Fargo/Moorhead movie-goers excited for Iron Man 2, the first big event movie of the summer, were in for a surprise. One would expect the sequel, or any huge box-office draw, to be playing on three screens at the West Acres or Century Cinemas. Instead, Iron Man 2 is playing on one screen, exclusively at The Fargo Theatre downtown. How did this happen? It is a long ugly story.
When the booker for Marcus, the theater chain that owns West Acres 14, Century 10, and Safari 7, balked at the increased price that Paramount demanded for prints of Iron Man 2, negotiations broke down. With neither side willing to budge, the movie may not have played in town at all. Luckily, the Fargo Theatre, known more for running the independent and art house films that are overlooked by Marcus, stepped in and played ball with Paramount. Potentially a coup for the Fargo Theatre, they had just landed what might be the most popular film they have ever screened. The downside was for the audience however. The Fargo Theatre is a nice locale, but with only one print, a movie that would have easily sold out two or three screens at the multiplexes is limited to four showings a day.
This isn’t the first instance of trouble between studios and theater chains, nor will it be the last. Recently, AMC Theaters, the nation’s second largest chain, made headlines by refusing to show Disney’s Alice In Wonderland remake. The reason? Disney announced the film would be released on DVD a scant three months later. Movie theaters make a very small percentage of a films box-office, making most of their profits on concessions (now you know why concessions prices have risen to preposterous levels). As such a speedy home video release would limit a film’s time on cinema screens, as well as discourage audiences from braving the crowds (“Why go out when we can wait three months and watch it on our giant plasma TV at home, with cheap snacks from the grocery store and no sticky floors!”), AMC stood their ground. How this may have affected Alice In Wonderland’s overall box-office haul is anyone’s guess.
Iron Man 2 isn’t the first example of this nonsense in the F/M area either. Locals may recall that the 2008 hit “Cloverfield” didn’t play in Fargo for nearly two months after its release. Why? Marcus refused to pay what they felt were exorbitant print prices. The newest fiasco revolves around film studios’ heavy-handed approach to the newest trend: 3-D movies. Wondering why Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon didn’t show in town? Dreamworks refused to give standard 2-D prints of the film to theaters unless they also purchased a 3-D print. The local 3-D at Century 10 was already contracted with Warner Bros. to show Clash Of The Titans for a set amount of time on the 3-D screen. Thus, no Dragons for the kids of the F/M area, until a week later when West Acres 14 opened a second 3-D screen. The same situation nearly arose over the upcoming Shrek film. Luckily, a deal was hammered out. However, it is almost certain that the disagreements between Marcus and some of the film studios will cost locals more anticipated movies in the future.
Even the Fargo Theater’s windfall deal for Iron Man 2 nearly fell apart when the cinema told Paramount that they would need to cancel one 7 PM showing of the film for Paula Poundstone’s long-scheduled stand-up comedy appearance. Paramount’s ridiculous response? If they canceled that one screening, they would have to forfeit the print and send it back to the studio. Paula Poundstone was postponed.
It is a vicious cycle. The studios, seeing a decline in their box-office tallies, raise print prices and expedite dvd releases. In response, multiplexes raise concession prices and decline to show (or aren’t allowed to show) movies that fans are anxious to spend money one. Fed up, movie-goers stay home, causing the studios to make less grosses, and so on and so on, around and around.
I wish I had a clever solution to the problem, beyond sitting the studio heads and the theater chain heads down in a room together, smacking them both with a rolled-up newspaper, and shouting “No! Bad! Behave like adults!” I don’t. Greed is greed, and there is enough blame to go around to all parties involved. It is too bad the ones who really suffer are the film-going public.