Theaters Blame “R-Rated” Movies For Lower Ticket Sales, I Beg To Differ

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If you thought that all it took was one Evil Dead remake, a Django Unchained, a Prometheus or a few mega-hit Hangover films to prove to everyone that R-rated movies can make money, you’d be wrong.

Take theater owners for example. Last weekend at the industry convention CinemaCon in Las Vegas many of them pleaded with the studios for less R-rated movies. Per The New York Times, John Fithian (president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners) pleaded with studios, “Make more family-friendly films and fewer R-rated titles.”

While it’s true that box office revenues are up (due to ridiculously inflated ticket prices), actual attendance is down 12%. I’m sure that piracy is a part of this to some degree, but if there’s an actual content issue I’d say that Fithian is missing his target completely. While it’s true that nothing has the potential to perform commercially like a four-quadrant movie that adults and children can both connect with, plenty of those fail too. And you know which of those really bomb? The bad ones, typically (I’m making an exception here for the awesome and underseen Frankenweenie). Jack, The Giant Slayer, anyone?

Fithian claims that attendance has suffered, “under the weight of too many R-rated movies.” Wrong. It’s a QUALITY issue (in terms of both film and exhibition) – not a ratings issue. Movies today, especially studio movies, are drained of risk, personality and innovation to a startling degree. Studios are wrestling creative control away from all but their highest grossing filmmakers. Not only are audiences disappointed with the product, they’re practically harassed by cell-phone abusing jerks making it even more difficult to wring any kind of enjoyment they can out of whatever mediocrity they just paid $19 (before parking) to go see. There are many times I’m dying to see a film but decide against it because I’m not in the mood to yell at some guy texting in front of me that night. In fact, I’d say one of the reasons family films perform better is that families HAVE to go. What are you going to do with two screaming kids on a Saturday afternoon? They’re a somewhat captive audience. I imagine they don’t mind cell phone use as much because they’re just struggling to keep their kids still.

Mr. Fithian, please stop asking studios to further water down their product. Stop pleading with them to ignore risk and treat films like more of a commodity than they already do. I have another solution for you. Ask the studios to make better movies instead. Then, at the same time, do what you can to improve your end of the bargain. You don’t think you’re culpable in regard to falling attendance? If you’re going to charge those prices you should police your theaters and ruthlessly remove the *ssholes. Someone opens up their phone after the first 2 minutes of the movie? Boom. Kick them out. No second chance. Also, it might help to hire people who actually know how to project your DCP’s and get decent sound in the room. That’s what we’re ostensibly paying for, especially at the “premium theaters.” It’s offensive that you want to peg this issue on a rating. I guess you won’t be playing 21 Jump Street 2* or The Hangover 3* or The Heat, the next Tarantino film or the next R-rated horror film at your theater. None of those make any money, right?

Thanks to Andrew Gonzalez for point the NY Times piece out to us.

*I’m aware that I’m crossing the streams somewhat by adding sequels (especially the likely horrible Hangover 3) to the equation since sequels are “safe bet” thinking personified. Still, they’re R – so they must not be profitable.

  • Bryno

    Reasons I don’t go to the theatre:
    -Idiots talking/texting throughout the movie
    -Insanely high ticket price
    -Movies I generally want to see are limited release
    -Everything is a shitty rehash/remake

    I will not pay to watch a remake, because I don’t wanna see some piece of shit when I can watch the quality original. Hopefully these assholes realize soon that remakes are not the best way to entice serious movie goers into the theater.

    • Kroork

      Remakes ARNT the problem. some people dont enjoy the originals, and a remake is a way for a new audience to enjoy it. my example is the fog. love the idea, hated the movie. then they remade it and i was excited, maube they got it right! unfortunatly they didnt, and i realised i just dont like the fog, doesnt matter what incarnation it is. you just personally hate remakes. And that’s ok. I personally hate ghost stories like paranormal activity, doesn’t mean I think they need to stop making them. I just don’t watch them :) if I don’t like something I just stay away from it. I don’t try to rid the world of it or try to convince others to agree with me.

      Other then that I totally agree with you on the other reasons. Specially the limited release. Alot of the movies I wanna see are no where to be seen. Or moves like the collector or the collection. Canada didnt get them at the same time. We never got them in theaters and i had to wait for dvd and I had to import both. It’s stupid

  • Kroork

    I agree with this 100%!

    Movies now a days suck! More times then not i am disappointed in movies. I have begun to think I have become super picky, but I refuse to believe that. It’s the quality of movies that’s going down. From comedy to horror they r ALL sucking!

    Add on top the fact that YES, my movie theater experiences are always awful! Just for evil dead we had FOUR, count that, FOUR … GROUPS of people acting a fool in the theater the whole time. On their phones, talking like they thought they were alone, throwing pop corn , and few of them left and came back like 5 times! Not once did a single person say anything to stop any of them. Cause there were too many of them.
    I too and not gone to movies just because I didn’t wanna deal with the as*holes in the theaters.

    If they wanna make money I 100% believe they need to make more dareing movies and POLICE THE THEATERS WITH ZERO TOLERENCE !

    Then maybe some of us will return until then, we will just wait to rent most of the movies we wanna see, and just go see the really really important ones…… Like evil dead :D

  • djblack1313

    Evan VERY VERY VERY WELL SAID!!! it seems like what this Fithian guy wants will actually continue to erode theater going/theater sales.

    Evan your idea for a ZERO TOLERANCE cell phone/texting/etc deal is brilliant and i support it 100000%.

  • EvanDickson

    Thanks!

  • flesheater24

    Who the fuck is this idiot ? Your the reason R movies don’t work and why we get stuck with so much shit. Evil Dead was an amazing return to the gruesome fun R movies of yesteryear. And I hope we get more. PG_13 movies could work if they are done right its all about making films right. It could be G and could be amazing. make quality films and people will paid to see it. make no quality films and nobody is going to go. Its that easy. But clearly this twat doesn’t get that idea. Oh well.

  • ljbad

    If I’m going to a new movie that’s not rated R, I’ll probably invite my whole family and maybe a friend to come along with for a fun evening (like 4 people). And my wife will probably invite some of her family and friends (another 3 people). So counting me and my wife that’s like 9 people going.

    I love a good horror, but very few of my friends or family shares my love. If I’m going to an R-rated horror movie, I’ll probably either watch it on my own or if I’m lucky I might get a friend or two to come with.

    That’s js my experience. Either way I don’t really care about the rating for horror movies. I’ve seen plenty of awful R-rated horrors and plenty of good pg-13 horrors. It all comes down to good writing, characters, atmosphere. I couldn’t care less how much gore/swearing/nudity is in a film.

  • Zombie-Killa

    Hey! I actually liked Jack The Giant Slayer, and I watched in 3D too! lol.

    But yeah, R rated movies aren’t the problem. Django was a box office smash, and The Hangover franchise has grown into a huge cash cow over the years. And I know it wasn’t a big, wide release, but Spring Breakers (God, I loved that movie) at least made a profit (I think?). VOD services, Netflix, RedBox. Some people would rather wait to watch the movie in the silent and peaceful atmosphere at home, because going to the theater can be a pain in the ass. Expensive ticket prices, and yes, noisy assholes.

    Texting isn’t the only problem, because I’ve been in PLENTY of theaters, when some people actually leave their ringers on AND answer the phone call during the movie. And because of expensive tickets, some people won’t go to theaters as often as they used to (the 3D bullshit, and other theater chains jacking up prices for their rip-off versions of IMAX doesn’t help anything either). I know a good amount of people, who just want to see Iron Man 3 and Man Of Steel in theaters this year…….. and that’s it. Everything else is a “Eh, I can just wait for the rental, Netflix, VOD, or watch it online (Amazon, and other online VOD services) at some point in the future”.

    I also wouldn’t blame remakes. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, studios are going to keep digging up other franchises and resurrecting film series until the end of time. BUT every remake isn’t shit. I’m probably alone, but I really enjoyed Halloween 2007. And yeah, certain remakes make money too, regardless of quality. Because whether they want to admit it or not, fans of the originals WILL give the new film (or films) a try, so they can compare and contrast, or trash it to no end, while praising the superiority of the original (or originals). A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 was dogshit, but if I’m not mistaken, it was a pretty big hit at the box office.

    • VersaVulture

      Django was amazing and I’m glad that it found an audience. Around that time, Zero Dark Thirty also did really well in theaters. Let’s not forget Silver Linings Playbook and Argo. I know they were award season movies, but way before they even received nominations and wins, they were rocking the box office and they were all RATED R!

      @Zombie-Killa: Spring Breakers broke so many rules in film-making and it was pretty freaking good. On opening weekend, it opened in only 3 theaters and made $270,000. People traveled to see that movie (myself included). R rated movies do well.

      The family movies released from last year until now included: Journey 2, The Lorax, Pirates: Band of Misfits, Madagascar 3, Brave, Ice Age 4, ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie, Parental Guidance, Escape From Planet Earth,and The Croods.

      As I recall, most, not all of these movies did well. Guess what… A lot of these sucked. I like some family animated movies, but even I know that the quality is getting worse. Studios should get their act together. Also, the reason they hate R-rated movies is the fact that a lot of people don’t go in groups to R-Rated movies so they buy less food.

      I’m also a sucker for R-rated comedies. A lot aren’t good, but there are a lot of gems. I go to a movie a week as well. A few weekends this year, I saw two movies. Where I live, a lot of people flock to R-rated movies. My theater of Ted was sold-out and when I saw the Hangover 2, there was a packed theater.

      Even my theater of Evil Dead at 10AM had a good crowd. While some people may hate Paranormal Activity… I actually like the series. Every year whether I go in the daytime or evening, there is always a huge crowd with people who enjoy R-rated movies. If anything, the sales for R-rated movies should be way up!

      • Zombie-Killa

        HA! That’s good to know about Spring Breakers! I would’ve looked up the stats, but I was too lazy earlier today. lol. I actually drove about 45 minutes to see Spring Breakers, payed the $10 price, and it was all worth it!

        And I watched The Lorax in theaters a while ago……man did that suck.

  • Brandon-Borch

    Do all of the metrics and research you want, but the problem is that the chain theatre experience is terrible and theatres aren’t doing anything about it. Hire some ushers (bouncer types. Not skinny teenagers with dustpans on sticks) to police the texting/talking/not-knowing-how-to-behave-in-a-communal-situation assholes and, if they don’t mind their manners, go get the cops from the lobby to forcibly remove them AND DON’T REFUND THEIR MONEY. You could clean a theatre up in a month if they’d just crack down on the people who make it unpleasant. Also, take some pride in your facilities and clean the nacho cheese off of the seats from time to time.

    Luckily, I can watch a ton of great stuff streaming and on VOD at a fraction of the cost in the comfort of my own home. I can also go to midnight screenings at the local art house with the cool people that love movies, know how to be quiet and throw their garbage away when something awesome comes to town. So no loss for me, really. Still, it would be nice to be able to have a nice, hassle free time watching something mainstream with my lady at the movies from time to time.

  • Nothing333

    Basically the corporations want filmmakers to compromise their art so they can make more money.

  • staindFAN

    Agree with all. Ratings are not the problem at all, it’s the shit movies that flood the cinema every weekend. I will say one thing, I hate noisy/texting/talkie/dumb ass people at the theater as much as the next person, but I have not let it stop me from going every weekend. I literally go almost ever weekend to the movies, I have been averaging 48-54 movies a year at the cinema alone. I just love being there, it’s still the best way to watch a film IMO. I also try as best I can to go in the morning when prices are super cheap. With the rewards program that Im in a two chains I visit, it pays off all the time because Im there so much (free popcorn, pop, tickets) I do understand though for some people not going to the theater if you have a big family with kids and such. It adds up fast Im sure. Anyways back to the matter at hand here, yeah, it’s not the ratings of films, it’s shit movies and high prices for family’s to enjoy a movie.

  • huntermc

    Another reason why I don’t go to the theater often – censorship. I don’t want to see some version of a movie that’s been butchered for the sake of being perceived as more palatable for general audiences. I’d rather wait for the bluray to see the director’s cut with all the gratuitous sex and violence intact.

  • WalkWithMeInDarkness

    This Fithian guy is a dipshit. I agree with you guys, it’s about quality, prices, and the fucking goons that fill the theaters and ruin a stranger’s movie going experience. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with that much. On the weekends in South Carolina, the fucking COPS hang out at our theaters. Keeps motherfuckers in line.

  • Canucklehead

    To quote James Carville “It’s the economy, stupid”. In economic times such as these, studios become more and more risk averse. They want a series that draws a wide ranging demographic and that can sell all sorts of crappy merchandise. Sequels and remakes are low risk and offer potentially high reward.This also supports the theatre owner’s goal of increasing traffic of a demographic likely to purchase concessions or book kiddie birthday parties. It would seem to me that the difficulty of so many talented independent filmmakers to obtain financing is also affected by this and thus we see fewer and fewer of these, where only established names with a significant body of work (Tarantino, etc) can hope to get funding.

  • Shropshire Slasher

    That’s one of the reasons I love where I live! It’s just a rural town, without the urban crowd that feels they need to talk to the screen or into their phone. when I saw Evil Dead on the opening Thursday night showing there might have been 20 people in there. But that’s the crowd you get here for any movie, blockbuster or not. You certainly can’t gauge a film’s success in this town, but we don’t have to put up with the BS like you do in a bigger city.

  • Shropshire Slasher

    If it better explains my geography, We still have a drive-in theater here! I used to live around the corner from it, and I still remember my parents taking me to The Car/Rollercoaster double bill one night. I never made it to the end of The Car before falling asleep. They even used to play adult films for a summer, and, no, my parents didn’t take me.

  • Aaron Emery

    Unless every family goes to the cinema 2-3 times for every 1 they go now this makes no sense. If anything it’s quite the opposite; families aren’t going to see 2 films theatrically in one weekend, instead they will see the same amount of movies while other audiences don’t pay at all (because there is no movie for them).
    Anyone ever see that move ‘Invention of Lying’? This kind of reminds me of that, one idiot makes an absurd and nonfactual statement and everyone’s like “ooooohhh, makes sense”.

  • HorrorFancy

    I wonder if theaters were more selective — showing some good independent films over some of the crap out there — they could increase attendance. That is if they are in a position to do so.

    Perhaps they can also update food courts/selection to bring in people that would otherwise not buy.

    An R-rating (lol) is NOT the reason for poor ticket sales IMO.

  • undertaker78

    Thank you Evan for the informative article. I think you’re spot on. Even if I don’t always share your opinion, you’re the contributor whose opinion and news I admire most.

    It does suck how people blame R rated movies (especially horror) for every and any problem out there.

  • Grady

    Evan fantastic article, you have just effectively put in to journalistic format what many people have believed to be true for a very long time. Great article!

  • Mr.Mirage

    +1
    Ditto, Evan. Dead on.
    Like the whole 3-D thing, and the backlash (insert sneering “I am SO over 3-D” here), it is the actual quality of the product.
    I have seen several films at the theater, for example The Descent, and the director’s cut/unrated DVD sits on my shelf. I wanted to see it again, for one thing, and for another, it was a stronger dose of the same potent medicine. Just what I needed, just what the doctor ordered.
    I have no problem with PG-13, G, R, NC-17 IF THE FILM IS GOOD.
    Quality products are always high on my list, and if they give me good stuff, I will participate with my meager few dollars. (Carville was right.) Until then, kiss my big white Irish ass, I will wait for it to show up at the used places, the $3 bin at Big Lots, the $5 bin at Wal-Mart or just do the dl.

  • horrorking95

    I don’t think an ‘R’ rating leads to poor ticket sales at all. I think the reason that Evil Dead was such a recent box-office hit is because it’s hardcore horror, which is rarely seen in mainstream cinema.

  • evenscarier

    Evan, you nailed it! The minute I read the header of this article, I thought, “Right, it hhas nothing to do with ridiculous prices for subpar films, not to mention the raking you take for snacks!” They are shooting themselves in the feet!

  • Captain-Amazing

    “Make more family-friendly films and fewer R-rated titles.”

    You go for it, champ. See how many families will keep dropping $100+ to be in Cinema Hell for two hours.