This past Thursday I went with my columnist of choice, Molly, to take in all that Captain America: Civil War had to offer. There were thrills, chills, and carefully crafted and choreographed spills. Molly and I also went and saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice the day they came out. Well, technically those were all the day before they came out. The official release dates for all those movies was the Friday of the week. So how come they were in theaters the day before?
Because we don’t have midnight movie premieres anymore.
Personally, I think that sucks. For years, going to a midnight release was exciting for me. Sure, it often led to a miserable Friday at work, but it was worth it. Waiting on a line with lots of fans, the chatting with strangers about the shared love of Star Wars, Batman, Lord of the Rings, or any number of other movie franchises deemed worthy enough by the studios to share with the masses just a little early. Being looked at as a fountain of knowledge by your family, friends and coworkers who want to see the movie in question over the opening weekend, but not at midnight because they let silly things like their lives, obligations and work ethic get in the way. Yeah, let’s see where that gets them.
One of the first midnight releases I had the chance to go see was Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It was a great experience waiting outside on a thankfully nice night and chatting with friends about the movie for a couple of hours (you have to get there early if you want a good seat, after all). People decked out in Star Wars shirts and other paraphernalia, wielding lightsabers, with some even in full out cosplay. It was like being at a mini comic con. And luckily for us it wasn’t the worst Star wars movie, which we all know is Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
Now that I think about it, my first may have been Spider-Man 2. Fellow columnist Art Tebbel made it a point that we go to a theater in Manhattan that had a professional Spider-Man on hand. I’m pretty sure we sat in the balcony section too. And it turned out that was the best Spider-Man film to date so we lucked out.
I didn’t think of this until I already started writing this week’s column, but I should also encourage all of you reading this to please check out Art Tebbel’s reviews here at ComicMix, Box Office Democracy. He spent two years going to the theater to watch the highest grossing film every week, even if it was the same movie for weeks on end. Art did this and somehow still enjoys movies and has some respect for humanity. And as someone who Art once made stop everything he was doing to go see Anchorman with him because it was that good, I can’t recommend him enough.
So why don’t movie distributors want me to have fun anymore? There are a few reasons why. One of which was the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight premiere of Dark Knight Rises which was in fact the last midnight premiere I had seen. During the early days after this shooting it was often cited as the main reason and linked to security concerns. However, we have now had so many mass shootings since then that it’s more or less been forgotten, but that’s a sad story for another time.
And as for security, I’ve yet to be patted down or go through a metal detector at theaters in midtown Manhattan, so I would find the security reasoning hard to believe. Hell, I’ve successfully snuck in candy and soda into the theater with a 100% success rate since the Aurora mass shooting.
The more likely answer follows Occam’s razor, which is to say money. Yup, you read that right. Shocking, I know. While the studios may like the photo ops, press hits and extra cash a midnight release can bring in, the cost of operations falls on the theaters themselves. Paying for staff to not only stay open later, but to have even more staff on hand for crowd management is a lot.
And over the years more and more movies were falling into the category of midnight premiere fodder, just adding more and more to the cost of operations. What started midnight releases big time in the mainstream with movies like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trickled down to even the Bourne franchise and when is the last time you encountered a diehard Bourne fan that you could equate to a diehard Star Wars fan in terms of knowledge, dedication, and passion to fandom? Okay, maybe the Fast and Furious franchise you could, but that’s why I didn’t use that as an example before.
It’s natural that movie theaters would want to roll back on this, and plenty of movie theaters still offer midnight B-movie screenings at least in big cities. That’s how I recently met Matt Hannon of Samurai Cop fame as he went out and toured the sequel the end of last year.
And despite what we keep hearing about Hollywood blockbuster after Hollywood blockbuster breaking records every year, particularly comic book movies, Hollywood is an erratic place revenue wise. While 2015 had an impressive cash haul, 2014 did not. Prior to that, 2011 was a bad year for Hollywood, seeing a half a billion dollar drop in domestic ticket sales despite higher prices. Those were the numbers the industry had going into Dark Knight Rises in 2012, so the idea of this being more about profits by screening movies earlier on Thursdays, where more average movie goers will come out and the theaters themselves don’t necessarily have to staff up and keep staff out later, rather than it being related to people’s safety seems to make the most sense.
But hey, that kind of logic works for the gun industry, so why can’t it work for Hollywood?