What is behind
the studios’ requirement that directors bring
their movies in at less than 128 minutes?
Since the 1948 U.S. vs. Paramount Supreme Court
decision effectively ended their control of theaters,
studios have come to depend on a handful of independently
owned theater chains to open their movies. These chains,
which generally make more money from the sale of popcorn
than of tickets, profit by turning over their weekend
audience at least three times each evening. “We
are in the people-moving business,” one theater-chain
president explained. If a movie’s length exceeds
128 minutes, it reduces the number of evening audience
“turns” from three to two on weekends, which
means 33 percent fewer popcorn-eating customers visiting
their concession stands. So the chains often relegate
longer films--such as Alexander, The Aviator,
or Cold Mountain--to their smaller auditoriums
and curtail their runs, thereby reducing the chance
that these films will draw a large audience.
Studios therefore pressure directors-- though not always
successfully-- to conform to the realities of the popcorn-driven
economy, and keep their movies to 128 minutes.
Indeed, it is usually required by their contract.