Cannibals At The Gate: From 90 to 23

April 13, 2011

Item # 1: Your Highness, a broad “stoner” comedy featuring James Franco and Natalie Portman, failed at the box office last weekend. (A widely hyped performance from James Franco that fell flat. Didn’t we already see that on Oscar night?).

While longtime Universal distribution executive Nikki Rocco confessed disappointment in the grosses, she also noted in USA Today on April 12 that the film was “modestly budgeted” so the studio would not consider the box office results to be too devastating. The cost of the film? $50 million, not including advertising, prints, and publicity which added at least $20 million, if not more. Only in the New Hollywood  could a film whose production costs  alone were $50 million be described as “modestly budgeted.”

Item # 2. According to a recent article in the New York Times, 90 million people went to the movies every week in 1948. In 201o, that number was 23 million per week, a 75% drop-off.

There are, of course, several reasons for that decline, including the most obvious factor of the increased competition from television, DVDs, cable, computers, etc.

Nevertheless, in the latest example of their collective flirtation with a circular firing squad, several studios announced last week that they plan to make films available at home on pay-per-view within 60 days of their theatrical release.

Theater owners are somewhat less than thrilled, and for good reason.

There are several explanations for the fact that theatrical admissions are already down over 20% this year, one of them being the ever-decreasing window between a film’s theatrical run and its appearance on pay-per-view in people’s living rooms. Not that long ago (the mid-1970s), films didn’t even show up on home televisions for at least a year or two after their theatrical runs, if even then.

With the advent of home video recorders and VHS/Betamax tapes (remember them?), the window between theatrical runs and home availability began to shorten…and shorten…and shorten. Up until a very few years ago, the window was still 6 months…then…5…then 4….then 3…now 2. So many people have already opted to stay home and wait for DVD or pay-per-view that the theater owners have been fighting tooth and nail to get the window lengthened, not shortened.

Theater owners are now threatening the studios with not booking films at all unless the window between theaters and home viewing is increased but their leverage is dubious at best when they know a competitor can swoop in and book the most desirable summer films. Is it any wonder that some theater owners (AMC and Regal) have joined up to license films themselves for distribution so that home viewing does not further cannibalize theatrical attendance?

And the beat goes on.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

normadesmond April 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm

(A widely hyped performance from James Franco that fell flat. Didn’t we already see that on Oscar night?)

of course i’m a francophile, but was he hired, “to give a performance?” was he handed a script? is he a stand-up comic, known for his adlibbing abilities? i blame the producer of the show. it was his/her job to hire people to write & mount an entertaining program.

okay, i feel better now.


Stephen Simon April 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

As usual, Ms. D, you are absolutely right. The producers are the ones responsible for hiring someone who was not up to the job. That being said, I found Mr. Franco’s attitude highly insulting to the art form and to the Academy. If he considered the job to be beneath him, as he certainly seemed to, then he should never have agreed to do it. At least, Anne Hathaway gave every ounce of energy she had. Mr. Franco just phoned it in. Anyway, keep those comments coming!…Stephen


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