Fox Hoped Promising Refunds Would Help Get People Into Theaters To See 1994's Miracle On 34th Street

These days, remakes are an all-too-prevalent part of the Hollywood machine. Not to get all old-man-yells-at-cloud on you, but it's gotten a bit silly of late. Even the likes of "Easy Rider" (I repeat, "Easy Rider!") are being rebooted now. But long before, say, Disney began turning its beloved animated musicals into disorienting, desaturated live-action fare, movie studios always had a penchant for retreading successful material.

So it was back in 1994 when 20th Century Fox Studios decided it was high-time they remade the 1947 holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street." The original captured the hearts of America, with Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle defending his claim of being the real Santa Claus in court, thereby restoring everyone's faith in the magic of existence. Valentine Davies' story, directed by George Seaton, simultaneously promoted corporate interests by heavily featuring department store giant Macy's, and critiqued big business encroachment on the festive season by depicting some good old corporate greed among staff at both Macy's and its rival, Gimbles.

By the early '90s, America had endured decades of escalating corporate greed (which reached a fever pitch in the '80s). The country collectively embraced the credit card as the norm, saw the rise of Yuppie culture, and witnessed the general degradation of the American economy, which had grown only due to massive deficit spending. That meant America was ready for another heart-warming tale that reasserted the importance of maintaining a childlike innocence in an increasingly cynical world. And who better than the corporate giant Fox to provide it? The studio hired family film scribe extraordinaire John Hughes to drag "Miracle on 34th Street" into the late-20th Century, alongside director Les Mayfield, whose only prior film had been the Pauly Shore comedy "Encino Man." It was a fail-proof plan that couldn't possibly go wrong, right?

'We feel the original stands on its own'

Unfortunately, some things did go wrong. The original film, including the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade scene, was shot on location in New York with the express permission of Macy's to use its flagship 34th Street store and name. When Les Mayfield and his production team approached the department store for the 1994 remake, it declined any involvement, with a spokesperson saying what many were probably thinking: "We feel the original stands on its own and could not be improved upon." Bummer.

That meant shooting a fake parade on Central Park West before moving production to John Hughes' beloved Chicago, where the filmmakers would shoot much of the scenes involving fake department store and Macy's stand-in "Cole's." But despite these setbacks, the 1994 version still managed to capture some of the magic of the original movie, helped enormously by Richard Attenborough's kindly and endearing energy in the role of Kris Kringle. Sadly, that didn't necessarily translate to box office success.

"Miracle on 34th Street" was unleashed upon the public in 1994 and debuted in eighth place at the box office, with an underwhelming take of just $2.8 million. Moviegoers looking for their holiday movie fix were apparently much more interested in Tim Allen killing Santa, with the actor's "The Santa Clause" standing strong in the number three spot after debuting the week prior. That film remained the top holiday movie for the season, while "Miracle on 34th Street" struggled to find an audience. Fox seemingly panicked, or were perhaps overcome by the spirit of Christmas, and hastily made a move that you rarely see in Hollywood: offering audience refunds.

Refunds didn't bring a Christmas miracle

As was reported at the time, 20th Century Fox decided that due to "how many movies there are in the marketplace" (a normal amount, actually), they would be offering patrons refunds if they weren't enchanted by "Miracle on 34th Street." More specifically, moviegoers could return their ticket stubs to the studio's head office in Beverly Hills if they were "not delighted" by the movie.

President of 20th Century Fox at the time, Bill Mechanic, released a statement explaining the unprecedented move, saying:

"This offer points to our confidence and faith in 'Miracle on 34th Street.' [...] We came to this idea after seeing how many movies there are in the marketplace; often when there are too many choices, people have a hard time making any decision at all [...] 'We believe 'Miracle' is the most satisfying picture out there, and this was our way of telling people that it is worth taking the time to see."

Sadly, the tactic didn't bring about the Christmas miracle Fox was hoping for. "Miracle on 34th Street" failed to make a significant commercial impression, bringing in just $46 million (compared to "The Santa Clause" which made $190 million) at the global box office. Reviews were mixed, too, with some praising Richard Attenborough's performance but most agreeing with Macy's that the original remained superior. And the refunds? IMDb claims 1,500 tickets were returned to the head office, but that number isn't backed up by any outside source that /Film has been able to verify. All of which is, as TV Guide said of the remake, "Curiously depressing."