While it might not seem like it but screenings of older films can be a solid business. Midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show has been a regular thing for decades. In more recent times Die Hard and Home Alone have become an event for theaters around the holiday season.
Older film runs are being impacted by Disney’s different policy than Fox’s. The studio is no longer licensing its old films to commercial theaters. The speculation is those films will be used to entice individuals to purchase Hulu or Disney+.
Disney’s policy is to not allow first-run theaters or commercial discount theaters to screen movies from its library. That policy now extends to Fox’s catalog. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the exception from this policy (I guess even the Mouse is afraid to piss those fans off).
Theaters who specialize in just screening old titles still have access to Fox’s movies.
This policy shift has forced theaters to cancel already planned screenings. It also puts theaters in a bind as these special event screenings can fill the theater at times it normally wouldn’t do good business. Alamo Drafthouse as an example regularly holds these events as well as shows first-run movies.
The policy shift also extends to 2nd date runs. Disney has handled those to be when video on demand/Blu-ray has already been released and their demands are much higher than the 35-40% industry standard.
There’s not just the business aspect but the cultural impact as well. Art is made to be experienced and hiding it in a vault defeats the purpose. It also leads to greater piracy as individuals seek to “free it from its captives.”
Add to the confusion is the lack of clear guidance from Disney. Fox contacts have been fired without outreach to theater owners as to who their new representative is. There also seems to be inconsistency in approval with some theaters being approved, others being denied and then eventually approved.
Other studios are much more open to the business simply offering the ability to play Blu-rays for a licensing fee. Fox has always been on the more restrictive end of things but the sudden shift is pulling out the rug from an already shaky business.
This is surely the start of the House of Mouse putting even greater pressure on the theater industry. With Disney+, Disney has a second digital distribution channel, and like Netflix, is running original movies with big names on the service. As that service grows Disney will need theaters less and less and can demand more and more making Disney the villain its heroes would fight against.
The moral of this story is to support your independent theaters and don’t be too quick to cheer on corporate consolidation.