Covid has done a number on all of us, and movie theaters are no exception. One of the changes post-lockdown has been a shortened time in theaters. I say post-lockdown because post-Covid would imply we are done with it, and we are not.
Even before the world pulled a California rolling stop, movies were not staying in theaters as long as they used to. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was a rare movie that hung around in theaters for almost a year. Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing movie ever, and it only hung around in theaters for a couple of months.
I mention this because that was pre-covid and pre-lockdown. Now a movie hanging around for two months is damn near unheard of. At my theater right now, we currently have nine movies playing. Three of those have been out for almost two months.
Having this many movies that have been out for that long is rare, but these are rare times. The Bad Guys, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness. And that’s only because we’re in this weird place where we have a new blockbuster followed by stretches where nothing major comes out.
The Bad Guys will most likely be going away as soon as Buzz Lightyear comes out. Then again, this is another unknown fact; movie theaters don’t decide what movies to get or lose. The studios and home office decide that.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is slowly rolling out to more and more theaters. But, much like Parasite, it too is an outlier. As for Doctor Strange, well, it helps that it’s a Marvel movie.
By that, I mean Disney/Marvel can negotiate (read threaten) theaters into not just showing their movies in their biggest houses exclusively but also demanding they have more showtimes. Play a game the next time you go to a movie with a big Marvel release; check the showtimes.
Notice how it’s playing almost every quarter-hour? On the surface, it may not seem like much but think about it.
Pretend you decide to go to the movie and look at the time. If a film is playing at 7 pm and 7:45 pm, you may see it, but you’ll have to time it. But if a movie is playing at 7 pm, 7:15 pm, 7:30 pm, and 7:45 pm, then you’ll not only more than likely going to see it, but now you can go with friends. After all, it’s easier to plan to see a movie when the movie you want to see plays every 15 minutes rather than twice an hour.
On top of that, Disney/Marvel will also attach other movies you must take to play their film. For example, back when I worked at my previous theatre, we got Avengers: Endgame but also had to dedicate one theater to one of the Disney Nature documentaries. A quid pro quo, you want to play what is sure to be hit, then you must do this. It will be a hit because it will play four times an hour.
For comparison, take a movie like Top Gun: Maverick. Opening weekend, it played twice an hour. It still did mega business, but that was last weekend. You ask any employee, and they’ll tell you the average lifespan of a movie in our theater is two weeks. So opening weekend will be a madhouse, but you’ll see a noticeable drop the following weekend.
MCU movies have legs, but a studio with enough clout saying you have to keep playing this movie until we say so. But again, two months is pushing it. The biggest studio in the world doesn’t have anything like Parasite or Everything Everywhere All at Once. For the simple reason, they don’t want to. Instead, they want you to be excited for the next movie, the next, and the next.
Another reason movies are no longer staying in theaters is because audiences, by and large, don’t want finality; they want a continuation. So a movie trailer drops, and the internet is abuzz with possibilities of whether the movie will be good. The industrial anticipation complex, as it were.
Well, that and the out-of-control growth of spoiler culture into an all-encompassing wish never to know anything about anything. Opening weekends are increasingly becoming the moment a movie lives or dies, and most people go to see it purely so they can’t be spoiled—either that or the real-life version of replying “First” in the comment sections.
Whatever the case, it’s clear the theatrical lifespan of movies has grown even shorter. Like a fruit fly, they are born and die within hours of release. It’s a hell of a way to treat art, but here we are.
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