In 1973, author Sidney Sheldon published the book “The Other Side of Midnight,” a novel focusing on a love triangle between a American World War II pilot, the lover he takes while stationed in France, and the woman back home he abandons her for after the war is over. The novel, which is risqué by even today’s standards, was a smash hit at the time — it reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s list that year.
Four years later, 20th Century Fox made it into a movie. The studio was following a tried-and-true recipe for success. Not only was the novel a best seller, but the romance genre (what we may call “chick flicks” today) were generally easy wins — they were generally low budget and could fill movie theaters. Add in a cast of well-known actors into the mix, and the studio was convinced it had a winner on its hands. Movie theaters around the country agreed, and The Other Side of Midnight was scheduled for a nationwide release.
But 20th Century Fox had a problem. The studio had invested a similar amount to produce another movie, one that execs feared would be a bust. That movie was to come out in late May, and, to make matters worse, Universal Studios was set to release the much-anticipated Burt Reynolds film Smokey and the Bandit around the same time. (Smokey and the Bandit debuted on May 27th.) The second 20th Century Fox movie, due to weak marketing, low expectations, and strong competition, found a hard time getting onto screens — only about 40 theaters decided to show it for its May 25th release date. Fox assumed that this very limited release would doom the movie to fail, so it acted accordingly — they used The Other Side of Midnight for leverage.
In the 1930s and into the 1940s, major studios employed a strategy called “block booking,” whereby theaters would have to agree to take many of a studio’s films in order to get the right to show one highly sought-after one. In 1949, the U.S. Supreme Court barred the practice, but 20th Century Fox decided to try the gambit once more. 20th Century Fox made it clear: if a theater wanted The Other Side of Midnight for its June release, it also needed to take the other movie — a movie that Roger Ebert’s website called “a two-bit sci-fi junker.” Even though that sci-fi stinker only debuted at 40 theaters, it made it to wide release shortly thereafter.
But don’t give The Other Side of Midnight too much credit. The “sure thing” did okay — it grossed just under $25 million at the box on a budget of about $9 million. The less-heralded sci-fi movie? It had an $11 million budget and did fine at the box office — and it didn’t need the boost from The Other Side of Midnight. It became an overnight success and grossed a then-record $775 million. And you’ve probably seen it.
It’s called Star Wars.
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Related: “The Other Side of Midnight,” the novel. 4.6 stars on nearly 200 reviews. Also, “The Other Side of Midnight,” the movie. 4.6 stars on just under 150 reviews. And finally, all the Star Wars movies. Review data not necessary because it’s Star Wars.