Does anyone remember the days when you used to be able to frame a time and place in your life by saying “That was the summer of “Ghostbusters” or any popular movie that you had fond memories of. Well that’s starting to get a little harder as movies come and go so quickly that the memory of that time in place erodes as fast as the everyday pace of today’s quickly moving world. Unlike years ago, Hollywood now markets their movies for the opening weekend. If it doesn’t open big it closes fast. There’s so much product in the pipeline that there’s no time for tomorrow – just today. It’s hard to imagine for some that just three decades ago even the most popular films opened on just a few hundred theaters screens at best and many played for quite a long time. Why? Because there were no multiplex theaters. Most movie theaters were a single screen (sometimes they even had a balcony!) or a drive-in… remember those. There weren’t nearly as many screens as there are today – not by a long shot! Here’s a list of films since 1975 and the maximum number of theaters they played in.
Let’s start with the first movie to do a 100 Mill in ticket sales:
JAWS-1975 / 675 theaters
GREASE-1978 / 862 theaters
BACK TO THE FUTURE-1985 / 1550 theaters
BATMAN-1989 / 2201 Theaters
JURASSIC PARK-1993 / 2566 Theaters
INDEPENDENCE DAY-1996 / 2977 Theaters
SPIDERMAN-2002 / 3876
TRANSFORMERS-2007 / 4050 Theaters
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL-2008 / 4264 Theaters
As I’ve pointed out, movies continue to open on more and more screens and the more they play on, the quicker they burn out. Even the most popular films released today are forgotten 3 weeks later. There are no long lines and no consistent sellouts. When I was a kid, popular movies played for a year or more.
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I saw my favorite film, The Poseidon Adventure, numerous times in a theater. My parents first took me to see it at the Avalon on Kings Highway. I remember watching it from the balcony. It played there for months on end. Eventually it moved to a few other theaters in Brooklyn including the Graham Theater, but it never played at two different places at the same time in one neighborhood. That was the rule of the day back then. In 1975 Jaws opened. I remember seeing people lined up around the block for weeks waiting to see it. Since it maxed out at 675 Screens around the country people had no choice other than waiting since its wide access availability was limited. To me this was a great thing because it created great word of mouth and helped develop that movie’s legendary status. Everybody that year was really afraid to go to the beach. Jaws had a 6.1 mill opening weekend and wound up grossing 260 mill domestically at the box-office. You can only imagine how long Jaws was a force at the movies that year – 1975 was the year of JAWS!
I also remember GREASE playing what felt like forever in 1978. Some kids in my neighborhood went to see that film fifty times. Slowly single theaters became duplexes (two screens) and the multiplexes started to pop up and grow. In 1989 it was all about BATMAN. I saw that film 10 times, mostly at the Kings Plaza movie theater on Ave U. For me that summer was the year of the BAT and it will always be in my memory. In 1993, now living in PA, my friend Mike and I drove into Manhattan to go see JURASSIC PARK at the famed Ziegfeld movie theater, the largest single screened theater in the United States with 1131 seats. I’ll always remember the roar of the crowd when the T-Rex ripped the lawyer off the toilet followed by Spielberg’s crane shot that panned in on Sam Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant. The audience went absolutely nuts! Another memory I’ll never forget.
As the years have gone by the movie going experience has changed. Because films play on so many screens sell-outs have become rarer, even in the first day of a movie’s release. Films wear out their welcome so quickly that most are forgotten faster than a night at the Chinese buffet. I really think the last of the long playing movies was TITANIC, as that film hit a nerve with audiences in 1997 that we may never see again. Even playing at 3200 theaters, Titanic stayed around for months on end and grossed more than 600 mill in the U.S alone. My wife and I saw Titanic seven times. My gut feeling is that eventually studios will release films not only in theaters but also on pay per view the same day. We now live in a world that’s moving faster than ever before and the movie-going experience is keeping pace with it. This trend, for me, is definitely not better! Personally, I loved the long lines, the endless weeks of shelf life and, most of all, the memories of the way it used to be!
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