ORLANDO, Fla. — Ask an exhib attending the ShowEast trade show for a critique of the recent summer’s box office, and the response is likely to be, “It was OK — but how about those holiday movies coming up!”
The summer, while not a disaster, was not a critical or business success of the sort to rhapsodize over. B.O. was up on ticket price hikes, but admissions were down from the previous record summer.
So most exhibs seem more focused on the year-end titles, which they hope will produce a memorable holiday season.
“There are a lot of great-looking films coming out in the fourth quarter,” Cinemark Intl.’s Tim Warner said. “That could push us from having a good year to a great year.”
Rick Cohen, owner of the Transit Drive-In in Lockport, N.Y., joked about the recent “summer of reruns” and suggested there may have been a few too many sequels of late.
Mix it up
But he insisted the mix of movies has been good, acknowledging, “It could always be better, but that’s always the case.”
There was near unanimity that New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” will set the B.O. world afire when it bows domestically and in much of the world on Dec. 17. Likewise, few question how Sony can lose when “Spider-Man 2” starts slinging B.O. webs next summer.
Yet even Cinemark’s Warner noted a sequel is never simply a license to print money. “A lot of it has to do with how well the original film worked,” he said.
In other words, if the original “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” failed to impress, it should come as no shock when the sequel underperforms.
“A good sequel isn’t just a carbon copy of the first,” said Mel Stuart, who operates a seven-screen cinema in Bennington, Vt.
And a few exhibs expressed sentiments in line with industry vet Bob Cunningham, who groused about “too many sequels and little quality” over the past summer.
ShowEast exists, in large part, to provide distribs a forum for hyping their upcoming pics to exhibs, with studios screening several notable new titles this year.
ShowEast has always placed more emphasis on screenings rather than on the star-studded banquets of the sort that once dominated Las Vegas’ ShoWest, which in recent years also has shifted the spotlight to studio screenings. Distribs still offer more modest feedbags at both trade shows, where they also unspool trailers of upcoming pics. On Tuesday, Fox and Disney ingratiated themselves with the assembled exhibs with a post-screening lunch and dinner, respectively.
Disney underscored the importance of its screening “Brother Bear” by jetting in head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner to intro the family tooner, then busing exhibs after the movie to the nearby Animal Kingdom theme park for a dinner party.
Fox screened “Runaway Jury,” a high-profile John Grisham courtroom drama.
“It’s an adult film that plays fabulously,” Fox distribution prexy Bruce Snyder said. “We see the ShowEast crowd really embracing it.”
Rick Myerson, Fox exec veep distribution, told the luncheon aud, “Everything we do (is) a collaborative effort, and we’re ecstatic to be at ShowEast.”
He might have been even happier to have heard table talk in which exhibs compared “Jury” favorably with the summer’s fluffy fare.
But despite occasional nitpicking, most theater operators tend toward a rose-colored view of their industry and, in any event, are hesitant to openly second-guess their distribution partners in release decisions. For after all, exhibs and distribs share a common emphasis on the bottom line in assessing movie success.
“A lot of the critics don’t know what the public likes,” suggested Eduardo Llauger of Cinevista in Puerto Rico, whose summer release sked closely followed the Stateside pattern. “Not talking about the quality of the summer films, the customers liked them. There were a lot of sequels, but the young people were waiting for them.”
On the other hand, Florida exhib Bob Cunningham suggested good business and innovative moviemaking aren’t mutually exclusive.
“There’s an audience out there for good-quality entertainment, he said.