The movie industry took a major hit recently due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially the theaters. However, streaming platforms kept the industry running, and now, going to the cinema has become a very popular activity once again. So, with the platforms producing tons of content and producers choosing them over cinema, how long do movies actually stay in theaters?
Movies stay in theaters for an average of four weeks. However, it’s not a number set in stone before the film is released. It all depends on how popular the movie is and how well it does in box office numbers. Some movies stay in theaters much longer, while some are out after only two weeks.
Numerous factors play a role in the theater’s decision to keep a movie on their program. Location plays a vital role as well. For instance, a movie might be highly popular in the US but do poorly on the international level. Therefore, US theaters will probably keep it on their schedules much longer. Let’s dive deeper into the details of the movies’ theatrical runs.
How Long Do Movies Stay In Theaters?
I’ve worked in a movie theater for about four years, from 2014 to 2018. Although I’ve double-checked the facts I’ll present with reputable online sources, I’ll talk mainly from my personal experience as a theater employee. It was one of the most wonderful periods of my life, especially because I was still a college student, and the theater was my getaway spot.
So, every movie’s theatrical run duration is not written in stone. Numerous factors play a role in how long a movie will stay in theaters, especially in the pre-pandemic era of the movie industry. Those factors include popularity, box office numbers, location, the number of upcoming movies at the given moment, the duration of the film itself, etc.
On average, a movie will remain in theaters for four weeks before being removed from the schedule. The reason behind that is logical – the interest drops over time, and if you haven’t watched the movie in four weeks it’s in theaters, you probably won’t suddenly get the urge to go and watch it in week five, six, or seven.
There are exceptions to that rule, though. Some incredibly popular movies can remain in theaters for much longer. That can vary from theater to theater, movie to movie, but in some blockbuster cases, films can remain in theaters worldwide for as long as 8-10 weeks.
Let’s break down all the factors I’ve mentioned individually to see why that’s the case.
Obviously, the number one criterion for the duration of a movie’s theatrical run is the popularity of the movie itself. Many factors play a role in determining the popularity of a movie before it ever hits the big screen.
Now, I want to point out that theaters tend to separate the popularity of a movie before and after it arrives in cinemas. In this article, when I say “popularity”, I’m referring to the expected popularity before the movie arrives, whereas “box office numbers” are the clearest indicator of a movie’s popularity after. More on that later. For now, let’s focus on the popularity beforehand.
The first thing influencing a movie’s popularity before it arrives in cinemas is the crew behind the movie. For instance, if the director is well known, or the cast members are highly popular, there’s a big chance the movie will be very popular once it arrives in theaters.
That allows theaters to make an educated guess and plan their program to include the movie for a longer time. For instance, everybody knew Avengers: Endgame would have a huge turnout because of all the hype surrounding the film, so theaters planned to keep it on their schedules for at least 6-7 weeks instead of the average 3-4 weeks.
Also, the movie’s budget will highly influence its popularity. If the budget is higher, it means the producers can afford a more popular cast and invest much more in marketing – advertisement, trailers, posters, etc.
To conclude, theaters tend to predict how good or bad a movie will do based on its popularity before it even arrives. If a blockbuster is trending, theaters will plan their schedule to include the film for longer. If a film is not as highly-advertised or doesn’t garner that much public interest before it arrives, theaters will plan to keep it on their program shorter.
Box Office Numbers
So, a movie was highly popular before it arrived in cinemas – the interest was high, there was a lot of hype around the film, and the theaters planned to keep it on schedule for a long time. And then, once it arrives, it flops miserably in box office numbers. Of course, theaters will then remove it from their schedule earlier since there’s not enough interest from the audience.
The same principle works in the opposite scenario. Perhaps nobody expected a film to perform well at the box office, but it keeps trending after 2-3 weeks. Then, theaters will change their schedules and keep the movie on their program for as long as there’s interest.
Just look at E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982. The film remained at the number one spot at the box office numbers for sixteen weeks! You better believe theaters kept it on their programs for as long as it got them money. E.T. played for over 50 weeks in many cinemas simply because it was successful.
Genre And Rating
Another factor that plays a big role in the duration of a film’s theatrical run is the genre and rating of the film itself. Some genres, like action films, superhero flicks, and science fiction that include a lot of CGI, will probably stay in theaters longer because the experience of watching these kinds of movies in the cinema is much better than watching them at home.
On the other hand, if we’re talking about a romantic comedy or a drama, you won’t get that kind of an experience if you watch it in a theater. Hence, people interested in such movies tend to wait for a DVD or Blu-ray version and just watch it from the comfort of their homes, which, in the end, influences the interest and duration of the film’s theatrical run.
The same goes for the movie’s rating. The wider the target audience is, the more interest it’ll gain and the longer it’ll remain in theaters. If a movie is rated R, the audience is quite limited to adults that don’t mind violence, gore, or other factors that come with the rating. That’s why horror movies usually stay in theaters shorter – their audience is quite limited.
Word Of Mouth
This factor is tightly connected with box office numbers. Movies like Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity are horror films with a super-low budget ($60000 and $15000, respectively), so they’d probably suck in box office numbers and get out of theaters in two weeks, right? Well, not exactly.
Some people went to see the film, and they liked it because it was scary, innovative, or whatnot. They shared their experience with their peers, who went to see the movie, loved it, and then shared it with their peers, etc. The films actually grew in popularity over time and stayed in theaters for quite some time.
They both garnered over $200 million in box office numbers in the end, simply because of word of mouth.
The theater’s location also plays a crucial role in how long a movie will stay on the program, based on the topic of the movie itself. For instance, the 2016 movie LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as Lyndon B. Johnson, the former US president, stayed in American theaters for about four weeks.
However, the interest in the film in Europe – namely, in the theater I’ve worked in – was little to none, as the topic didn’t really resonate with the audience here. So, the film stayed on schedule for only two weeks before it was removed.
Competition always dictates the success rate of a particular movie. Blockbusters are less affected by competition, but generally, movies will stay in theaters for longer if there aren’t many new films coming out at the same time.
If the timing is right and there’s little to no competition, a moderately successful film ought to stay in theaters longer than a very high-grossing flick that came out simultaneously with two or three other highly popular films. Theaters have limited time and space for screenings, especially if the theater is not a multiplex with several auditoriums but rather a single auditorium.
Adding to the previous factor, the film’s duration plays a significant role in its theatrical run. While the film duration doesn’t affect multiplexes as much, theaters with a single auditorium will likely project longer movies shorter in order to open up space for more movies and screenings in a day.
Of course, if it’s a highly successful blockbuster like The Lord of the Rings or Avengers, the theater won’t mind having only two three-hour screenings in a day. However, if a three-hour movie doesn’t garner that much money, it’s more profitable for the theater to have four 90-minute projections of shorter films instead of two three-hour marathons. Money talks.
Do Movies Stay In Theaters Shorter Nowadays?
The answer to this question depends on what you consider “nowadays.” Generally, movies stay in theaters shorter now than they did in the 80s or 90s. However, if you compare movies today with those premiering about 10-15 years ago, they remain in cinemas about the same, on average.
The reason why movies tend to have shorter theatrical runs nowadays than they did in the 80s or 90s is the presence of DVDs, Blu-rays, and streaming platforms that didn’t exist back in the day.
For instance, Back to the Future (1985) and Titanic (1997) stayed in theaters for more than 20 weeks because public interest was huge, and people had no other way of seeing the films other than the theaters.
Nowadays, producers tend to capitalize on those who don’t visit theaters and give people the opportunity to buy movies on DVD or stream them on platforms shortly after their theatrical releases.
There’s a norm between movies being released in theaters and streaming platforms of 45 days. Within those 45 days, movies usually already leave theaters and then arrive on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, etc.
What streaming platforms do for movies now, DVDs and Blu-rays did about 10-15 years ago, so the average theatrical run of the films remains the same – about four weeks. Still, it’s a lot shorter than 30-40 years ago, when movies regularly stayed in theaters for over 10, even 20 weeks.
What Movie Stayed In Theaters The Longest?
The Guinness World Record for the longest theatrical run of a movie in a single theater belongs to a 1980 Chinese film called Romance on Lushan Mountain, shown four times a day at the Jiangxi Movie Circulation and Screening Company in Lushan, China, since its 1980 release, up until today. Watching the film there became a tourist attraction.
If we’re talking about multiple cinemas, the Rocky Horror Picture Show holds the record for being screened at least once a week for its traditional midnight screenings in various cinemas across the US (and the world) since it debuted in 1975.
What Movie Stayed In The Box Office Top 10 The Longest?
The movie that stayed in the Box Office Top 10 list the longest is E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which remained in the Top 10 for 44 weeks. The top five are as follows:
2. Beverly Hills Cop (28 weeks)
3. Tootsie, Top Gun (27 weeks)
5. Titanic, Forrest Gump, Crocodile Dundee (26 weeks)
What Is The Longest Movie Ever To Play In Theaters?
The longest movie ever to play in theaters is the 2019 mega-film Amra Ekta Cinema Banabo, known as The Innocence, directed by an internationally-acclaimed Ashraf Shishir, who won the National Film Award during his illustrious career. The film has a runtime of a staggering 21 hours, separated into three-hour chapters.
The longest film ever created, though, according to the Guinness World Records, is The Cure For Insomnia (1987), which has a runtime of 85 hours (yes, you read that right). The film was directed by John Henry Timmis IV and premiered at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from January 31 to February 3, 1987.