Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Avoiding the Crowds
by Christopher Campbell
December 1, 2008
What compels people to endure the crowds? Is it really the best time, the only time, for them to be there? Is it the chance to see something first? Really, for every benefit there is to seeing a movie on a weekend, there is also a negative factor that should keep us moviegoers more spread out, more comfortable, attending a show at any other time except that busy Friday to Sunday period. One thing that baffles me most about the weekend moviegoers is their ignorance of what day it is. Are they really surprised at the lines and the fact that tons of others want to see the same hot new movie on opening night? And are they really that shocked that they can't have an empty seat between themselves and a stranger when attending a sold out show? If they are so agoraphobic, they probably shouldn't be at the multiplex on opening night anyway.
I understand that some people are really busy on the weekdays and that the weekend is truly the most accessible time to attend a movie with their family. But perhaps such people should actually use their minimal free time to more directly enjoy the company of their family. If all the members of one household do want to see the same movie - and my memories of family moviegoing in the post-multiplex era suggest not - then there are other fine ideas: for example, throughout the week everyone can see the specific movie on their own, at their leisure. Then, on the weekend, in the short time the family has together, there can be more direct bonding time, possibly including a discussion of that movie they've all seen.
Of course, this would mean that said movie has already come out at least the weekend before. And who likes to wait so long to see a new movie? We are a culture of competitive firsts-seekers, whether it be leaving the lead comment on a blog post or getting into a Wal-Mart store before anyone else on Black Friday (the tragic news of an employee trampled to death last week makes a similar scene in Jingle All the Way now appear even more despicable, by the way). We don't so much like to see a movie that we can discuss with people (family members or anyone) as we like to see a movie that we can tell others we've seen, whether simply to be one of the masses (in the case of an event-size blockbuster) or preferably to be one of the leaders - those who get to lay the primary recommendation or discouragement to peers.
To fulfill the latter desire, it helps to be a New Yorker, as the Big Apple does get some specialty films before anyplace else (save for maybe Los Angeles). Yet these limited openings also make for even busier, more crowded shows. As much as I hate being packed into a small auditorium like a sardine, before which I'm corralled into a labyrinthine lobby line with the rest of the moviegoing cattle, I did recently attend an opening weekend screening of Slumdog Millionaire. And fortunately the movie is a joy, because the rest of that experience tried my patience. It is part of my job, though, to stay on top of new releases, and since I prefer public showings to press screenings (which I'm rarely invited to anyway), I have to buck up and squeeze into a sold out theater every now and again.
I had to draw the line, however, this past weekend. I needed to see Gus Van Sant's Milk. More importantly, I was dying to see Milk. But even with three locations playing the film in New York City (that's one more than was showing Slumdog), I had to ultimately pass. Typically, I'll wait until Sunday evening before seeing a new release - it is the least crowded time of the weekend, after all. Of course, it's also when the box office estimates are announced. Just as I was about to head out into the rain and travel to Manhattan, I saw the results for Milk. The biopic reportedly had a per-screen average of $53,930 from Wednesday to Sunday. To put this into perspective, the #1 movie at the box office, Four Christmases, had a per-screen average of only $14,112. So, if you went to that movie over the weekend, and you thought your auditorium was packed, just think if that theater was earning almost four times as much.
It is terrific how well both Milk and Slumdog are doing in their limited runs, because their success should increase anticipation and therefore popularity for their eventual wide release. So it's a good thing, I suppose, that enough people tolerate the crowds well enough to put a notable spotlight on these specialty pictures. As for me, I'd prefer to see Milk once the per-screen average has significantly dropped. Although I am really looking forward to seeing it, I have faith that it will be out for awhile, and I'll probably enjoy it more without having to hold my coat in my lap and suffering the extended elbow of an adjacent moviegoer.