Bad Move for the Box Office

Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb

Angie Han writes for /Film about Midnight Screenings starting earlier:

Stoker movie poster

Midnight openings have become an important part of the moviegoing landscape in recent years, but of course not everyone can stay up until midnight, let alone stay up until midnight, sit through a two-hour movie, and drive home very late at night. So why not bump up the time just a few hours earlier to sell a few more tickets? That’s the reasoning some studios are taking, pushing their releases to Thursdays at 10 or even 7 PM…

Read the full article here.

Han writes an informative article detailing the purposes of the move and how public transportation, hardcore fan-bases and staffing all play a part in the necessary adjustment to screening times. But there is a bigger issue at stake here – and that is the dependency on opening weekend box office.

We continue to use – and studios depend on – the weekly statistics that emerge from opening weekends to dictate what defines success. But it is clearly not successful filmmaking – it is successful marketing.

The effort in gaining a large audience in the opening weekend is built on the marketing exclusively – of course, no “word of mouth” has spread on a film and star-power and big posters are the primary purpose to the audience a film receives. This move to Thursday nights continues that trend as studios will pat themselves on the back for gaining “record numbers” (due, in no small part to a full evening of extra screenings and ticket sales) and audiences remain none the wiser – feeling “lucky” to be able to view the film “ early”. This is why films like I Am Legend and The Da Vinci Code are the highest non-sequel films (obviously, a built-in audience for a sequel is a different ball park) in biggest opening weekends – hardly an example of great reviews and positive word-of-mouth.

Personally, a lack of patience is a concern here. Films – whether they achieve a successful opening weekend of not – will gain word-of-mouth. Whether no one cares enough to share the quality of the film, or whether they will talk about it to everyone because it is “that good”. This, alongside reviews, is what I measure the quality of a film on. Stoker, for example, has achieved exceptionally strong reviews in addition to personal friends singing the film’s praises. This is what has gained my attention and, three weeks after its release, I may watch the film. But watching a film three weeks after release is a strange thing to do when the pressure is to see the film opening weekend.

Imagine if studios focussed their attention on longevity rather than short-term big-bucks. Interestingly, when you look at the films that have remained in the Top 10 for the most consecutive weeks, the films are primarily from the 1980s: E.T. stayed in the Top 10 for 35 weeks (over 8 months!) and Back to the Future for 24 weeks. Obviously, in the 80s, there are many factors to consider, but imagine if a film remained in the chart for 24 weeks now – with today’s ticket prices. Avatar (14 weeks), the biggest success of all-time, is 49th on the list with Gremlins (16 weeks), Schindler’s List (15 weeks) and Driving Miss Daisy (18 weeks) above it. A film that garners repeat viewings for weeks and months on end impresses me – not a bloody big poster with a celebrity attached.

Simon Columb

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  • tati is not a twit

    I reserve my attendance at midnight showings for what I call BIG films, like LotR, superhero films, etc. It is tough to stay up that late, when you're used to being in bed early, and out the door at 6am for work every day!