Opinion was divided last week in response to my suggestion that theater hopping be made legal. Most of the commenters thought I was an idiot, while the rest thought I was a Communist. In retrospect, I regret any disturbance I caused to the patrons in the three auditoriums that I visited briefly and illicitly; my apologies to those folks. I see nothing wrong or contradictory, however, with seeking ways to both improve the moviegoing experience and making it a better value for consumers. OK, wandering gangs of cheap, rude theater hoppers is not a popular (or even a good) idea. What, then? Why not bring back double features?
Of all the studios, it's Disney/Pixar that has released the first true double feature in ages: one ticket buys you admission to Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D during its limited engagement. Of course, these films already made hundreds of millions of dollars during their original theatrical engagements, plus untold millions from home video releases. Tickets for 3-D movies are also sold at a premium (an extra $3.00 in my area), so making them available for a few weeks as a double feature doesn't present as much of a financial risk for the studio.
Still, it's the thought that counts. Granted, the last time two films were released as a double bill, it didn't turn out so well on the financial side of things.
Grindhouse (2007) featured scratched-up, cut-down new films by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), plus fake trailers in between, in an attempt to recreate the grungy, grimy 70s grindhouse exploitation experience. Two exploitation films that together grossed $25 million worldwide doesn't sound too bad, until you consider the production budget, reportedly in the neighborhood of $67 million. Who knew it could cost that much money to make something that looked so cheap?
I don't think the running time of Grindhouse (more than three hours) kept people away, as much as the subject matter. Exploitation movies have usually had limited audiences. But it's probably not realistic to imagine any studio taking a chance on releasing two new movies together as a double bill any time in the forseeable future. And releasing two older features that have long been available on home video, like Toy Story and Toy Story 2, will be a rare event, especially with critics like our own Todd Gilchrist questioning the wisdom of doing so (though he was talking more about the 3-D angle, I think).
Instead, I'm thinking of films that have already been in theaters for a couple of weeks. In the late 70s, as more and more single-screen theaters began adding screens to their buildings -- converting balcony seating into separate auditoriums and similar schemes -- it was common to see double features at bargain prices. With the rise of the modern multiplex, featuring a dozen or two auditoriums, this practice disappeared for the most part. Why can't double features come back?
Distributors get the bulk of their money in the first couple of weeks of theatrical release. After that, the split of revenue moves more in favor of the exhibitor. Exhibitors have been known to offer bargain nights during the week, when attendance dips precipitously; it's not unusual to find only a handful of people at a mid-week screening. All I'm suggesting is that exhibitors try offering two movies for the price of one. If attendance doesn't double at those screenings, thereby mitigating any lost income, then offer two movies for less than the price of two -- $9.50 for one movie or $12.50 for two? I'll take two, please.
Distributors might also consider advertising two of their movies together as a double bill. Again, I'm not talking about the newest releases, but those that have been out in theaters for a few weeks and may be on their last legs. It would give exhibitors a shot in the arm and remind moviegoers that they can still catch those movies before they hit DVD. And, shoot, if the DVD release is imminent anyway, it gives the DVD release an extra boost.
What do you say?