3Hollywood Squeezing Theaters for Every Dime
Hollywood has the major theater chains over a barrel, and they've been going all Deliverance on them for about two decades now. Pretty much every single thing you hate about the movie-going experience that doesn't involve some jerk on his cell phone can be attributed to this prison-bitch relationship dynamic.
This is why popcorn is like seven bucks a box. Yes ticket prices are ridiculous, but the movie theaters have to forward most of that money on to the studios.
A typical Hollywood executive.
The way it works is the studios have front-loaded deals, so that for the first weekend, up to 75% of box office has to be paid to the studio (Star Wars: Episode I infamously demanded 90% up front). Then each weekend thereafter it drops 10% (meaning the theater gets to keep more of the money as the movie plays).
You see why it's a terrible deal when you realize movies make most of their money in the first couple of weeks. So the studio cashes in during that early period when fans are seeing it based on the awesome trailer, and then the theaters are left with the crumbs when word of mouth informs everyone it's a turdburger.
Better Get Used to it...
As DVD sales have risen, theater attendance has sunk like a rock. So they have to keep afloat somehow, and that means inflated concession prices, the aforementioned commercials and those stupid slides before the movie starts. (See chart)
And through all of that, the studios still have all of the power in the relationship. Their product (that is, the movies) is the only thing that gets people into theaters. The chains don't have much choice but to sign the deal and go scraping for revenue elsewhere. They get screwed, so the theaters have no one left to screw but you, the customer, forming one big daisy-chain of screwing.
Which is exactly the sort of thing you'll never see on screen, thanks to...
By handing out movie ratings, the Motion Picture Association of America controls the entire movie industry. Seriously. You want an example of a dark conspiracy controlling a major American industry? This is it. Right here. The MPAA decides what you'll see in movie theater and video chains, and just as importantly, what you won't. They're probably watching you right now. Don't turn around.
They've got it set up so that if you're a filmmaker and want it to be shown on the vast majority of movie screens in America, you need an MPAA rating. The North American Theater Owners (no, seriously, they call themselves NATO), which consist of the biggest chain theaters in America, by and large will not show an unrated movie. Nor will they show a movie rated NC-17, which is why one romantic comedy after another is ruined by their refusal to show penetration.
DVD rental giant Blockbuster also doesn't do NC-17, and neither does Wal-Mart. So in short, the ratings system is entirely voluntary and you don't have to go through the process. Unless, you know, you were hoping people would get a chance to ever actually see your work.
This is why Hollywood contractually obligates filmmakers bring the movie in for at least an R rating. But luckily, the MPAA is honest and open with filmmakers about how their films are rated. Oh, wait, no. It's the exact opposite of that. The MPAA is a black box: you submit a film, it spits out a rating for that film, and that's it.
You can recut the film, but they won't tell you what to cut or why. So do you cut from the orgy, or the exploding skull scene? Or maybe trim two minutes off the sequence where a cow shits a leprechaun? All you can do is guess.
But you can appeal, right? Sure you can! The appeals board consists of...members of NATO, representatives of the clergy and studio heads. Good luck!
Better Get Used to it...
The MPAA isn't going anywhere. It's a fairly effective lobbying group, and people like the ratings system, even though it appears consumers largely ignore it (how many of you actually didn't see an R-rated movie until age 17?).
Will they loosen the restrictions of "adult" material? Well for now, movies are actually moving in the other direction as fast as possible. These days the challenge is all about watering movies down to the PG-13 sweet spot (see the Die Hard 4 fiasco), so forget about pushing the limits of the R vs NC-17 envelope. Your studio head is giving you two "fucks" and some side boob. And maybe a pencil through a dude's eye if you're lucky.