With a new TV spot promoting The Force Awakens being released almost daily, it’s hard to imagine that the original 1977 film was released with very little fanfare by 20th Century Fox. The Hollywood Reporter collected five film buyers—who became instrumental in the Star Wars phenomenon—and talked to them about those months leading up to and just after the release of George Lucas’ space opera. In 1977, the article reveals, Star Wars was considered the “B track,” while Sidney Sheldon’s now all-but-forgotten The Other Side Of Midnight was supposed to be the big summer hit for Fox. Star Wars originally opened on 42 screens nationwide, which is probably how many screens are in your local multiplex in 2015.
“There were a lot of people at Fox who didn’t want to make Star Wars,” said Larry Gleason, a buyer involved with expanding Star Wars’ original release in 1977. “The running joke [was] that when George Lucas made his final pitch to Alan Ladd Jr., who was running Fox at the time, Laddie said no, but he said it so softly nobody heard him.”
“In the months before it opened, a lot of the older guys thought of Star Wars as a kiddie movie,” said Erik Lomis, who is now head of distribution at The Weinstein Company. “Star Wars changed how movies were released. The Empire Strikes Back opened everywhere.”
As with most things, there was competition among the film buyers in California. Bob Lenihan, now president of programming at AMC Theatres, explained that the only time he ever beat out rival buyer Travis Reid while booking country towns in Northern California was with Star Wars. “He picked up The Deep for a theatre in Redding, California, while I picked Star Wars. On opening day at the Coronet, there were lines around the block.” Reid blames his inexperience: “I was a rookie buyer… and cocky enough to think my pick of The Deep—with Jacqueline Bisset in that wet T-shirt—was going to do a lot of business.”
No one could have anticipated that kind of success,” said Chuck Viane, who went on to be the head of distribution at Disney. Lenihan added, “It’s still hard to fathom.”
Read the full story at The Hollywood Reporter.