinergi would get a percentage of the overages. But those overages would also be split with A-list actors or producers/directors who had a slice of the backend. Basically, Cinergi would risk tens of millions they would invest in a film and if they landed a monster-sized hit, only a few million would trickle down to them. It was a model designed to fail and they failed spectacularly.
Medicine Man landed awful reviews and grossed $45,500,797. Decent numbers for a poorly received adult drama, but deadly numbers for an out of control production that had about $75 million in filming and P&A costs behind it. About $24 million would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross. Medicine Man was a huge loss for Cinergi.
2. Tombstone (1993)
Tombstone had a very troubled production, with screenwriter Kevin Jarre making his directorial debut, which ended one month into production when Vajna fired him. He reportedly fell far behind schedule and was unable to complete his basic duties as a director and George P. Cosmatos (Rambo II and the craptastic Cobra) was brought in to complete the film. Apparently, Kurt Russell had also assumed numerous directing responsibilities to keep the production moving. The budget came in at $31 million.
Despite the behind the scenes troubles and mixed reviews, Tombstone was embraced by audiences and became a minor hit that pulled in $56,505,065. After ancillary revenue was factored in, Tombstone became the first profitable picture for Cingeri. The strong home video afterlife of the movie was entirely responsible for Cinergi’s $2.9 million profit in 1994 — which was the first good news for the company which had lost $27 million in the previous four years, from start-up costs and Medicine Man.
3. Renaissance Man (1994)
Penny Marshall was brought into the Cingeri fold after her hits Big, Awakenings and A League of Their Own and landed her first flop with Renaissance Man. This poorly reviewed film was released at the start of a series of mostly failed moronic military comedies in the mid-90s, which had given us such offerings as In The Army Now (1994), Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), Major Payne (1995), Down Periscope (1996), Sgt. Bilko (1996) and McHale’s Navy (1997).
Renaissance Man sported a large $40 million budget and this disposable comedy made $24,332,324. About $13 million would be returned after theaters take their cut, which would not even cover P&A costs. Cinergi was expected to have lost their full investment into this picture.
4. Color of Night (1994)
Cinergi’s next ‘event film’ was widely dismissed as one of the worst movies of 1994 — Color Of Night. The film garnered a massive amount of free media attention for months when it initially landed a NC-17 rating and the promise of showcasing Bruce Willis’ dick on screen. Bruce Willis in a steamy, melodramatic sexual thriller? Who the hell was this trash made for?
More free media attention came as the movie was gearing up for its April 29 release date, courtesy of a very public battle over the edit from director Richard Rush and Vajna. After poor test screenings, Vajna wanted extensive changes and cuts, but Rush refused and he was fired off the film. Their dispute went before a DGA arbitration panel and then Rush suffered a massive heart attack. Vajna had the picture carved up and the opening moved to August 19. Less than one month before the Aug opening, Vajna hired his Tombstone savior George P. Cosmatos to handle reshoots. With Rush in recovery, he made a deal with Vajna to release his director’s cut on video.
The budget for Color Of Night was reported at $40 million when Rush was finishing up his edit, but millions more were spent from the prolonged tinkering from Vajna and the reshoots. The film bombed miserably with $19,726,050 and landed a toxic C Cinemascore from paying audiences. Decent home video sales were still not enough for Cinergi to see any overages flow back to them in their financial reports.
5. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
Cinergi’s most profitable picture was the massively budgeted Die Hard with a Vengeance ($102 million), which was the highest-grossing movie worldwide in 1995 with $366,101,666 in receipts — even beating out Toy Story. Shortly after the film hit big theatrically, things went downhill fast for Cinergi when the rest of their 1995 releases — Judge Dredd, The Scarlet Letter and Nixon drained almost all of their capital. To get a quick infusion of cash, Cinergi sold its stake in Die Hard 3 to FOX for $11.25 million. The company posted a $16,062,000 net loss in 1995, which would have been far higher if not for this film.
6. Judge Dredd (1995)
One month after Die Hard 3 opened to blockbuster business, Cinergi expected to launch a franchise with their $90 million mega-budgeted Stallone picture Judge Dredd. Its full commercial potential was impacted with an R rating the MPAA inexplicably gave the movie, but Judge Dredd was still expected to become a sizable hit. It was also supported by a massive marketing blitz reported to be near $30 million, when the average P&A spend back then was $19.8 million (and the average movie budget was $39.8 million).
The movie turned out to be a complete turkey and was crushed by other event fare in release Apollo 13 and Batman Forever. Judge Dredd flopped out of US theaters with $34,693,481. It did fare better overseas with $78.8 million, but not nearly enough to offset the high global P&A costs and the huge budget. The failure of Judge Dredd was the beginning of the end for Cinergi.
7. The Scarlet Letter (1995)
Roland Joffé’s creative and commercial trainwreck The Scarlet Letter cost $50 million and nearly ended Demi Moore’s career. After this fiasco, she was awarded three more studio vehicles (the flop The Juror, Striptease, and GI Jane) before she was no longer bankable.
The Scarlet Letter was one of the worst reviewed films of the year and was a total debacle, grossing just $10,382,407. As the movie was opening and heading for disaster, Cinergi announced that they could no longer produce big-budget event movies after the loss they incurred on Judge Dredd and the inevitable red ink The Scarlet Letter would spill. But things were about to get far worse with Oliver Stone’s prestige picture Nixon…
8. Nixon (1995)
Oliver Stone’s Nixon was announced as a $42 million production, with $12 million of the budget coming from Disney. In Cinergi’s financial reports, they listed the final budget as $43 million.
Nixon was positioned as an end of the year Oscar hopeful and nabbed 4 nominations, but the public clearly had no interest in revisiting the history of the disgraced president filtered through the mind of Stone. Nixon bombed with just $13,681,765.
After Nixon’s theatrical run concluded in early 1996, Cinergi still had a few pictures being primed for release — Amanda, Evita and Shadow Conspiracy (a film so lousy, it was sitting in the can from 1995 until 1997).
9. Amanda (1996)
Disney declined to distribute this obscure family movie, which Cinergi briefly mentioned in their financial reports. They never listed the budget and after failing to secure distribution elsewhere, Amanda premiered on The Family Channel.
10. Evita (1996)
Evita had been in various stages of development for 16 years and had numerous directors circling the project, including Ken Russell, Herb Ross, Hector Babenco, Francis Ford Coppola, Franco Zeffirelli, Michael Cimino, Richard Attenborough, Glenn Gordon Caron and Oliver Stone. The rights had moved from Paramount to Weintraub Entertainment, to Disney to Cinergi.
Before this production finally landed a greenlight over at Cinergi, Oliver Stone was working on it but quit after the budget was capped at $36 million. Evita was given a large $60 million budget at Cinergi and became the third and final profitable picture for the struggling company. Evita was a modest success theatrically in the US with a $50 million gross, but was a solid performer overseas. The worldwide numbers were $141,047,179.
Despite the profit from Evita, Cinergi posted a $15,905,000 net loss in 1996. The only Cinergi movies remaining were the stinker Shadow Conspiracy (still collecting dust on the shelf) and the cheap soon to be disaster An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn.
Knowing they were headed for ruin, on April 3, 1997 Cinergi sold their library of 11 movies (Die Hard 3 was a Fox co-production) to Disney for $36,654,000. This deal was not for cash, but canceled loan debt owed to the mouse house. Even with being unburdened from the huge loan, Cinergi posted a $12,953,000 net loss for the first 6 months of fiscal 1997.
11. Shadow Conspiracy (1997)
The net budget for Shadow Conspiracy was $37 million. Cinergi’s go-to director George P. Cosmatos was signed to helm this garbage and Shadow Conspiracy was his final movie.
Filming was completed in mid-1995 and the picture was expected to land a release in 1996, but Disney moved this stinker to the dumping ground on January 31, 1997. It was positioned as counter-programming to the re-release of Star Wars and was given a scaled-back release in only 837 theatres.
Reviews were atrocious, most of which proclaimed the movie as unintentionally hilarious and it was quickly pulled from theaters with only $2,312,463. Cinergi was expected to write-off their entire investment into Shadow Conspiracy.
12. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1998)
The final library title from Cinergi was An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn — considered one of the worst movies ever made. This unwatchable mockumentary about ego driven shenanigans in Hollywood and the director pseudonym ‘Alan Smithee’, was the brainchild of the lunatic screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
Veteran director Arthur Hiller signed on to direct this sendup of the industry and the budget was a modest $10 million. Far from the event film budgets for Cinergi fare. Once Hiller assembled a rough cut of the movie, it went out for test screenings. After massive walkouts and awful audience scores, Eszterhas went ahead without Hiller’s approval and began to cut away at the running time and added rock music. Once Eszterhas finished his edit, Cinergi approved that cut and Arthur Hiller demanded his name be removed.
In a case of art imitating life, then life imitating art, this artless movie became an actual Alan Smithee film. Both Hiller and Eszterhas were accused of making this a meta publicity stunt, but it became very clear, very quickly that An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn was indeed disowned by the original director.
Eszterhas was proud of the picture and became increasingly frustrated that Disney was not giving the movie a strong marketing push. As the February 27, 1998 release date approached, there were no signs of any marketing and most critics had already viewed the film, hailing it as one of the worst of all time. Disney booked An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn into 19 theaters and the fleeting theatrical run brought in a mere $45,779. The Alan Smithee pseudonym was retired after this movie was released.