Do You Ever Skip a Movie in Theaters Because It Will be on DVD Soon Enough?

Yesterday I began working on an article that was going to stress the importance of seeing certain films in theaters. I got about two paragraphs in and realized it was either going to be very long or I was going to end up half-assing it and it would be very short. Neither option worked for me so I was about ready to ditch it; that’s when Carl DiOrio’s The Hollywood Reporter article was published, discussing the upcoming DVD releases of G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra and The Goods and the 88-day window Paramount has set between their theatrical debuts and their home video releases. Of course, this doesn’t make theater owners happy and — in my opinion — shouldn’t make you happy either.

The article focuses on the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and their disapproval of the move, which means both films will be in stores less than three months after their theatrical release. Based on Box Office Mojo‘s numbers from last week G.I. Joe was still in 609 theaters while The Goods is apparently already out of theaters. G.I. Joe‘s November 3 release is only three weeks away, while The Goods is getting a strange “rental only” release on November 10. Such tight windows frustrate theater owners due to the fact moviegoers may be more inclined to skip the theatrical experience since they know they only have to wait three months before they can save some money and just watch it at home. As much as I disliked G.I. Joe, it isn’t exactly a film you want to see for the first time on a 42″ television screen. Even if you have a bigger screen and the full blown faux-theatrical experience in your home it won’t be able to duplicate the experience of seeing an effects driven film on the big screen.

Probably one of the things I liked most about seeing my quote on the trailer for Paranormal Activity was that they used an excerpt from my review where I said, “This is a film you must see in theaters to get the full effect and just pray you have a lively crowd.” I bring this up because as I watched Drag Me to Hell on Blu-ray last night the same thought began swimming through my head as the person I was watching it with turned to me and said, “That was stupid.”

Argh! The frustration! Had we been watching it in a theater on the big screen Drag Me to Hell would have been ten times more effective. Sure, it’s not a film all about the scares as it has plenty of humor, but for someone that admitted to me they get scared watching horror movies there are a few moments that would have certainly done their damage. The theatrical experience is invaluable for many films.

Sure, some of the more dramatic affairs may be able to have a similar effect at home, but the one thing you don’t have at a theater that you do have at home is the comfort of a known environment and for this reason even the unfamiliarity of a theater seat can make even the most innocent of relationship dramas have a different effect. Your phone can’t ring, the dog doesn’t need to go to the bathroom, there’s no texting, no Twitter or Facebook updates, the kids don’t need money for pizza and that client portfolio you were working on will just have to wait for two hours. In the theater it’s just you and the movie, and it has an effect whether you want to admit it or not.

Major Studio Release Windows

Photo: National Association of Theatre Owners

The above graph comes from the NATO website showing an industry average of 4 months and 11 days between theatrical and home video release dates in 2009. Of the studios listed with over five 2009 releases so far this year Universal is at the top with 83.3% (10 out of 12) of their 2009 films being released over four months after their theatrical release. Fox is at the bottom with only 38.4% (5 out of 13) of their releases managing that number. So, while Fox is pushing the limits right now it is Paramount that has theater owners upset as they hope this recent release issue doesn’t cause others to follow suit.

“I view the studios as our partners, but it seems like the rules of the game are changing,” Cineplex chief Ellis Jacob told The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s a concern. We at Cineplex have invested a lot of money in our theaters and in new technology such as 3D. So when something like this happens, it creates an issue with people from the standpoint of entertainment choices. If a guest of ours knows a movie is going to be on DVD in less than 90 days, then they know that if they miss it they can catch it on DVD not too much later.”

Jacob’s mentioning of 3D is an important reminder of just how hard theaters are working to make sure audiences continue coming out of their homes and into the theaters. However, studios aren’t helping much with their small release windows and focused attention on opening weekend box-office, a factor I believe will sooner or later prove to be the downfall for many major studios. You can’t focus all your attention on week one box-office because when those times come along when a movie fails to deliver on expectations you instantly find yourself in a hole and one you may not be able to dig out of for weeks and sometimes months. If you end up with a couple of flops in a row you are sucking wind.

However, let’s bring this back to you and the question posed in the headline. Do you ever just think to yourself, “Oh well, I’ll just wait until it’s on DVD to see it,” knowing full well it’s likely to only be a few months before that’s a reality? I would expect many of you will still head to theaters for films you are really anticipating, something like Avatar, Star Trek and even Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but what about the films on the cusp?

What does it take to ensure you will head out to the theater and not just wait for a title on DVD? If you were looking at six month windows such as were in place back in 2000 would you be more inclined to head out to the theater as opposed to waiting?

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