The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Musings over what happened at the box office in 2012

with 30 comments

premium rush

244 people in Sweden got to see Premium Rush in 2012. I wasn’t one of them.

It was screened for a very short time, maybe a week, in one (1) cinema in a mall in a suburb outside of Stockholm, many hours away from where I live and in practice out of my reach.

I had heard a lot of good things about it and given the chance I would have bought a ticket for it. Or several. I think my entire family would have liked to see it. A thrilling ride in combination with Joseph Gordon Levitt, my daughter’s favorite actor, sounded just right.

Too bad for me that someone – the distributor, the multiplex theatre chain or both – didn’t believe in it. Now I’ll have to wait for the DVD release. As so many times before.

For some people that’s not a big problem. They watch most films at home anyway. Maybe they have good equipment, almost on par with a small theatre screen. Maybe they hate the smell and rustling noise of popcorn. Or maybe they think it’s just too expensive and too much hassle to watch movies in a cinema. However to me it’s not the same and that’s why I’m writing this post.

I don’t want to come out as a whiner. Ultimately I understand that the people who make and distribute films do it like a commercial enterprise. They need to get return on their investments and they’re afraid to take losses. But I think we can agree on that something isn’t working well here.

This movie was made for a lot of money. Someone decided to make it available to a Swedish audience. It should lie in their interest to try to get the biggest possible audience. But how could this film become successful if you don’t give the audience a chance to see it and if you give it zero marketing? This release is so limited that I wouldn’t even call it a release. It’s a private screening for a few lucky people.

As a part of the potential audience I don’t agree with how they’re handling this and I don’t understand the reasons.

The question is: is there anything we can do about it? Does my wish to see this film in a theatre matter to the people in charge?  Do they ever put their ears to the ground and what can I do to make them hear my little drum?

Diving further into the latest statistics from the Swedish Film Institute (including the box office sales from January to November 2012), I noticed that The Cabin in the Woods did pretty well considering that it originally wasn’t planned to be released at all. It was after a campaign from the fans in social media that it finally got a release. It ended up at spot 121 at the box office with over 15 000 sold tickets, which doesn’t sound too shabby.

Maybe it does matter what we say. You could say that I have a part in that Premium Rush never opened in my city. I hadn’t been vocal enough about it. I hadn’t tweeted, blogged and otherwise indicated my interest. On the other hand: the idea that I should be campaigning for every upcoming movie I want to see to make sure it opens in my city seems unrealistic.

Further observations

Here are a few other observations I did studying the statistics of 2012:

  • The difference between how successful movies are at the box office are enormous. The successful movies are really, really successful. Skyfall has sold 911 940 tickets, which is equivalent to a tenth of the entire population in Sweden. At launch, I think about half of the available screens in my city showed Skyfall at the premier. That’s what I call availability! On second position is The Dark Knight Rises at 717 958, not bad either.
  • As expected, most of the films we watch in theatres come from US. The market share is 59,7 percent. Swedish film has had a strong year at the box office, increasing with 17 percent, having a market share of 21,6 percent. The third largest country is UK at 9,5 percent. Movies from other countries have a hard time reaching a wide audience. In the top 50 there’s only one film that isn’t English or Swedish speaking: the French Intouchables, at spot 12 with 343 604 visits.
  • 3D doesn’t seem to catch on very well. In November as little as 5 percent of the visits were to 3D films.
  • The biggest surprise is Palme, a Swedish film that made it to spot 24 with 235 065 sold tickets. Not shabby for a documentary! I think this speaks volumes about the national trauma that the assassination of the prime minister was and still is.
  • Many of my favorite films of 2012 were seen by very few people. I’ll give you a few examples.

    We Need to Talk about Kevin: rank 160, 5811 viewers
    Take Shelter: rank 211, 2140 viewers
    Bullhead: rank 215, 1997 viewers
    The Muppets: rank 254, 826 viewers
    Bill Cunningham New York: rank 263, 612 viewers

I don’t begrudge Skyfall or TDKR its success; they’re both very good movies. But it makes me a little sad to see how few people that got around to see the smaller titles.

Happy end
I’m going to give this post a happy ending. Like many others I sometimes worry about the future of cinema. Facing the competition from various streaming services – legal and illegal – as well as the crisis in the world economy, we ask ourselves for how long we well have theatres to go to.

After taking part of this statistics it looks as if they’re bound to die, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. The number of theatre visits grew with 6,8 percent compared to previous year.

People still go to theatres. The question is what they get the chance to see. And this is where we – the bloggers, podcasters and twittering fans – come in. Let’s make 2013 to a year when we spread the word, not just about the blockbusters, but about the movies in the 200rd spot in the box office ranking, which actually might benefit from it!

And with this challenge I wish you a Happy New Year.


Written by Jessica

December 31, 2012 at 5:10 pm

30 Responses

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  1. It’s tricky, for cost and ease of attendance, the biggest of film releases are simple for me but even those mid-tier ones at the one arthouse cinema are tough to go to consistently because that theatre has more limited showtimes and is further away. So I let independent cinema and independent theatres down a bit. Still, the number of films I want to see that come here and I don’t go to them pales in comparison to those not released here where I strain against inaccessibility. It makes it hard to feel sympathy for the fate of these films if their distributors don’t make them available. It isn’t good for theatres but the new abundance of streaming options should be great for the films.


    December 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    • Yeah I guess things are better these days than they used to be. The chances that I’ll get to see Premium Rush eventually are much higher than they would have been without the blessing of the web. But still. I would have liked to see it in a theatre. It feels like such a waste that only 200 people in Sweden got the chance.


      January 1, 2013 at 9:23 am

  2. Ditto your praise for Cabin In The Woods. I watched that film during the week (on DVD no less) and thought it was brilliant.

    I’m not sure if Premium Rush is coming out in Australia, but I’ll gladly fork over for the BluRay from Amazon when it is released.

    Happy new year, Jess!!


    January 1, 2013 at 12:29 am

    • I was lucky to catch it in a theatre. I really had loads of fun with it – despite the fact that I’m not all that familliar with the horror genre, which probably would have made it even better. Happy New Year to you too!


      January 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

  3. You have been nominated (by the masses) as Blogger of the Year!!

    Nick Powell

    January 1, 2013 at 4:07 am

    • I noticed and I was so delighted but too humbled and shy to comment on it. Thank you for the heads-up!


      January 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

  4. I certainly feel lucky to be in a city in the U.S. where I can see almost every movie I want to in the theatre, as long as I catch it in time. I would be a very frustrated cinephile in Stockholm.

    Steve Kimes

    January 1, 2013 at 4:35 am

    • Actually if you live in Stockholm you’re not that bad off. But I don’t, I live an hour away with train and when they decide to put the only screening of a film in a suburb on the other side the obstacle to see it is just too high.

      Stockholm is alright. Then it gets worse the further away you get from it and the smaller the town is. People who live in smaller cities are basically unlikely to get to see anything but blockbusters in theatres.


      January 1, 2013 at 9:31 am

  5. Interesting article. The two films you focus on, Premium Rush and Cabin in the Woods, were treated pretty similarly here in Australia too. Premium Rush, as far as I could see, was not released at all whilst a concerted social media campaign could only get Cabin… a release at one Melbourne cinema. Living a 7 hour drive from Melbourne meant that one was a little out of range for me.

    Beer Movie

    January 1, 2013 at 8:21 am

    • The strange thing about the unwillingness to make those films accessable is that neither film is what I’d consider a “difficult” movie. It’s not just for the arthouse audience, it’s something that many people could enjoy. Sometimes I just don’t understand those decisions.


      January 1, 2013 at 9:34 am

      • Yeah right on. Especially with the years that Gordon-Levitt and Whedon were having. Would have been a pretty easy sell.

        Beer Movie

        January 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

  6. Doesn’t it all depend on how many copies of the movie that is in circulation? And I don’t know weather the theatres plan their line-up according to the number of available copies or if it’s the other way around. It seems stupid to limit the potential audience to a movie by not making it as available as possible. The Muppets would for example probably have had a much bigger group of viewers if it had been possible to even notice it before it was gone.


    January 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

    • The thing I don’t understand is why the number of copies in circulation has to be so limited in the digital era. This whole thing about the decision making is a mysterium to me. When you bug the almost-monopoly-chain SF Bio about it, they always blame the film distributors. Is that the entire truth? Don’t SF has ANYTHING to say about what movies are shown or not? Are they just popcorn vendors who rent out their theatres to just about anyone? It sounds weird to me. And if this is so, how do I get in touch with those who actually made the decision to only show Premium Rush in one theatre? It’s not as if they seem to be interested in having a conversation with their customers. Hiding somewhere in the shadows, as it appears to me.


      January 1, 2013 at 10:56 am

      • Well, since SF is not only the owner of the big cinema chain, but also a distributor themselves I find it very hard to believe that they “cannot” show certain films because of “the distributors”. I have talked to at least two smaller distributors who both told me wbout their struggle to get theatre-release for some of their films either because SF doesn’t believe in the film or because SF themselves had taken in another film that would compete for the same audience and has a risk of losing their audience to the other movie. This also accounts for some films having a release long after its original world release. However, I am convinced that cinema-SF treats distributor-SF (AB Svensk Filmindustri) like a completely different company when it gets to “taking the blame”. At least that’s my own humble opinion. And even though neither of the movies you name would be really interesting to me, I’m still pissed that I have to wait ages until certain films reach Sweden, and that a huge number of great (european, asian, south american, independent, you name it) films never even gets released for the theatre. I also would like to put a small part of the blame on Stockholms International Filmfestival who don’t seem very eager to help the interested press to see the smaller films they take in. I truly believe that with broader filmjournalism there will be more awareness and more possibilities to influence distributors. If people don’t know anything about what’s out there to be seen, of course they won’t ask for it.


        January 1, 2013 at 7:29 pm

        • This blame game is starting to get annoying. I don’t know how important film journalism is these days. It’s not just about journalists getting the chance to see it, it also that someone wants to pay them to report about it… Perhaps people like you and me who write for free for social media are almost as important as professional writers these days? Since we read many international blogs, at least we know what to ask for.


          January 2, 2013 at 10:35 pm

  7. It’s the same with most media. In Flanders, 20.000 books are released each year of which most sell less then two hundred items. At the same time a book like Fifty Shades of Grey sells hundreds of thousands of books.

    A handful of blockbusters get 90% of the income. It’s probably because most people only read one or two books a year and if they do, it’s the book everyone has read so they can discuss it with their friends. The same for the movies, most people only go to the movies a few times a year. And when they do, of course they want to see Skyfall.


    January 1, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    • Yes. And I guess we shouldn’t be too negative about those big hits at the box office, as long as film companies are willing to let them help covering the losses for smaller titles. The question is if they are. I’m not entirely sure of how those things work.


      January 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm

  8. I often complain about the lack of screenings or late release dates here in the UK but it seems we are luckier than our Scandinavian cousins. I can’t believe that Premium Rush got such a limited release in Sweden but I am pleased to read that only 5% of cinema visits were 3D in November. It’s being forced on us here in the UK.


    January 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    • It can appear as if it’s being forced upon us, but check out the numbers. Is it as successful as we think? After all some of the biggest titles this year – Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises were NOT in 3D


      January 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm

  9. Interesting article. It’s too bad that smaller films that are of good quality don’t get seen by many people. If it weren’t for the local film festival in my town, I wouldn’t have seen two films that end up in my top 10 list. Even though one of them had some pretty big names (even to casual moviegoers), they just weren’t marketed nearly as much as those movies like Skyfall or TDKR. What a shame.


    January 2, 2013 at 3:36 am

    • Thanks! I’ve got two theatres that I rely on to give me a wider, more varied choice of movies: one independet arthouse style theatre, focusing on European film, the other one is my beloved film club.


      January 2, 2013 at 10:39 pm

  10. Interesting read and a shame you didn’t manage to catch Premium Rush. It’s not a great movie, but I did find it very entertaining. Maybe movie theaters could adapt a little and pick one evening where people could vote which movie they’d want to see on their website, making it possible to show things which people would go to. Don’t know how feasible it would be (with movie rights/getting hold of a movie etc), but it would be a cool concept.


    January 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    • Nah, I doubt it would have made my upcoming top 10, but it seems strange to me from a commercial point of view not to give people a chance to see it. The poll idea is interesting. I think I’ve seen something along those lines mentioned somewhere, I just can’t remember where. Perhaps someone is already trying it?


      January 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm

  11. It´s all about the money and that we as moviegoers chose The Blockbusters before less known movies. I do think it´s been a little bit better this year thanks to the digitaldistrubution.


    January 2, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    • This is what boggles my mind. Has it really? There are so many movies that only seem to open in Stockholm. It shouldn’t be too hard to show them in more cities…


      January 2, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      • Well i don´t know for a fact it´s just a feeling. But it shouldn´t have to be a problem to show more movie now when one has the digital technique.It´s probaly more a problem of space when the theatres shows the same movie at multiple screens (Skyfall, Tintin Bilbo etc)


        January 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm

        • Agreed. When they show the same movie on half of their screens, it’s no wonder they run out of space for the smaller titles.


          January 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

  12. Up to now digital distribution did not deliver what I hoped and expected. There are no rescreenings of classics, still not much original versions (i.e. English originals without subtitles; luckily most movies are dubbed here but English movies without subtitles would be nice sometimes), very few special events where a movie is only shown once. The only thing they do regularly now are live screenings of opera performances of famous opera houses (like Met) for a hefty price.

    Of course the distribution is only one cost factor, you need to calculate in the risk management, marketing and legal. But I still hope that the situation will change. But it would be up to the distributors to offer the movies so smaller cinemas could jump that wagon and fill that gap.

    As for Premium Rush: I saw it in a sneak preview. But unless you insist I will not say a word about it (which also is: I am not discouraging from viewing it) – there are enough reviews out there. Hm… I should begin to write reviews.


    January 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    • I think I’ve written about dubbing before. I hate it! I feel so sorry for those who live in countries where this is normal practice.
      I honestly have a very vague idea about if a movie is digitally screened or not. I assume most are, but I really don’t know.

      Write reviews! It’s loads of fun and helps you to remember the movies a bit longer than you would otherwise.


      January 2, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      • We won’t agree on dubbing. I just saw “The Hobbit” in English with German subtitles. Subtitles ruined the whole cinematic experience (again). Sadly the English version without subtitles ran at a time impossible for me. I feel sorry for people with languages so small that good dubbing is economically impossible. On the other hand most movies are available in English which most people from those countries normally speak quite well (at least the moviegoers) so there is at least a good workaround. If the movie is shown in English without subtitles! I quite often watch movies in Denmark where subtitling is common also – sadly they show the movies with subtitles only most of the time also, at least in the small towns where I visit the cinemas. (And obviously subtitling instead of dubbing is not done for any artistic or educational reasons but solely for economics).

        About digital screening: Where I live every single movie is screened digitally nowadays. Digitalization, when started, was very rapid (plus the subsidies may have helped). But I think, as with most technology changes, the traditional enterprises used it just for improving their traditional procedures (i.e. “cheaper”) and haven’t fully grasped the impact the digitalization could have, how it could change business. Sadly the initial (legal) costs are too high for small enterprises to fill the gap quickly, at least in not so densely inhabited areas like this one (ok, compared to most of Sweden this is metropolitan ;-)).


        January 3, 2013 at 11:48 am

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