BIG OPENINGS MEAN
SHORTER CINEMA RUNS
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Daily News
[ January 1st 2002 ]
Rush Hour 2 was released this summer, Granada
Hills resident Jacob Gerber headed straight to
the multiplex to see the latest madcap adventures
of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Gerber, who was
at the Winnetka 21 in Chatsworth last week to
see The Fellowship of the Ring, was among the
fans who helped push Rush Hour 2 to a $67.4 million
by the next weekend, moviegoers had moved on in
droves to American Pie 2 and ticket sales for
Rush Hour 2 dropped by 51 percent. "I like to
see the blockbusters right when they come out,"
said Gerber, a 27-year-old financial analyst.
"I love opening night with the crowds. You get
the whole buzz and are with people who really
want to be there."
other films released by the major studios, including
Planet of the Apes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Jurassic
Park III and Vanilla Sky, also bowed in more than
3,000 theaters and experienced in some cases record
opening weekends in 2001. But the these films'
sensational debuts, which saturated theaters when
launched, were often followed by a dramatic second-week
plummet in ticket sales of 50 percent or more.
big opening weekends have always been the goal
of studios, 2001 crystalized a trend where a majority
of a blockbuster's tickets are being sold right
out of the gate. Moviegoers are flocking to their
local multiplex to be among the first to see the
newest release then migrating to the next big
opening. "Everybody in the business understands
that perception is important and having the biggest
opening weekend gross is an important part of
building that perception," said Nikki Rocco, president
of distribution at Universal Studios. "It's all
relative. The films are ultimately doing incredible
business. It's not inhibiting the overall final
approximately 35,000 screens in the United States,
there are more venues than ever for movies to
debut. This proliferation of screens has allowed
for a multiplex to have screening times of hugely
popular films like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone and The Fellowship of the Ring to show every
hour or even half-hour. This, along with intense
studio marketing, has contributed mightily to
the current moviegoing habit of wanting to see
it fast and first.
movies come out and you'll be, like, behind because
things get old real fast," said 15-year-old Andrew
Armbruster as he waited in line last week to buy
a ticket for the new comedy "How High" at Winnetka
21. "By next week, it'll be like everyone has
already seen the movie." Andrew; his younger brother,
Anthony; and their friend Nick Danenberg go to
the movies every week almost without fail and
plan to take in scores of films during their winter
vacation. "We like to be able to tell everybody
if something is good or not and if they should
see it," said Nick, 14.
Vista Distribution President Chuck Viane said
the increasing convenience of the moviegoing experience
has made all the difference in how soon even the
casual fan will venture out to see a new release.
"The public thinks it's OK to go on opening weekend
now because they won't be turned away," Viane
said. "There was a time, not that long ago, when
I think some people would naturally gravitate
to the second or third week of the movie. Now
it's not so hard to get the kind of seating they
the industry and the public focused more than
ever on opening weekend grosses, there is increasing
pressure on the studios to deliver instant big
numbers. "You do a lot of marketing in advance
to build awareness and you do want to be everywhere
possible," Rocco said. "When you have a broad-appeal
film and there's such heat going in, you don't
have a choice."
Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking
firm Exhibitor Relations, said studios win whether
fans come in droves right at the start or in a
steady stream over the course of several weeks.
"It hardly matters to the studio because if a
film is getting to $200 million in a couple of
weeks then they are doing great," he said. "Who
this hurts is the exhibitors because they are
making a bigger percentage of the box office as
the film plays on. It's a sliding scale."
Theatres, the largest theater operator in Southern
California, has built many stadium-seating multiplexes
in recent years and is one of several chains grappling
with the new economics of changing moviegoing
habits. "It's a concern that the movies are shorter-lived
in the marketplace than they have been traditionally,"
said Alan Davy, executive vice president and head
film buyer for the Edwards chain. "What we've
done is increase the availability of seats for
the audience on opening weekend than we have had
traditionally. This phenomenon is relatively new
so we haven't as an industry exactly worked through
all of the benefits and all of the pitfalls of
said there are "ongoing negotiations" with the
studios about the current revenue formulas which
vary with each chain. "There is some work necessary
to fine-tune some of the traditional mechanisms,"
Davy said. "The studios recognize the benefits
the theaters have brought to the industry and
the benefit for us is as studios make more money,
the studios make more movies."
Fithian, president of National Assn. of Theater
Owners, said that studio marketing is a major
factor. "They drive the marketing programs toward
a big opening so the culture now is that patrons
want to see movies fast," Fithian said. "There
are ad campaigns that are geared toward big openings
and everybody reports on what a film makes in
its first weekend. It's not a trend that we are
particularly comfortable with."
factor is the result of the exhibitors' own doing
when they built more screens more rapidly in the
last half of the 1990s than at any other time
in history, at one point reaching nearly 38,000
screens in the United States.
experts note that while a bonanza opening is more
important than ever, it is not crucial to a movie
having a long, healthy run in theaters. In 1997,
"Titanic," the highest grossing movie of all time
at $600.8 million, bowed with a mere $28.6 million
during its opening weekend. But the Oscar-winning
epic had what the industry refers to as "legs.""Titanic
lasted and lasted and lasted," Fithian said. "
The Sixth Sense and Shrek are two other examples
of movies with legs."
recent example of legs is The Others starring
Nicole Kidman. The mystery-thriller had a modest
debut but quietly pulled in audiences steadily
throughout the summer as it competed with the
likes of Rush Hour 2 and American Pie 2 and has
so far earned nearly $100 million at the box office.
"I think any good movie can withstand the opening
weekend onslaught and stay around in the marketplace,"
said that two of the season's biggest hit movies
are proof that a quality film, with good word-of-mouth
and critical buzz, can have a mammoth opening
weekend and continue to sustain big business.
"Harry Potter had the biggest three-day opening
and yet it has managed to continue to do well,"
he said. "With close to $300 million in the till,
it's hard to say that film suffered. And I think
The Lord of the Rings (trilogy) is going to have