Friday, January 21, 2011

What may keep me out of theaters in 2011 part II: Movies out of theaters in a flash.

Tonight is 'Babysitting Night'. One Friday a month, our daughter's preschool hosts a pizza/movie/pajama party after school hours from 6:00-10:00pm, meaning we overworked and overstressed parents get a guilt-free night off. So tonight, my wife and I were planning on catching an evening screening of Season of the Witch. Why Season of the Witch? Well, um... sometimes we enjoy schlock. And we had no interest in No Strings Attached, I've seen the other Oscar bait pictures, and there's no way in hell I'm convincing my wife to blow a date night on Blue Valentine or The Way Back. So Season of the Witch it was to be. Except it's not. Because Season of the Witch is only playing at our local cineplex at 9:50pm tonight. At the AMC Promenade 16, Season of the Witch, currently entering its fifteenth day of release, is now only playing at one late-night show.

Once again, and I know I've said this before, if you want moviegoers to still see movies in theaters, it helps to keep those films in theaters long enough to accommodate casual film-goers. I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who thought 'Hey, Season of the Witch looks fun, nothing that I need to run out and see, but if we have the time, we'll check it out'. Well, it appears that I did indeed have to 'run out and see it'. Keep in mind, the film did not out-and-out tank. It opened with $10 million on its opening weekend and pulled in a little under $5 million this weekend. No one is happy with the results, but it's not like the film opened like Delgo or The Nutcracker 3D. Yet in this hyper-crowded marketplace, a mainstream studio release is losing 18% of its screens in just two weeks.

My wife and I had similar issues when seeing a matinée showing of Sorority Row in late 2009 (her pick). At just ten days out, we were told that we couldn't use our AMC free-ticket passes, because the film was still a special engagement. We went ahead anyway, but I imagine any number of moviegoers would wait on something like that until they could use their discount passes or free tickets. Too bad, because Soriority Row was out of most of its theaters by the start of day fifteen. And it's not just for flopping horror films. My wife and I had to go to an out-of-the-way theater to see The A-Team this summer, just three weeks after it opened to $25 million. And don't even bother trying to find 2D prints of any major 3D movie more than two weeks after its opening weekend. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Tron: Legacy, Yogi Bear, etc are now 3D-exclusive theatrical engagements for much of the country. I'm lucky in that I have several large theaters within reasonable driving distance. But for those who only have one or two multiplexes, it's quite likely that the movie that you actually want to see, but you're waiting for a convenient time... it might not be at your local theaters by the time you get around to it just two or three weeks after opening day. In an environment like this, it's almost impossible for any movies to really have legs in the traditional sense.

I remember finally getting around to seeing that well-reviewed James Bond spoof I had heard about, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, three weeks or so into its theatrical run. The film had opened to $9 million, but held on for a good chunk of summer 1997 due to word of mouth. The question becomes, in today's climate, would Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery been unavailable to me to see in theaters just fifteen days after opening weekend? There are plenty of people who saw and loved Batman Begins long after its mid-June opening weekend in summer 2005. In today's climate, would the underwhelming $72 million five-day opening have doomed the film to a quick $155 million and done total, denying us The Dark Knight?

As I hinted at last month, I'm trying to become less obsessive about seeing movies as soon as they come out regardless of convenience. But now I'm left with wondering whether I have but two choices: see it IMMEDIATELY or wait until DVD. For stuff like Season of the Witch, it's a pretty easy decision. "Three more months to DVD... DVD... DVD. Three more months till DVD... Silver Shamrock!"

Scott Mendelson

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