Theater Owners Chief on Box Office Recovery, Summer Films – The Hollywood Reporter

This year’s CinemaCon comes at a critical juncture for the beleaguered box office. All five major Hollywood studios will show up in Las Vegas, beginning April 25, to lay their cards on the table and tout their 2022 slates to theater owners still trying to emerge from the pandemic and changing consumer habits.

Expect teasers and footage for Avatar 2 (yes, it’s really happening), Jurassic World Dominion, Black Adam, The Flash and much more. Family highlights will include Toy Story spinoff Lightyear and Minions: The Rise of Gru. Other 2022 titles sure to be mentioned are the next installments in the Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Thor franchises, while Paramount is treating exhibitors to a full screening of Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick.

The ever-frank John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, recently spoke with THR about why studios are returning to an exclusive run in cinemas as the pandemic wanes, how shortened windows can actually help midrange and smaller titles, and his take on the real problem with the Oscars.

John Fithian
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In the aftermath of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, it sort of got lost that Apple TV+ became the first streamer in history to claim the best picture prize. Did you win when CODAa film that had only a token release in cinemas, won for best picture?

CODA is a gorgeous film. But we are all concerned about the continuing relevance of the Oscars because the ceremony used to be something really important for theatergoers around the world. Some of the movies that used to be in the mix had a very significant theatrical box office, like Titanic. It’s different now. Spider-Man: No Way Home didn’t even get nominated [for best picture] despite its commercial and artistic success. It’s Sony’s biggest film of all time. What about No Time to Die? It was a pretty important Bond movie. It’s about whether Academy have lost touch with what movie fans like. The Oscars show has become less and less relevant. It’s unfortunate.

Apple released CODA in cinemas after its Oscar but didn’t report grosses. Thoughts?

A lot of streamers do that. It’s not about streamer versus nonstreamer. We are still in the middle of a streaming war. Companies that are trying to build their streaming services are still making bad business decisions just to get subscribers in order to win the streaming horse race. That’s not a long-term business philosophy — that’s a short-term fight. There’s no doubt that a movie released exclusively in theaters and then later on whatever streaming service fares better.

For years, any hint of shortening the traditional three-month theatrical window would prompt threats of a boycott. Coming out of the pandemic, the window is as short as 17 to 45 days.

NATO doesn’t set policy; that’s negotiated individually by our companies. But we’re very happy with where things are looking. The pre-pandemic window was pretty outdated and had been around for a very long time. This new model will make it easier to get midsize- and smaller-budget movies released theatrically. There’s a dynamite list of blockbusters, but amidst those I’m looking forward to Babylon from Damien Chazelle and Steven Spielberg’s semiautobiography The Fabelmans and Tom Hanks’ A Man Called Otto and Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling. Will there be the individual struggles? Yes. Will there be movies that we think are being released with a window that’s too short? Yes. But the overall trends are very good.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Celebrating at CinemaCon

Focus Features, as it hits its 20th anniversary, and Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacobs are among this year’s honorees at the Las Vegas gathering.

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Ellis Jacob
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Ellis Jacobs, the longtime CEO of Cineplex Entertainment — Canada’s largest theater chain — is known for his even-keeled, levelheaded style. On April 26, he’ll be feted with CinemaCon’s top honors when receiving NATO’s 2022 Marquee Award. When COVID-19 struck, Jacobs was chairman of NATO’s board. John Fithian says Jacobs provided steady leadership as the industry descended “into the depths of the pandemic” and praises him for pairing that stewardship with “a kindness and courtesy that is rare and is a hallmark of his career.” Other top honorees include Focus Features, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Universal-owned specialty label has amassed more than 140 Academy Awards nominations, including 14 best picture nods (Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is the most recent example); it’s won 26 Oscars overall. Other CinemaCon honorees this year include Disney’s Jeffrey Forman (Passepartout award), Renana Teperberg (global achievement in exhibition award) and Constantin Films’ Martin Moszkowicz (career achievement award).

This story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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