Movies liberate us from the stress of everyday life and transport us to Gotham, Hogwarts, or Germany in 1939 for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, we can’t all put life on hold when a movie first comes out.
If it takes you several weeks before you can make it to the theater, you may wonder if you missed your chance to see the movie you wanted.
We cover how long most movies stay in theaters so that you can plan accordingly.
How Long Do Movies Stay In Theaters?
Most mainstream movies stay in theaters for an average of four weeks.
Some only last for about two weeks, and some run significantly longer.
Theater run duration is not scheduled in advance (although theaters and movie executives can attempt an educated guess for planning purposes).
Theaters only have so much space.
After the ticket sales for a particular movie start to decline, the theater must swap out the older movie for a new, more popular movie if they want to stay in business.
Movies With Long Theatrical Runs
Some movies were such big hits that they stayed in theaters for much longer than anyone anticipated:
- Rocky Horror Picture Show: 2,000+ weeks
- E.T.: 52+ weeks
- Star Wars: 44 weeks
- Back to the Future: 37 weeks
- Beverly Hills Cop: 30 weeks
Factors Involved In How Long A Movie Stays In The Theater
Some people simply a movie’s theater run in oversimplified terms of supply and demand, but there are numerous factors that work together to determine the theater stay for a particular movie.
First and foremost, you can estimate how long a movie will run in the theater based on its popularity.
The more people who want to see a movie and the more people who pay for movie tickets, the longer it will run.
To determine a movie’s popularity, all you have to do is go on the internet to see what movies people are talking about.
Sometimes the movie producers tell us which movies are popular before we even know it with clever marketing campaigns and an oversaturation of ads.
Other times, the popularity stems almost exclusively from the director or cast.
People will get excited for a new Tarantino movie or a new movie starring their favorite actor, even if they don’t know anything about the movie or they hear it wasn’t very good.
2. Audience Reception
It’s not enough for the movie to simply be popular.
Movies tend to do better when people actually like the movie.
People provide reviews via word of mouth.
They also provide reviews on a large scale online.
You may not necessarily trust your friend’s opinion, but if 5,000 people on Rotten Tomatoes agree that a movie is not so great, you may choose to wait until it comes out on a streaming platform.
Professionals also provide their opinions in the form of reviews.
Viewers may be more inclined to see a movie that has rave reviews from the critics and is rumored to be a contender when award season comes around.
However, the critics hated National Treasure but loved Inception, so what do they know?
Theaters offer a unique viewing experience thanks to the immersive screen and surround sound audio.
However, have you ever heard someone refer to a movie as a movie “you want to see in the theaters” and another movie as “one you can watch at home”?
Many times, the distinction is based on the genre of the movie.
Theater amenities come in particularly handy when applied to action movies.
Action movies, including superhero movies, benefit from the enhanced effects of the theater.
You will not only see the car chase happening, but you will also hear every movement and feel the ground shake during a collision.
The outcome at the theater can make even bad movies fun to watch just thanks to the sensory overload that you can’t get in the comfort of your own home.
Kids’ movies also often benefit from the theater, especially if they incorporate 3D technology.
On the other hand, many people don’t feel the need for the theater’s large screen and audio system when watching a romantic drama or slapstick comedy unless they really want to see it as soon as it comes out.
Timing is everything in the movie industry.
Movies need to come out at a different time than the stiff competition.
If another highly anticipated movie comes out at the same time, it can force viewers to choose which movie they want to see when if they came out a month apart from each other, the viewer might have gone to both.
The Shawshank Redemption, arguably one of the greatest movies of all time, was a relative box office flop as it fought to compete with Forrest Gump.
Luckily, the movie managed to grow in popularity over the years, even if more people watched it on DVD and television than in the theater.
5. MPAA Rating
The Motion Picture Association of America has a thorough rating system for the content in a movie, and the rating can impact how long the movie stays in the theater.
We all know the rating system:
- G: General audiences. All Ages Admitted.
- PG: Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children.
- PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13.
- R: Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Legal Guardian.
- NC-17: No One Under 17 Admitted.
While many of us love some blood and gore in our cinema, going up to an R rating from a PG-13 rating severely limits the number of people who can see the movie.
A smaller target audience generally means fewer ticket sales.
Many executives work to get a more favorable rating in an effort to increase box office earnings, which may mean some scenes get cut or cleaned up (although, there are exceptions, such as Deadpool).
6. Theater Prices
Movie ticket prices have been going up significantly over the years.
The average ticket price in 2001 was $5.66, and it grew to $9.77.
Keep in mind that the average includes second-run theaters and small theaters in rural areas.
If you think that those averages seem low, you’re probably considering the price at your local first-run theater in a nice suburb.
Most theaters make one-third of their profits from concessions.
The other two-thirds come from ticket prices.
With the price of movies going up, fewer people want to go to the theater, meaning movies run less than they did during the heyday of film.
7. Theater Overhead Expenses
Theaters must pay a substantial cost to show a particular movie.
Sometimes, they pay the cost upfront, and other times, they pay based on sales generated by the movie.
Theaters also must pay for the cost of employees, building utilities, and insurance.
The expenses add up very quickly thanks to the large amount of space involved.
When the recent pandemic hit, almost all theaters shut down.
Some shut down permanently when the slow reopening of theaters did not generate enough money to keep the theaters open.
8. Movies Then And Now
It’s human nature to want entertainment, so it’s no wonder that movies have consistently played a large role in pop culture throughout the decades.
The theater experience from 50 to 100 years ago was significantly different from what it is today.
When movies first came to be, televisions didn’t exist.
People who wanted to watch a movie had no choice but to go to the theater.
Movie technology advanced slowly over time.
First, movies got sound.
Then, they got color.
Some people started buying televisions for their homes, but they didn’t have control over the programming, the picture quality was poor, and the screens were small.
At this time, movies were still the more popular choice for entertainment.
People would go to the theater and watch movies all day for a reasonable price.
Viewers became captivated and made more and more movies.
New cameras and new editing technology continued to improve movie quality.
However, you can tell from movies like Jaws that the directors didn’t have nearly as much to work with as they do today (but the best directors still managed to make an impact).
Movies reached their peak, but so did home entertainment.
Large flatscreen televisions reminded people of a similar experience to the theater.
With the introduction of cable and streaming services, people started to think that they could enjoy movies at home.
To get the new releases early, criminals started pirating movies by recording them in the theater, making copies, and selling them illegally.
Brief Timeline Of Film
To see just how far we’ve come, see the general timeline of important moments in film history:
- 1905: Pittsburgh opened the first movie theater
- 1914: Charlie Chaplin stars in The Tramp
- 1924: Walt Disney creates Alice’s Wonderland
- 1927: First feature-length talkie The Jazz Singer
- 1931: Double features introduced
- 1939: Wizard of Oz stuns with three-strip technicolor process
- 1946: First Cannes Film Festival
- 1968: Film rating system debuts
- 1976: VHS invented
- 1998: Introduction of projectors instead of reels of film
9. Studio Productions Vs. Indie Films
There are two main types of movies out there: studio productions and independent films.
Studio productions have a large budget and are backed by a major movie studio.
Independent films have a smaller budget and, therefore, much smaller distribution.
Since a large team of executives makes decisions for studio films, it’s more of a collaborative effort based on how to make the most money.
Film executives study successful films and what made them work to recreate the success, sometimes at the risk of artistic integrity.
While independent films have less money, there are much fewer people involved in the decision-making process, allowing for a distinct creative imprint on the final result.
While independent filmmakers may want to make money as a secondary goal, artistry supersedes profits.
For a great example of a typical studio director, consider Michael Bay.
His movies have large budgets, and they generate even larger box office sales thanks to an effective action-movie formula.
Indie directors are innumerable with skill levels that vary from amateur to genius.
A lot of indie movies come out on a small scale that the masses aren’t aware of.
Only the great ones become popular and lead to box office success.
Funding Indie films is extremely difficult, so they do not typically have the budget to release the movie nationally.
Without a large release and expensive marketing, people don’t know the movie exists.
It takes a really great movie to get a small audience to generate large-scale success.
To get funding, directors will start crowdfunding campaigns or try the old-fashioned method of asking investors for money.
After the fundraising is over, the director must work with the resources they have available to them.
In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino had actors wear their own suits during filming to cut down on wardrobe costs.
Some Indie movie success stories include:
- Eraserhead: budget of $10,000 that grossed $7 million
- Paranormal Activity: budget of $15,000 that grossed $200 million
- Clerks: budget of $27,575 that grossed $3.2 million
- Blair Witch Project: budget of $60,000 that grossed $249 million
- Napoleon Dynamite: budget of $400,000 that grossed $46 million
- Rocky: budget of $1 million that grossed $225 million
In most cases, once a director does the impossible and breaks onto the scene, they not only get the profits from their first movie but go on to get bigger budgets with larger studios, increasing their future profits for life (as was the case for Kevin James).
10. Different Types Of Movie Theaters
Before you plan a movie night at the theater, you should understand the different types of theaters to know what type of movies to expect at that location.
A. Multiplex Theater
A multiplex theater is the one most people think of when talking about going to a new release movie.
By definition, a multiplex theater has several auditoriums playing multiple movies, and they are usually part of a chain.
These theaters offer the newest and most popular movies at the time.
Many multiplex theaters also feature an IMAX theater that uses special technology to make the experience even more dynamic.
These theaters have the best accommodations, but they also cost the most.
B. Independent Second-Run Theaters
Independent theaters don’t have an affiliation with a larger chain, allowing them to show movies at their discretion.
Since they have a lower budget, they tend to show movies after the hype (and the cost to show it) has gone down a bit a couple of weeks after a film’s first release.
These theaters show independent films more often, too.
Independent theaters don’t charge as much as multiplex theaters.
Drive-in theaters aim to provide a nostalgic experience of, well, going to the drive-in.
As the name suggests, a drive-in is a theater where people drive into a lot and watch the movie from their car with the sound playing through the radio.
At this time, most drive-ins don’t have adequate funds to play new movies.
However, they will play appropriate classics on Halloween or the 4th of July.
On average, movies run for four weeks. However, many considerations come into play.
Some unpopular movies only run for a couple of weeks while other movies can run for months.
If you want to see a movie that’s coming out during a busy couple of weeks, you have to cross your fingers and hope that it’ll still be at your favorite theater by the time you can see it.
If it’s not there, watching it at home really isn’t that bad.