Does that make people less inclined to pay a premium for 3-D or Imax versions of films or to sit in an environment where distracting chatter and screens full of vacuous text messages are tacitly considered part of the experience? There's no need for conjecture when the box office numbers bear it out. Last weekend, Sylvester Stallone's testosterone-laden blow-'em-up blockbuster The Expendables 2 topped the box office with a $28.6 million take. That's wonderful, but it's a disappointing $8,622 per screen for Lionsgate (LGF). Compared with the $24,100-per-screen that David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis took in on just three screens, the $17,700-per-room that the Frank Langella-led Robot & Frank took in on just two screens and the $16,427 that the deeply disturbing drama Compliance brought in on just one screen, Expendables 2 looked like Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot.
Think the latest installment in the Bourne series did any better the week before? Its $10,185 per screen was brawnier, but still couldn't outdo the indie sequel 2 Days In New York ($11,971 a screen on two screens) or the re-release of the 1971 French feature Max et les Ferralieurs (Max and the Junkmen) ($11,264 on one screen). To the theaters that play them, these films are equivalent to summer blockbusters and pad the receipts just as easily. On the moviegoer's end, they get to watch a film in a place that's more likely to be a cheaper ticket than the average multiplex, is more likely to offer them better food or a beer to enhance revenues even more and is more likely to be populated by people there to see the movie rather than to tweet about it while taking screen caps in full view of the ushers.
Since the summer blockbuster season opened in early May, only two major films have held the per-screen title: The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, for a combined five weeks. Any other week, you had to go check out a Wes Anderson camp comedy ( Moonrise Kingdom), a multi-story Woody Allen travel narrative ( To Rome With Love), a Hurricane Katrina-based fantasy ( Beasts Of The Southern Wild) or a right-leaning election-year documentary ( Obama's America: 2016) to find the toughest ticket in town. Surprisingly enough, Americans still want to see movies not advertised on soda cans. That should come as a big relief to small, struggling theaters.
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