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Fox Salute Not Quite a Blockbuster

While highly entertaining for movie fans, American Movie Classics' salute, 20th Century Fox: The Blockbuster Years, could have been more special by sticking to that premise rather than trying to cover the waterfront.

It also should have been more tightly edited. Instead, executive producer (and co-writer) Kevin Burns crams clips from more than 80 Fox films into two hours, including many that don't qualify as true blockbusters and unwarranted plot summaries for those titles that do.

Along the way, Burns detours into examining movie trends that should have been saved, perhaps for a revival of Fox's syndicated That's Hollywood series.

The documentary starts with 1965, when Darryl Zanuck and son Richard produced The Sound of Music, putting Fox on the comeback trail. Planet of the Apes (1968) came soon after, sparking a highly successful "franchise." (Oddly, the special doesn't mention that an Apes remake is being mulled.)

The Zanucks were later ousted when costly musicals Hello, Dolly and Dr. Dolittle fizzled, out of step with the public in the Vietnam War era, as host James Coburn observes.

Later, such films as Patton, M*A*S*H, The French Connection and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid re-energized the studio.

In 1972, producer Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure also scored big after Fox forced him to secure financing from outside investors. The No. 1 movie of 1973, Poseidon became Fox's biggest hit since the Zanucks left.

In 1973 Allen-the so-called master of disaster-followed that with The Towering Inferno after convincing Warner Bros. to drop a similar film and co-finance his $14 million production. Inferno grossed $150 million.

A 1976 hit, The Omen, inspired three sequels. But the biggest franchise was yet to come, George Lucas' Star Wars saga.

United Artists and Universal Pictures (which distributed his American Graffiti) passed on what Lucas described as a "space opera" inspired by his childhood love of Flash Gordon. Lucas then pitched the $10 million production to Alan Ladd Jr., who OKed it. But no one expected it to be the box-office and merchandising gold mine it became.

Before closing, the special salutes Independence Day and Titanic. Coburn points out that for the latter big-budget epic, Fox again allied with a studio (this time, Paramount Pictures) to share the risks. But in between those two bona fide blockbusters, the producers toss in lesser 1990s titles like The Beach and Anna & the King.

AMC's The Blockbuster Years bows Sept. 26 at 8 p.m.