Adolph Zukor Born on 1/7/1873
If it weren’t for Adolph Zukor, who was born on Jan. 7, 1873, Hollywood might never have started making feature-length movies.
Zukor, a native of Hungary, lost his parents while very young. At 16, the Orphans Board advanced him $40 and he left for New York. Visiting Chicago for 1892’s Columbian Exposition, he found work in the novelty fur business. A few years later, he moved his now prosperous fur enterprise to New York where fate led him to the fledgling film industry.
A cousin asked Zukor for a $3,000 loan in 1903 to buy into a New York arcade showing Edison inventions like phonographs, electric lights & peep shows. Zukor made the loan — and wound up going into arcades, himself, as a side venture to selling furs. He opened Automatic Vaudeville on 14th Street, a busy center for arcades & saloons. It did over $100,000 in Year One and Zukor expanded to Boston, Newark & Philadelphia. By 1906, he’d turned the arcade’s top floor into a theatre showing short films on a screen.
What made Zukor a movie mogul was his idea to show films much longer than 20 minutes, the industry-standard then. He recognized the potential of making features starring “famous players in famous plays.” His new company, Famous Players, started in 1912 by distributing the French production “QUEEN ELIZABETH” with stage star Sarah Bernhardt. Zukor, always the showman, opened it at New York’s Lyceum, a legitimate theatre, where the 44-minute long movie was a big hit.
A year later, Zukor joined forces with powerful theatre producers Charles & Daniel Frohman to cast stage stars in movies of plays whose rights were controlled by the Frohman’s. By 1913, Zukor had produced five features, including “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA” & “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO.” In 1916, he merged with the company run by Jesse L. Lasky, who produced the 1914 drama “THE SQUAW MAN,” to form Famous Players-Lasky, the major source of product for its distributor, Paramount Pictures.
Plotting from the start to control Paramount, Zukor quietly acquired Paramount shares until he could install Hiram Abrams, a film distributor from Maine, to replace W.W. Hodkinson as president. Hodkinson had created Paramount’s logo by recalling a snow-capped Wasatch Range mountain peak from his childhood in Utah. As for the name Paramount, he’d seen that on a New York apartment building.
Zukor’s ups & downs could and have filled books. When he died in July 1976 at 103, he’d outlived his many rivals going back to the movie industry’s earliest days.
Disney’s Bob Iger on the Movie Theatre Experience (CNBC)
Bob Iger, Disney’s former CEO, and outgoing chairman gave an interview to CNBC in which he reflected on his time at Disney and provided his outlook on the future of the company and the entertainment industry overall.
Iger disputed that notion that moviegoing is becoming a thing of the past, saying that “people like to go out to the theater, that’s not going away.” But coupled with Iger’s endorsement of the theatrical experience was a note of pessimism about its potential for growth. Iger noted that the relatively high price of movie tickets is butting up against the value provided by streaming services, which he sees as offering a “good deal” to consumers, including compelling original programs such as Disney+’s THE MANDALORIAN. Iger suggests that Disney shouldn’t migrate “entirely away” from its roots in theatrical releasing, because it holds the potential to spark a cultural phenomenon, citing the 2018 release of Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER as one such example. However, he does see a shorter theatrical release window as more appropriate, which itself undercuts some of the incentives for audiences to see a movie at their local cinema.
How Movie Theaters Fought to Survive (Another) Year of Turbulence & Change (Variety)
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME gave a triumphant send-off to an otherwise turbulent year for exhibitors. The superhero blockbuster struck a nerve, grossing over $1B worldwide in under two weeks. Mark O’Meara, the owner of the University Mall Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia, commented that SPIDER-MAN produced the first sold-out shows in two years, with many patrons saying that it was their first time back at the movies since the pandemic began.
While SPIDER-MAN is a high-point, the theatrical box office has been littered with disappointing performances such as WEST SIDE STORY, THE SUICIDE SQUAD, and THE LAST DUEL. While 2020 was marked by shutdowns, 2021 was a year for experimentation with virtually all major studios using day & date releasing to boost streaming subscriptions, at the expense of theatrical box office during uncertain times.
However, as the page turns to 2022, the pendulum appears to be swinging back to theatrical releasing, especially for high-profile titles such as SCREAM, BLACK PANTHER 2, and THE BATMAN. The exhibition has shown remarkable resiliency to emerge from the last two years with a reduction of only 5% of active screens in North America. Still, many exhibitors remain anxious about the future, with owners such as Mark O’Meara fretting about his increasing reliance on a handful of blockbuster titles. “I don’t like having the world live and die by one movie.”
See Also: Spider-Man Complicates Movie Theater Recovery Plot (Wall Street Journal)
Is the Adult Moviegoer Anxious or Just Not Interested?
The media’s new mantra is that adults aren’t going to the movies and that’s why films targeted to older demos are under-performing.
Pandemic pressures sound plausible, but actually, other problems are to blame. Searchlight’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY, for instance, opened 12/17 — head to head with Spidey! It’s rated R, which isn’t ideal for Christmas moviegoing. Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER) was passionate to remake it — from a long-forgotten 1947 film noir.
NIGHTMARE has a dream cast (Bradley Cooper & Cate Blanchett – pictured), but lacks critical acclaim & great word of mouth. On Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a blah 80% with critics & a dismal 66% with audiences. Top tracking demo: +25M.
WB/Village Roadshow’s THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS is also an R for holiday moviegoing, also is targeted to +25M, and also opened opposite Spidey (in weekend 2). On RT, it’s a grim 65% with critics & a poor 63% with audiences. Moreover, it debuted day & date on HBO Max, where Samba TV said it did great with 2.8M households viewing it “free” in its first 5 days. At maybe $13 a ticket, those roughly 5M people could have spent about $65M to see it in theatres.
Where Are We as of 12/30
Based on Spidey’s continued strength over the last days of 2021, the fourth quarter finished up with 70% of the gross earned during Q4 2019. Remember that Q4 2021 was sitting at 63% of 2019 results when SPIDER-MAN opened on 12/17, when its record-breaking results over the last two weeks of the year allowed exhibitors to close that gap by 7 percentage points. Over those two weeks, the full-year 2021 to 2019 comparison rose by 4 percentage points to reach 40%, allowing exhibitors to begin 2022 on a positive note.
Studio Release Calendar