×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Summer Films Must Win Back Apathetic Young Ticketbuyers

This is the moment of truth for two sectors of the movie business that are at opposite ends of the spectrum — opposite in terms of commerce and culture.

For the Hollywood studios, it’s launch time (and prayer time) for summer blockbusters, the wakeup calls for Spider-Man, the X-Men, Captain America, Godzilla and all their superhero (or super-villain) brethren.

Paradoxically, in Cannes, it’s also zero-hour for the auteur superheroes of the festival circuit — time for Mike Leigh, David Cronenberg, Lars von Trier and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu to unveil their epiphanies.

Both sectors this year have plenty to gain, and to fear. Hollywood is fretful about the sharply increased defection of the young audience, but optimistic about the booming foreign box office. Festival filmmakers fear the incursions of Hollywood blockbusters but are hopeful about the potential of digital and on-demand markets. Both have this in common: They know they need good product.

Hollywood’s marketers can’t figure out why frequent filmgoers in the 18-24 age group bought 21% fewer tickets in 2013 — a formidable decline. One clue: According to a new MPAA study, some 74% of the total film audience that sees at least one film a month now owns at least four mobile devices. That’s a lot of distraction.

The most loyal members of the filmgoing population are those that neither distributors nor advertisers traditionally care about — the 40-and-older crowd, which represents 30% of ticket buyers; and the 50-and-older group, which makes up more than 20%. Ironically, advertisers still spent nearly $680 million to buy ads in movie theaters last year, up 6.5% from the year earlier, so someone must care about geriatric purchasing power.

The audience Hollywood most fervently chases dwells abroad: The $35.9 billion global pot of gold reflected an increase of 4% over 2012. Box office in China alone was up 27% (much of that admittedly due to an increase in returns from local films). And it’s clear that kids worldwide love superheroes, even superheroes in 3D — a format that’s been less super of late in the U.S. Their loyalties will be tested later this month when massive overseas “Spider-Man” and “Captain America” sequels all but collide.

The daunting reality in the domestic market, however, is that the number of tickets sold has fallen by nearly 11% between 2004 and 2013, a decline that has been masked by higher ticket prices. Distributors of both arthouse films and tentpoles know this charade cannot go on. Fewer people at the movie house means pain in the wallet to the exhibitor at the concession stand. Blockbusters need to lure the kids back to the multiplexes; festival auteurs need to find a price point that will appeal to the penny-pinching older crowd.

Discrete talks are under way between distributors and the theater circuits to devise a plan to sell discounted tickets at least once a week. Programs of this sort have helped the cause in Canada and parts of Latin America. In Spain, lower pricing is credited in part for drawing younger audiences to romantic comedy “Spanish Affair,” which has cumed more than $21 million in the territory in three weeks. Other changes in the anachronistic distribution process also are being explored, such as the idea of booking certain independent films directly into theaters, bypassing distributors. A more cost-effective release pattern combined with simultaneous distribution on digital platforms could provide needed muscle for the specialty circuit.

If innovations such as these succeed, then the moment of truth for the opposite poles of the movie business may turn out propitiously after all. There has to be room out there for the superheroes of both Hollywood and the festival circuit to coexist. Provided their movies measure up to expectations, that is.

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Tom Hanks Mr Rogers A BEAUTIFUL

    Tom Hanks' Portrayal of Mister Rogers May Put Him Back in Oscar's 'Neighborhood'

    Sony recently hosted a SAG-AFTRA screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed drama starring Matthew Rhys as a magazine writer who befriends Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While the screening didn’t include a guild Q&A with cast or the film’s creative team, the audience was greeted with a video message from [...]

  • Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese,

    Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' Enter Oscar Race With World Premiere at NYFF

    Even with its three-hour run time and a short 28 days in theaters before it’s available on Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is likely to be a major contender at the Oscars. The 57th New York Film Festival opened on Friday night with the world premiere of the epic real-life mob drama. Scorsese and his [...]

  • Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time

    How Much Does Hitting the Awards Season Circuit Really Matter to Stars Like Brad Pitt?

    “Do you want an Oscar?” That’s the first question one top awards consultant asks any potential contender when they first start talking. Everyone is wondering how Brad Pitt would answer that question these days. He recently raised eyebrows and made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not be campaigning this awards season. “Oh, man. I’m [...]

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Barry Bill Hader

    Emmys 2019: Clear Favorites and Top Challengers for This Year's Winners (Column)

    If this felt like the longest, most expensive Emmy campaign in history, you might be right. For one thing, the 2019 Primetime Emmys will be held Sept. 22, which is the latest the ceremony has taken place since 2013. That also happened to be the last year of TV’s quaint, pre-streaming era, before outlets like [...]

  • Fleabag Succession Emmys

    Could 'Fleabag' and 'Succession' Be Spoilers on Emmy Night? (Column)

    At the onset, this year’s Emmy Awards felt a bit anticlimactic, as the final seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” appeared to have this year’s drama and comedy categories locked up before campaigning even began. But that’s how upsets happen: Just when we’re pretty confident about how things might go, a couple of wild [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content