The final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise enjoyed the highest opening weekend box office of all time, grossing nearly £24 million across the UK in its first three days. As the decks are cleared this week for the arrival of Super 8, we consider how distributors and studios schedule their blockbuster releases.
“The way the studio will pick a date is a mix of fear and confidence, depending on the film,” explains Charles Gant, who serves as Film Editor of Heat magazine and has become the UK’s leading commentator on ticket sales, through his influential columns for the Guardian and the well-respected Sight & Sound. “Bad Teacher was originally set to be in a head to head collision with Bridesmaids and Sony presumably thought, ‘we have bigger stars, no one in the UK has heard of Kristen Wiig, we're not moving,’ then they blinked and moved up a week, which was sensible, if you consider the respective grosses of those films.”
“Hollywood counts the summer season as May through August, so this year it kicked off with Fast & Furious 5 and Thor, then Pirates, Hangover 2, X-Men First Class, Kung Fu Panda 2, Green Lantern and Transformers. The reason the distributors like to get in early is that it gives them a longer play time throughout the summer and less competition. In general, I would say that May is a hot date and then, as the schools break up, mid July. In terms of box office revenue, £10m is perceived as a strong opening, and has included Pirates, Hangover, Transformers this year, while £5m-plus is decent, with Thor falling into this category. Deathly Hallows Part 2 could have had any date it liked, and everyone else would have moved away, and it is incontestably the biggest film of summer.”
"Deathly Hallows Part 2 could have had any date it liked, and everyone else would have moved away, and it is incontestably the biggest film of summer.”
Arguably, anyone waiting for a movie outside of the big Hollywood releases to arrive in rural regions will understand this more than those in other areas of the country, where a choice of any number of cinemas – often with dozen-screen multiplexes – are available to serve the larger population. The impact of blockbuster scheduling on my local cinema listings therefore is the limiting of screens available for non-Hollywood fare and, other than specialist screenings in our lone art house cinemas, films which would struggle to fill a 200 seat cinema for more than a couple of days don’t make it here at all.
“As the summer wears on, less surefire titles grab dates where they can,” explains Charles. “The slots in mid to late August are much less desirable for a blockbuster as they don’t leave a movie long to grab cash before the kids are back at school. That said, summer can be a haven for tiny films that don't want to compete with the big awards films which are released in autumn and winter. There is an upscale and older audience that is always looking for an alternative, and that's the audience that is seeing films like The Tree Of Life and A Separation right now.”
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