10,000 Screens, No Waiting

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Super-wide releases have made it easier than ever for audiences to get in to see the latest blockbuster without having to wait because of sell-outs. If the showtime you want is full, wait 45 minutes and another screen will be available. This is a good thing for audiences, but it has had the less-than-desirable effect of staggering second week drops in box office – more than 60% in the cases of Spider-man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

The rapid drop-offs might once have led exhibitors to panic, as contracts with distributors paid them a greater percentage of box office the longer the film stayed in theaters. But not anymore, according to an article in today’s New York Times:

The blockbuster onslaught has been driven partly by a shift in the way studios and theater chains divide up box office receipts. Until several years ago, most of the grosses went to the studios initially, but theaters benefited more the longer a film played. As a result, megaplex owners had a financial disincentive to play a new movie on too many screens.

Now studios and theater chains typically agree on a flat percentage split, no matter how long a movie plays. So “Pirates,” “Spider-Man 3” and “Shrek the Third,” for example, each opened on more than 10,000 screens in May.

“We don’t care anymore whether we generate revenue in the first week, the third or the fifth,” said Mike Campbell, chief executive of Regal Cinemas, the nation’s biggest theater chain.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. The quick drop-offs mean there’s less repeat business – perhaps an unintended consequence of shrinking release windows – and the enormous amount of screen real estate given over to blockbusters means there’s less room for independent films. As a consequence, the giddy expectations of a record-breaking summer at the box offcie has been somewhat tempered.

But not entirely. Harry Potter is going strong in its second week and Hairspray and The Simpsons have enormous potential. And August, traditionally a bit of a dumping ground for films with lesser box office potential, has The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 3 and Superbad all looking strong. What other films are on your radar? The Invasion? Halloween? Any votes for Bratz or The Nanny Diaries?


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