Earlier this year, Cineworld CEO Moshe “Mooky” Greidinger had an idea: Drop ticket prices by £3 in UK cinemas to celebrate the re-emergence of the box office.
The larger-than-life exhibitor tried to enlist its rivals on the British Isles, but they said no. However, he got into something. A record 650,000 tickets were purchased on February 26, a Saturday.
It was so successful that the New Film Foundation in the US decided to hold National Film Day over Labor Day weekend and charge a $3 fee to watch a movie in any format including Imax. . (The average cost of the most basic ticket is between $9 and $12.00. Prices can be significantly higher in cities like Los Angeles and New York.)
The September 3 promotion drew 8.2 million moviegoers at more than 3,000 movie theaters across the US to boast the biggest day of 2022 to date in terms of viewership. (The irony is not to lose Greidinger’s role in this, as Cineworld has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.)
September 3 sales were up six times from the previous Friday and compared with 2.8 million tickets sold in 2021 and 1.7 million in 2019. And remember, there aren’t even any theaters show any new Hollywood movies playing this year, with Top Gun: Maverick won the holiday weekend even though it’s been more than three months of operation. Total sales for September 3 were $23.6 million, up 101 percent from the previous Friday and well ahead of previous Labor Day Saturdays.
The question now is whether the Motion Picture Foundation, which is affiliated with the National Association of Theater Owners, offers the same promotions or similar discounts every year. The organization says it’s too early to speculate, but insiders expect an encore, even if it’s not on Labor Day or even a weekend. “What we said to the studios was ‘try it this year. In return, my promise to you is that we form a working group,” said Jackie Brennerman, president of the Film Foundation.
Brennerman reiterated that the purpose of National Film Day is to celebrate the theater experience as the industry emerges from the pandemic, and thanked audiences for helping drive this summer’s box office recovery.
Every major Hollywood studio participates in National Film Day, but executives say they want a level playing field if it becomes an annual event. If movie distributors are going to get less in return than they split their tickets, they want theater chains to offer discounts like many did on September 3, including AMC Theaters.
Hollywood is also concerned about devaluation of specific movies by lowering prices.
One source said that joint pricing is not allowed and that NATO has clearly secured the idea of National Film Day with the right people in Washington, DC, including the Department of Justice. And the Movie Foundation didn’t start advertising the $3 off sale until the previous Sunday so as not to cannibalize the business the last weekend in August.
In addition, the Foundation has only one month to implement National Film Day. If that happens again, there will be more time to promote the common idea of celebrating the theatrical experience.
Brennerman’s team, along with NATO, are hardly the only ones trying to push consumers back into their pre-pandemic movie habits. Exhibitors in major box office markets around the world are holding their own versions of National Film Day and slashing ticket prices for a short period of time following the success of Cineworld’s February test, including in Mexico last month.
A version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter September 16. Click here to subscribe..