can the big studios and multiplexes learn from the success of alt opportunities for communal film consumption?

The U.K. box office had one of its worst weekends in years — since December 2004, in fact — this past Friday through Sunday. Killers was the top film, debuting with just a little over £1 million in takings, and the overall box office down 22 percent from the previous weekend, which was already awful, and down 67 percent from the same weekend last year. Charles Gant at the Guardian’s Film blog notes that this was likely due to

improving weather, an England game on Friday and unappealing new releases [that] created a perfect storm of public non-interest in the collective cinema offer.

Okay, then. Pretty much the same thing that’s been happening with the North American box office (minus the World Cup intrigue).

But Gant also notes the perhaps unsurprising success of England’s Secret Cinema, which put on an alternative film event last week and through this past weekend:

Not recorded by the official box-office data gatherers were the takings for the Secret Cinema event that ran for six days at London’s Canary Wharf from 15-20 June. The premium-priced, experience-oriented presentation of Blade Runner sold 7,000 tickets, generating gross revenues of around £136,000, according to organisers. That sum would place Blade Runner 11th in the box-office chart. The fact that it grossed more than movies such as Our Family Wedding and MacGruber playing on 100-plus prints tells its own story about current consumer appetites for environment and experience.

What was the Secret Cinema experience like? A press release from Secret Cinema gives a hint:

From the moment ticket holders stepped off the tube, they were greeted by Utopia Skyways hostesses who escorted them on their journey on the Utopia airways terminal bus, to a secret location nearby (Wood Wharf). What was once an empty container area and warehouse space was completely transformed into an unimaginable and surreal new world: A replica of China Town, with littered alleyways, street sellers and an array of stalls, selling food, junk, massages and even snakes. With all this the audience couldn’t help but be visually and audibly stunned. They had been physically thrown into the world of Blade Runner.

Creating the vibrant buzz of China town were hundreds of actors, dancers and props including old cars and live electronic screens, a Future Shorts cinema tent, and live music provided by the futuristic sounds of Chrome Hoof, a 12 piece doom house electro-disco metal phenomenon, and deep bass house and techno DJ Hannah Holland. As the show began the crowd cheered as they anticipated what was coming next. With more interactive experiences provided by Windows phone, projector screens flashed images from Blade Runner and audience members were picked out on screen from earlier ‘interrogation’ sessions in the eye scanning booths. The film was played out in real life with a chase sequence through the crowd before the audience were rounded up by a futuristic police force and directed into a re-created Bradbury building. The audience watched Chris Cunningham’s seminal robot music video for Bjork’s ‘All is full of love’. As the Blade Runner opening credits appeared on the screen massive applause exploded from the 800 plus crowd. The audience were in for another treat near to the film’s finale, when an aerial performance took place on the wall of the screening room (picture below). After loud cheers during the end credits people want back to Taffy’s bar for another performance by the brilliant Chrome Hoof and another set by DJ Hannah Holland before having to return to the reality of Canary Wharf tube station.

Tickets were much dearer than multiplex prices — £23.50 (£19.50 for students) — but it sounds like it might have been worth it. (The next Secret Cinema event will be held in August; sign up at Secret Cinema’s site for more details as they become available.)

New York has something similar with Rooftop Films. And both London and New York offers lots of outdoor summer film screenings, some free.

It seems unlikely that these kinds of events could ever offer any serious competition to multiplexes and new studio films. But couldn’t the biggies learn a thing or two from such events? Going to the multiplex has been such an exercise in frustration that it deters many casual moviegoers unless the films on offer are absolutely, 100 percent can’t miss. That hasn’t really been the case with most of the new releases recently. Going to the movies used to feel like an event. Maybe even the multiplexes need to start recreating a sense of that.

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Wed, Jun 23, 2010 7:29pm

Current UK movie offerings are abysmal. Black Death might be the only thing worth seeing, and it’s been this way for weeks. I keep wanting to go to the movies and finding nothing.

I could see StreetDance 3D! …