Why so little choice?
Between Vail Village and Eagle we have 12 movie theater rooms. Today, Feb. 26, three of them are playing "A Good Day to Die Hard," two are showing "Identity Thief" and two are showing "Safe Haven." That's seven out of 12. If you include Summit County, it's 14 out of 20 that are showing identical movies.
Of the remaining six theater rooms, only two are showing the recently Oscar-nominated film "Silver Linings Playbook." "Escape from Planet Earth" is playing now for what feels like the second month in a row.
When "Lincoln" was released, Vail didn't see it for months. I was in Palm Desert and able to see it weeks before anyone here at home did. In the meantime we could see "Escape from Planet Earth" in any theater in the valley and in some cases, in two theater rooms at the same place and same time.
Many of the Oscar films to this day have not made it to our valley. Are we that backward that we can't get first-release films in a timely manner? Are we an audience that really fills the theaters for weeks at a time to watch "Escape from Planet Earth" or "A Good Day to Die Hard" instead of "Amour," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "The Master"?
"Argo" came and went in a matter of days. Why isn't it the film that stays here for months at a time? After all, it's the best picture of the year.
What gives here?
How it works
The Vail Daily has asked me to respond to questions raised by Susan Milhoan about movie theater bookings in Eagle and Summit counties. I can only speak about our two theaters, Riverwalk in Edwards and Capitol in Eagle. However, I think these comments are generally valid for the theaters in Vail and Dillon, as well as mountain resort town theaters throughout the West.
Susan comments that "Escape from Planet Earth" has been playing on multiple screens in the valley for "what feels like the second month in a row." As of this writing (Feb. 27), "Escape" is playing in only one of our auditoriums (presented in 2D and 3D) and has not yet completed its second week (the minimum obligation for a national-release movie). Additionally, I would say that we were very happy to bring this PG-rated animated family movie to the area, especially during the recent school break.
Concerning the Oscar-nominated pictures, our theaters have presented eight of the nine movies up for best picture. "Argo" played for six weeks, opening on the national release in October. It was released on DVD Feb. 26. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" played for four weeks in late summer; "Django Unchained" eight weeks; "Les Miserables" seven weeks; "Life of Pi" seven weeks; "Lincoln" seven weeks; "Silver Linings Playbook" six-plus weeks (still playing); "Zero Dark Thirty" five weeks.
The last nominated film, "Amour," is playing in a very limited number of theaters nationally, due to its subtitles and subject matter. I am not aware of any theaters currently playing "Amour" in this region.
While Vail and Beaver Creek are giants in the skiing universe, and many of us feel that we are living in a special place, Hollywood views the mountain resort towns as very small seasonal markets located out in the hinterlands.
By national standards, the population of Eagle valley should support five or six movie screens instead of 11. It is our resort guests and second-home owners who provide the added demand during high seasons to help support the additional theaters. This allows mountain resort town theaters to outperform their weight class, and local residents benefit from the increased movie offerings.
Most of the Oscar-nominated films were played at our theaters on national release. "Lincoln" was scheduled to open at Thanksgiving. However, the distributor (Disney) changed its release policy at the last minute, leaving us without a print. We were not able to book it until Dec. 21.
"Lincoln" helps illustrate the business side of the movie theater business. Theaters (movie exhibitors) have long-term relationships with the Hollywood studios (seven major studios, plus about 15-20 smaller distribution companies). The studios decide on a marketing campaign and release pattern for each movie, often limiting the number of available prints and offering them only to locations of their choosing and on their terms and conditions.
It is within this system that small theaters must operate. Each theater operator tries to book the best slate of available films for its audience, primarily residents within an approximate 10-mile radius. Because it is a competitive marketplace, this often results in similar lineups throughout the region (and country).
Ultimately, the audience decides what films (and types of films) get played by patronizing some films over others. Theater operators respond to these market demands as best they can given the constraints of the studio distribution system.
One last comment about movie bookings: Mid-winter is the off-season for movie releases. While the pattern of movie releases is becoming somewhat broader throughout the year, it still does not conform to our local calendar.
With this in mind, I would submit that this weekend's movie lineup at our two theaters offers a little something for many market segments: families and kids, teens, young adults and, yes, even the mature crowd ("Quartet" is a well-reviewed comedy with older lead actors).
By Monday, we'll see what films the audience supported for this weekend ... don't count out the zombies ("Warm Bodies").
Steve Lindstrom owner, Riverwalk and Capitol theaters