When distributors’ trash becomes exhibitors’ treasure

Rethinking film success and failure

Authored by: Dean Brandum , Bronwyn Coate , Deb Verhoeven

The Routledge Companion to New Cinema History

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138955844
eBook ISBN: 9781315666051
Adobe ISBN:


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Of the three arms of the film industry – production, distribution, and exhibition – economic histories have tended to focus on production and distribution companies and their ability to recoup their investments through box office revenue. In their discussion of the film industry, for instance, Jehoshua Eliashberg, Anita Elberse, and Mark Leenders (2006) focus on each of the three key stages in a film’s production chain but view these only in terms of how they lead to audience consumption, which is measured by the film’s aggregated box office take. This view is also the focus in Barry Litman’s seminal industry research (1983, 1989), which has been a catalyst for numerous empirical studies into film success conducted along similar lines (Sochay, 1994; Duan, Gu, and Whinston, 2008). Within these analyses, the exhibition arm is typically characterized as a homogenous entity: a point of revenue collection on which the success or failure of the film title is predicated. This chapter uses a microeconomic approach to reveal how levels of commercial success experienced by particular films at individual venues often differed from the aggregate results recorded by the films’ producers and distributors. Films otherwise regarded as failures often enjoyed successful engagements in some theaters, while perceived hits had disappointing runs in certain venues. We explore the variable definitions of “success” by examining the fortunes of British films released in Chicago’s downtown Loop District and Near North Side theaters during the 1960s.

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