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‘Titanic’ And ‘Postman’ Go Separate Ways

Call it the agony and the ecstasy.

Hollywood is buzzing over the dramatically different box-office fates of two of 1997’s biggest-budget films: the sinking of “The Postman” and the box-office buoyancy of “Titanic.”

Kevin Costner’s “The Postman,” which cost $80 million to make and about $35 million more to market, has been locked in an agonizing death spin for the past few weeks.

After opening to negative reviews on Christmas Day, the post-apocalyptic epic pulled in $6.8 million on its first Friday-Sunday weekend. But by the second weekend, its take was down more than 40 percent to $3.5 million. Since then, its performance has plummeted precipitously, well below top 10 status.

“Long term, I think we’re estimating that Warner’s will write off between $20 million and $30 million on this film,” said Larry Gerblandt, a senior analyst with Paul Kagan Associates Inc. in Los Angeles, which monitors the film industry. “Eventually, it might reach break-even, but when you look at it by factoring in interest on investment, it won’t.”

While Gerblandt said he personally enjoyed the film, he said he thinks audiences “had trouble with the post-apocalyptic theme.” The film tracks the travails of an impostor postman who inadvertently becomes a hero by bringing order to an anarchic society, but numerous publications have noted that audiences have laughed at the notion of postal heroics.

For Warner Bros., “The Postman” is the latest in a string of poor performers, including “Mad City” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Still, the studio’s recent track record doesn’t appear to spell trouble in the long run. “Everybody has a rough year occasionally,” said Gerblandt. “It’s hard to be No. 1 or 2 at the box office every year.”

“Titanic,” meanwhile, has defied nearly everyone’s expectations. Since its release Dec. 19, the story of two lovers aboard an ill-fated ship has become the all-time top grosser in the United States for films that are more than three hours long. Its current U.S. gross of more than $235 million has already passed the previous recordholder, Costner’s “Dances With Wolves,” with $184.2 million.

In Europe, it’s chugging ahead at full steam, too. The film is accounting for 50 percent of all tickets sold in Germany. And in Paris, four of every 10 tickets purchased have been for the film.

Variety has estimated that “Titanic,” which cost $200 million to make, will have to rake in a mammoth $420 million total worldwide just to break even for its two studios, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. But analysts are now saying that the film will not only break even - but will make money.

Gerblandt, however, is less than enthusiastic about the precedent that “Titanic” is setting.

“There were people in Hollywood who were hoping that ‘Titanic’ would fail to serve as an object lesson. Every time one of these succeeds, it encourages others to take the chance again,” he said.