Although in Syracuse Regal is the only multiplex for seeing the
latest Hollywood release, it would make no difference to have another
one because Regal’s two main competitors, the AMC Loews and Cinemark
chains, generally screen the same movies.
A survey comparing the films screening at multiplexes in Syracuse,
Rochester, Buffalo and Albany shows that all four cities featured the
same 10 films during the weekend of Aug. 13. Audiences across upstate
New York could see Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,
Charlie St. Cloud, Despicable Me, Dinner for Schmucks, Eat Pray Love,
The Expendables, Inception, The Other Guys, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Step Up 3D at any Regal, AMC or Cinemark theater.
The upstate markets are divided among the chains this way: Syracuse
has three Regals, Albany has five, Buffalo has four and one AMC, and
Rochester has four along with two Cinemark theaters. According to the
Regal website, of the approximately 38,000 movie screens in the United
States, Regal Entertainment Group is the largest multiplex chain with
6,761 screens, while AMC Loews has 5,325 screens, and Cinemark has 4,907
Some locations might offer one or two more film choices, but the lack
of variety at a multiplex is a constant for cities that aren’t New York
City or Los Angeles. For example, smaller chains not in Syracuse, such
as the Mann, Arclight and Clearview Cinemas, screen dramatic and foreign
independent films in addition to more commercial films. The weekend of
Aug. 13, audiences in upstate New York did not have the opportunity to
see new releases such as Get Low, The Disappearance of Alice Creed or Down Terrace, all of which were playing in many theaters downstate, according to The New York Times.
So who, or what, is Regal Entertainment Group anyway? The public
corporation composed of Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theatres and United
Artists Theatres operates in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., the movie giant has as its majority
owner conservative entrepreneur Phillip Anschutz, whose investments in
several entertainment corporations have made headlines over the years.
In 2006, Anschutz ranked 31st on Forbes magazine’s list of “400 Richest Americans.” Forbes
detailed his stakes in the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, the Los
Angeles Lakers basketball team and several major league soccer teams.
Anschutz is the owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the
corporate entity responsible for several sporting and entertainment
venues and events, such as the O2 Arena in London and the Staples Center
in Los Angeles. Anschutz also owns Walden Media, the production company
responsible for the hit movie franchise The Chronicles of Narnia.
According to a 2002 article in USA Today, Anschutz bought
Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theaters and United Artists Theaters out of
bankruptcy in 2001 and reorganized them into the Regal Entertainment
Group, which is now a public corporation, with Anschutz holding many of
the shares. The company is listed as RGC on the New York Stock Exchange.
Recently it has been trading in a range of $11 a share to $18 a share,
and its market capitalization is roughly $2 billion.
The power to decide which movies play in Syracuse used to be divided
among film studios, distributors and exhibitors. There are six major
American studios today, some dating back to Hollywood’s Golden Age:
Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Universal
Studios, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures. While it used to
be that distributors were the middlemen between a studio and an
exhibitor, today these lines have been blurred significantly.
“Movie studios now are distributors,” says Evan Smith, who
teaches a course on the film business at Syracuse University’s S.I.
Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Part of the studio’s business
is distribution, and they have offices and representatives that know
the different regions.” For example, the Paramount Pictures Corporation
owns Paramount Pictures, which includes a subsidiary distribution
company. If studios have subsidiaries that also serve as distributors,
then those distributors can go right to the multiplexes with their
Some studio distributors specialize in independent films, such as
20th Century Fox’s Fox Searchlight Pictures. Fox can choose to send
successful independent films like Juno and Slumdog Millionaire
to independent exhibitors, or they can send independent films to the
multiplexes. “Distributors want their films in front of as many people
as possible,” says Peter Moller, a professor of television, radio and
film at Newhouse. “If an independent exhibitor wants a film, and Regal
also wants it, Regal wins.”
By creating their own distribution arms, the big studios monitor
which movies go to the multiplexes and which don’t. Action and animation
films, 3D films, adventure films and films with big stars go to the
multiplexes. Foreign films, dramatic independents and experimental films
generally don’t, so Syracusans rarely see such films on Regal screens.
Occasionally, critical acclaim or several awards will bring an unknown
film to the multiplex.
The economics of film exhibition and the box office performance of
each film also have a lot to do with the availability and variety of
what’s shown here. According to Smith, typically 50 percent to 60
percent of the money earned at the box office each week goes to the
distributor. If a film doesn’t sell well right away, it can, and often
will, be quickly pulled.
This explains the vanishing act we often see at the multiplex. Some
films showing the first weekend of August will not make it to the last
weekend because of lower than expected performance. Although the length
of a film’s run is negotiated up front, if it sells better than
expected, the distributors and exhibitors can renegotiate and let it run
longer. Today long runs are rare because increasingly, people aren’t
going to see films after the opening weekend, whether it’s because of
dismal reviews, bad word of mouth or the arrival of new films.
“When I first started in the business, a good film would stay maybe
eight weeks, and a great film would stay 10 to 13 weeks,” says Nat
Tobin, owner and operator of the Manlius Art Cinema. “You don’t see
those kinds of runs anymore.” Although he acquired the small Manlius
cinema in 1992, Tobin has ample experience in the industry dating back
to a long career in movie advertising with United Artists. Tobin carries
independent and foreign films and only shows one film at a time at his
single-screen theater. “Our longest run was My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” he says. “Surprisingly, that lasted 22 weeks.”
Independent exhibitors like the Manlius get their films from regional
agents like Steve Florin, a Long Island-based booker who negotiates
with studios for an exhibitor. But they still face competition with
multiplexes if the multiplex wants an independent film. For example, The Kids Are All Right is a critically acclaimed film that played in both Tobin’s cinema and the Carousel Regal in August.
“When a Regal goes into competition with an independent exhibitor
like the Manlius, they believe that film has box office potential for
them,” Moller says. “They can draw the audiences who are not going to
Teenagers and families especially rely heavily on the multiplex
theaters for social outings. With its many screens, Regal can engage in
the “cineplexing” of a film, showing it on several screens at a time in a
single complex, thus drawing larger crowds, which are essential because
concession income is vital to the bottom line. “Regal keeps all of the
profits from popcorn, soda, candy and other food items sold at the
concession stand,” Moller explains.
The popularity of Netflix, Redbox, On Demand and other pay-per-view
methods for home viewing of films poses an increasing threat to
traditional theaters. But home film exhibition is unlikely to end
Regal’s reign. People go to theaters to experience visual and audio
technology that cannot yet be widely duplicated at home. With the amount
of money being invested in comfortable theaters, digitized projection
and 3D, the multiplex offers an experience unlike any other.
The economics of the current system of rotating blockbusters works
for Regal. Those who want to see foreign and independent films will just
have to rely on home viewing and the embattled independent movie
exhibitor such as the Manlius—or move to New York City.
Chiderah A. Monde received her undergraduate degree at Newhouse in
Broadcast Journalism. She studies film, television and popular culture,
and also reviews films on her website www.thatgirlontv.com.