After a revival this summer, with blockbusters like “Top Gun: Maverick“and Jordan Peele”Nope” attracting customers in droves, the industry has suffered the worst September since September 11 (apart from 2020 at the height of the pandemic). AMC has over $5 billion in debtand Cineworld (which operates Regal Cinemas), filed for bankruptcy in September with approximately $5 billion in debt.
What should we learn from this cycle of boom and bust? Have people show up when there’s something they really want to see.
“I mean, a good movie — one that critics and audiences love — is always a draw,” said Ian Judge, general manager of Somerville Theater and Arlington’s Capitol Theater. “Give them something to leave the house for, and they will.”
This Hollywood story isn’t about good and bad, experts say – it’s a matter of supply and demand. “The biggest issue for the industry has been the lack of movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, movie analyst at Comscore.
Dergarabedian explained how COVID-related production delays contributed to 30 fewer films being released this year, compared to 2019.
“That’s a lot of movies, and a lot of them were compressed in the summer months,” Dergarabedian said, adding that in 2019 there were around 100 theatrical releases and in 2022 there were will be more than 70.
To help make up the shortfall this year, AMC and other multiplexes held a first-ever “National Movie Day” in September, offering $3 tickets to entice moviegoers. Theaters have also introduced mobile food order, increase in alcohol salesand invested in new projectors and roomier recliners.
“I think cinemas have had to re-evaluate their marketing plans as a result of the pandemic,” Dergarabedian said, noting that this has led them “to become innovative and nimble and introduce different types of programming.”
Brookline’s Michael Leabman, 67, has had to adjust his movie habits over the past two years. He used to go every Friday night for a “date” with his wife. “We’ve been hesitant to go back,” Leabman said, adding that they still go, but less frequently, and opt for movie theaters with spacious recliners. “I’m older, and the comfort of the seats makes a difference,” Leabman said. “I appreciate the separation you’re getting. It makes a big difference to us now.
There’s something else that makes a big difference, he added: “I love popcorn – movie popcorn. I know all the cinemas in the area and I know the quality of their popcorn. The best popcorn in Boston? Dedham Community Theatre. “They have real butter,” Leabman said. “Popcorn varies. . . that could be 30-40% of why we go there.
A new cinema might check Leabman’s cinema boxes. Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas opens its first-ever New England location in the Boston Seaport in early 2023. It will be a 10-screen theater with luxury recliners in each auditorium and a mix of first-run films and repertoire programming. The new theater will also serve a food and drink menu made from scratch. Showcase Cinemas also recently announced the opening of a new eight-screen theater on Boston’s South Shore: Showcase Cinema de Lux at Hanover Crossing.
Yet many multiplexes have been unable to stay afloat over the past two years. Boston has lost some of its greatest theaters, including the ShowPlace ICON Theater in the seaport, the ArcLight Cinemas at Gare du Nordand Cinema de Lux Showcase in Revere.
Meanwhile, independent exhibitors in the region have different business models that have sustained them through uncertain times.
Katherine Tallman, CEO and Executive Director of Coolidge Corner Theater in Cambridge, explained how her four-screen theater doesn’t have to rely on new releases like the big chains do. Instead, indies like the Coolidge can rely on a solid schedule of repertoire programming and educational offerings, which puts them in a better position when there aren’t as many new releases to showcase. .
“We can make more money on a sold-out showing of a classic movie than on a first-week release,” Tallman said.
The judge found the same to be true at the Somerville and Arlington theaters.
“Right now our repertoire and schedule of classic films may exceed commercial films,” Judge said, adding that by mid-October Somerville’s double feature “Psycho” and “Frenzy” had surpassed “Halloween. Ends” of more than $2,800 on the same weekend.
“The problem is a lack of products that people want to see,” Judge said.
Local and national independent chains are using special screenings to help balance the dwindling number of new releases that traditionally draw patrons to the theater. But this summer’s box office boom, especially the success of the “Top Gun” sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” presented a bright spot for exhibitors around the world.
“It was perhaps the most important film of the pandemic,” Dergarabedian said. “All the audiences came for it.”
“Maverick” grossed $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office and is the fifth highest-grossing film in North American history, after “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”, “Avengers: End Game”, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Avatar”. Another historic moment for “Top Gun: Maverick”: The film topped domestic box office sales over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. This has never happened before, Dergarabedian said. He added that “Maverick” earned at least $1 million a day for 75 consecutive days.
“If ‘Top Gun’ hadn’t done so well, if nothing was working, that would mean people don’t need the movie experience. But that’s not what we’re seeing,” said said Dergarabedian.
The judge from the Somerville and Arlington theaters also pointed to the success of “Maverick”: “I mean, Tom Cruise is a literal savior for theaters that show mainstream movies.”
Judge and Taller believe the current landscape gives independents like theirs a slight advantage over multiplexes, as they are able to more carefully tailor special programming to their communities.
“That’s the difference with us,” Taller said. “We are a community center and we do a lot more with cinema.”
Throughout the industry, there was a summer boom then fall bust, but industry executives seem optimistic that box office sales will eventually return to pre-pandemic levels.
“I think we’re going to see a more orderly release schedule and pattern,” Dergarabedian said of the 2023 movie schedule, noting that the industry plans to space out the schedule for high-profile releases. “We find our place.”
He added that theaters are counting on films like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and the upcoming “Avatar: The Way of Water” to boost numbers before the end of the year.
Judge believes that quality will eventually replace quantity when it comes to the livelihoods and longevity of cinemas. “The future is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely there will be fewer but better quality cinemas,” he said. “People will pay for a good movie and mostly pass on a badly rated one; it hasn’t changed in 100 years, and I don’t think it ever will.
Brittany Bowker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.