Monday, September 17, 2012

Richard Gere -- but not here

A caller asked me today why "Arbitrage," the well-reviewed new movie about a corrupt hedge fund magnate, doesn't seem to be playing any Charlotte-area theaters. At first, I thought this was merely a case of ageism: Gere and co-star Susan Sarandon appeal to a demographic that rarely buys movie tickets these days -- I know, because I'm in it -- and the younger actors in the film (Brit Marling, Nate Parker) aren't big enough names to turn the box office tide. There's nothing about this movie to reach men aged 18-to-35, Hollywood's largest target audience.

Then I found out Lionsgate had released the movie to theaters at the same time it was available  through video on demand. You can get it on iTunes or Amazon or other outlets at $6.99 a showing whenever you like. That's the real reason it's unlikely to play theaters here.

Big exhibitors (Regal and AMC around here) don't want to devote a screen to a movie you can order the same day on your TV or computer. Executives for the chains are willing to show a picture with a short theatrical window -- that is, an exclusive run in theaters before coming out on DVD or video on demand -- but not willing to split the potential audience from day one.

Movie distributors have a different point of view. They argue that people will find films wherever they were going to find them in the first place. Folks who like to go out to theaters will do so; folks who like to watch in their living rooms were never going to a theater anyway, so where's the lost income?

Both sides make valid points. Right now, multiplexes are still clinging to summer releases that are just taking up space ("The Candidate," "Total Recall"), so I'd side with Lionsgate on this one: Why not devote one screen out of 22 or 24 to "Arbitrage" and earn whatever you can? But nobody's likely to break the impasse, so all of us will be the losers.