For the Christmas release of Licorice Pizza, some theaters left behind |

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Licorice Pizza

For arthouse cinemas, already struggling during the pandemic, the wide expansion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed film Licorice Pizza December 25 was considered a godsend. When the film opened in late November in just four locations, it generated the best per-screen average of the year (at $ 83,852) and continued to show endurance over the following weeks in limited release. But last Tuesday, as theaters began promoting their Christmas opening of the film, United Artists Releasing took it out to hundreds of locations, prompting at least one exhibitor to shout “bah, humbug!” “

Originally slated to air on around 2,000 screens, according to Indiewire, the studio has shifted gears and reduced the expansion to some 800 theaters, leaving theaters across the country looking for a last-minute replacement.

“It was incredibly important to us,” says Rachel Morgan, Creative Director of Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema, which launched her art-house in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, in 2019. “Even though our doors are on our doorstep. have been open for two and a half years. , we only had about six months to a year of normal operation, ”says Morgan. The theater recorded positive ticket sales for the fall release of The French dispatch and counted on Licorice Pizza to retain audiences.


“These kinds of movies keep your head above water,” says Morgan, who is now scrambling to find another movie to fill the slot and revamp the movie theater’s December schedule.

According to Rebecca Fons, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago and a member of the Art House Convergence Transition Task Force, “Many art houses in particular have blocked these dates and said no to others. newsworthy movies, ”she said,“ And now that sends their little teams into a spin, begging for titles to fill the space. ”

“I understand what United Artists is doing and I’m in favor of a slower rollout,” Fons adds, “but they should have planned it a month ago.”

Several theaters have discovered their Licorice Pizza run was canceled just days before they were allowed to start selling tickets on December 10. “They’re like Scrooge,” Morgan said of United Artists. “They need to be visited by the ghost of the coming Christmas.”

After repeated requests to United Artists about why the studio has changed tactics, a spokesperson replied, “There is no story here. The film, which has already grossed $ 1 million on just four unique screens during its exclusive airing, has exactly the right number of locations for its wider national opening over Christmas.

Seasoned theater programmers and programmers say such abrupt strategy changes are rare, but the Weinstein Company was infamous for ripping theaters right before a release. Erik Lomis, currently head of distribution at United Artists, held the same position at The Weinstein Company when, one booker recalls, the studio delayed its French competitor’s expansion to the Oscars. The artist on Christmas Eve 2011, leaving many theaters embarrassed at the time. The artist finally widened in early March, after winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

Yes Licorice Pizza continues to perform in theaters continuously and build momentum and harness the Oscars buzz, it could end up in more theaters in the long run as well. But for struggling art houses looking to turn around a tough year with a little box office glee this holiday season, Licorice Pizza was seen as their best option for moving forward. According to industry insiders, many of the cut theaters were the ones that couldn’t provide a solid track record of high gross receipts. But as one movie buyer notes, “How do you build your audience if the movies get ripped from you?” “

In the grip of the impact of the pandemic, distributors have also found it difficult to maximize audiences, especially with regard to “specialized” films. How wide should they go? Is the film a Gucci House or one Spencer, or could it be like Anderson’s 2012 movie, The master, which had high per-cinema averages in New York and Los Angeles, but underperformed when The Weinstein Company expanded it in its third weekend to over 800 screens in 2012. Nowadays, with a fickle audience and shifting viewing habits, no one really knows.

“It is not a question of knowing how to open a Encanto Where Spider Man“, as another booker notes.” But I have the impression that distributors are struggling to release a specialty film or a crossover film at the moment. [pulling Licorice Pizza] felt like a bad practice in addition to the uncertainty.



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