×

Lafayette Theater Shooting Inspires Safety Debate, But Has Limited Box Office Impact

Once again, mass shootings have cast a pall over the summer box office, provoking debate about what safety measures need to be instituted to ensure these tragedies do not become commonplace. However, those concerns appear to have a limited impact on ticket sales.

Gun violence erupted in a darkened movie theater at a Thursday night screening of “Trainwreck,” killing two audience members and injuring nine others in the city of Lafayette, La. — nearly three years to the day after James Holmes opened fire at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 patrons and wounding 70.

Major movies like Sony’s “Pixels” failed to connect with audiences, but that appears to be more attributable to Adam Sandler’s dwindling fanbase than it does to fears about violence or copycat shooters. In a summer already marred by a stream of senseless killings, from the slaughter of nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., to the murder of four marines in Chattanooga, Tenn., such instances of bloodshed appear to be becoming disturbingly routine.

“The films did about what they were supposed to do,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “America is a little bit desensitized by shootings, because they occur on almost a weekly basis.”

Some studio executives privately wondered if films like Fox’s “Paper Towns” and “Pixels,” which draw younger crowds, saw grosses drop as families decided to stay home, although most people polled believed that was unlikely. The overall box office was down roughly 5% from the year-ago period, but that was a weekend that saw major releases like “Lucy” and “Hercules” do robust business, making comparisons difficult.

“I don’t know if there’s any way of really knowing,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s domestic distribution chief. “There’s nothing dramatically off in the box office that I can see.”

Hollywood is clearly shocked by the killings. “Trainwreck” star Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow released statements of dismay and sympathy, and other celebrities such as Jeffrey Wright and Lena Dunham called for stricter gun-control measures. In the immediate aftermath of the Louisiana shootings, state authorities vowed to increase police presence in movie theaters over the weekend, and state Rep. Barbara Norton said she will introduce a bill to put metal detectors in theaters.

Tighter security measures may be coming to multiplexes beyond Louisiana, but with regard to ticket sales, the circumstances surrounding the murders in Lafayette are different than they were in Aurora. In that case, Holmes appeared to be responding in a warped way to “The Dark Knight” mythology, dressing himself in an outfit that resembled the costume worn by the Joker. In this instance, there was no obvious correlation between the film being played and the shooting itself. “Trainwreck,” the film that was showing when the Lafayette shooter opened fire, did not suffer any box office downturn. It did solid business, dropping a modest 43% from its opening weekend results to pull in $17.3 million in receipts.

This weekend, the Associated Press surveyed moviegoers in places like Boston and Washington, and found that while many were shaken by the deaths in Louisiana, they said the murders would not prevent them from visiting cinemas.

That is interesting, albeit anecdotal. Ultimately, it’s difficult to determine whether moviegoers decided to steer clear of theaters for fear of their safety, though there is some evidence that the Aurora murders depressed ticket sales. Research group NRG reported that 20% to 25% of the domestic moviegoing population was hesitant to visit theaters after the killings. Studio executives said the murders kept people away from cinemas in the weeks following the shooting. Yet “The Dark Knight Rises” still made more than $130 million in the days after Aurora and went on to gross north of $450 million domestically, suggesting that any anxiety was ephemeral.

“It’s tough to prove a negative,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “Families may have paused for a moment, particularly this weekend, but over the long term, I don’t think there’s going to be a discernible effect.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Ready or Not Movie

    'Ready or Not,' 'Angel Has Fallen' Enter Box Office Race

    Three more contenders are joining what has lately been a hostile box office arena. Can anyone emerge from August victorious? Fox Searchlight’s “Ready or Not,” a black comedy about a diabolical game of hide-and-seek, will debut in 2,244 North American theaters on Wednesday. The low-budget film is expected to earn upwards of $6.5 million over [...]

  • Rules Don't Apply

    Warren Beatty and Arnon Milchan Settle Suit Over 'Rules Don't Apply' Flop

    Arnon Milchan and Warren Beatty have settled their two-year legal battle over the disastrous release of “Rules Don’t Apply,” Beatty’s period drama about Howard Hughes. Milchan’s attorneys have filed a notice with the court dismissing his suit against Beatty. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Milchan’s company, New Regency, sued Beatty and other investors [...]

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Adam Brody'Ready or Not' film premiere,

    Adam Brody to Executive Produce, Star in 'The Kid Detective'

    “Ready or Not’s” Adam Brody has signed on to star in “The Kid Detective.” Sophie Nelisse will co-star in the dramedy from writer-director Evan Morgan. Brody will star as a once-celebrated kid detective, now 31, who continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity until a 16-year-old client (Nelisse) brings [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • Theo Von arrives at the Global

    Chris Pratt's 'Ghost Draft' Adds Comedian Theo Von

    Comedian Theo Von has boarded the sci-fi thriller “Ghost Draft” starring Chris Pratt. “Lego Batman” filmmaker Chris McKay is directing Skydance and Paramount’s upcoming film, which stars “Handmaid’s Tale” star Yvonne Strahovski alongside Pratt. J.K. Simmons and “GLOW’s” Betty Gilpin are also in talks to join the pic. Written by Zach Dean and Bill Dubuque, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content