Mummy, Notting Hill Reviving Moribund Universal Pictures

A bout of box-office flops might have run its course at Universal Pictures. The Mummy has surprised skeptics by pulling in more than $118 million in ticket sales through the week of June 4. The remake of the classic horror flick is helping to pull the struggling studio out of its prolonged slump. The film division of Seagram Ltd. was the conglomerate's worst-performing division last year.

Universal was one of the film industry's most consistent performers until its acquisition by Seagram in 1995. Since then, the studio has been plagued by mediocre material, bad timing, and turmoil among top management. Executive Frank Biondi departed last year on less than amicable terms. Chairman Casey Silver did likewise, after Meet Joe Black and Babe: Pig in the City both tanked. The piggy-adventure sequel to the popular Babe cost $75 million to make but drew only $18.3 million in US ticket sales. The film was shot in Australia without Universal supervision, and it was promoted before anyone at the studio saw a final cut.

Mistakes like that won't happen again, according to Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios, parent company of the film unit and its sibling, Universal Music. "I'm never going to have somebody deliver a movie four weeks before we see it," Meyer told the Wall Street Journal.

Meyer can rest easy for the immediate future. The Mummy is doing very well, as is Notting Hill, the recently released Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romantic comedy that did $27.7 million in ticket sales over the Memorial Day weekend. The two flicks are following in the successful wake of Patch Adams, which has done $133 million since its December release, and the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence comedy Life, which has pulled in more than $60 million in ticket sales. These successes have lifted Universal from No. 6 in movie market share this time last year to No. 3 today.

Universal Pictures has several hot concepts slated for later this summer, including Bowfinger, a comedy with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, and Man on the Moon, featuring Jim Carrey as comedian Andy Kaufmann. Arnold Schwarzenegger will return to the screen in End of Days, in which he will battle the most formidable foe of all: Satan himself. (Schwarzenegger had taken an extended leave of absence from acting following heart-valve replacement surgery.) Universal also plans to release a cheapo teen comedy, American Pie. The theaters are full of such fare every summer, taking advantage of the break in the school year.

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