There are hundreds of movie screenings held across the country every week. AdvanceScreenings.com is a website that lists the majority of them, with links to codes and pass giveaways on various sites, including Gofobo. These are for free screenings – simply first come, first served. But with this piece, I’m going to specifically focus on nationwide screenings from the studios in which moviegoers pay regular ticket prices in order to see the movies early.
It usually only happens once or twice a year. So far in 2017, there have been 3 – the most (technically) since 2010. According to Box Office Mojo, “Sneak Previews”, where audiences spent a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon at a screening of a film opening the next weekend, took place much more often about a decade ago.
The site notes that the modern era of this trend began in 2003, with “Radio”, “Love Actually” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” among those screened early in dozens to hundreds of theaters nationwide. In 2004, 19 films were screened early, including “Hellboy”, “The Notebook”, “The Terminal”, “Team America: World Police”, “Finding Neverland”, “Spanglish” and “The Polar Express”. If I was reviewing movies (and a little older), and going to theaters more often back in ’04, I would’ve loved to have seen these films and others in advance.
Studios did the same for 12 titles in 2005, including “Fever Pitch”, “Cinderella Man”, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “Zathura”. Another dozen in 2006, such as “Monster House”, “Blood Diamond”, “The Holiday”, “Eight Below” and “Akeelah and the Bee”. Some of you reading this may remember attending some of these advance screenings.
The first one I can remember attending was “Ratatouille”. Disney screened Pixar’s second-best film two weeks early. The studio also showed “The Game Plan” a week early that September, and I also saw that film at that time. In total: 11 films for 2007, including “27 Dresses” in December, which 20th Century Fox also screened early in January 2008.
Studios choose to hold these screenings to draw-up advance (hopefully positive) buzz on their films, though none of the money made on these screenings actually goes into the film’s box office total. This might be why the trend went down significantly in ’08, with only five others besides “27 Dresses”. I attended two of them: Disney’s “Bolt” and the criminally-underseen sports drama “The Express” with Dennis Quaid.
In 2009, Fox screened “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” in 3D on Sunday June 21 – 10 days before its regular release. I saw it for the first time then. Only three other films were shown early: the drama “Whip It” and rom-coms “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth”. And 2010 saw three films, but only two dates: “Letters to Juliet” on Mother’s Day, and Disney’s “Secretariat” and WB’s “Life as We Know It” – both on Sat. Oct. 2. (I saw “Secretariat”.)
In 2011 – just two films: the Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (ultimately a box office flop), and “We Bought a Zoo”… twice. I saw it on Nov. 26, and Fox pre-screened it again on Dec. 10. It didn’t open until the 23rd.
There were none in 2012, though two in ’13: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s reunion in “The Internship”, and Sony got some guts by screening “Captain Phillips” the Saturday night before its release – steering some audiences away that evening from WB’s “Gravity”.
Also that year, a different strategy: Walmart teamed-up with Warner Bros. for “Man of Steel” shows the night before it opened, with the tickets costing money – and you had to pick them up at your local Walmart store. I attended that screening at a theater near where I live, and it may have had 30 people. No surprise Walmart hasn’t tried this again. And in 2014, Disney pre-screened their 7th sports movie of this run: “Million Dollar Arm” with Jon Hamm.
2015 didn’t see any of these nationwide sneak previews. In 2016, Fox screened “Eddie the Eagle” the Sunday before its release in select markets (though nowhere close to me). In ’15 and ’16, Fathom Events did team-up with three studios (Disney, STX and Open Road) to do advance showings of “Inside Out”, “Hardcore Henry” and “Snowden”, respectively – costing audiences the same amount (or even more) for tickets. And at the end of last year, AMC screened the animated musical “Sing” a month early in 200 of its theaters, though those tickets were free.
As I mentioned earlier, 2017 has seen a great return to the nationwide sneak previews, with two from Sony – “Smurfs: The Lost Village” and “Only the Brave” (just last week), along with “Leap!” from The Weinstein Co., with screenings held for two days in August. And now the latest: Regal Cinemas and Bow Tie Cinemas have announced they’re holding screenings of “A Bad Moms Christmas” this Wednesday, Oct. 25, in a select number of their theaters across the country – with tickets costing regular admission prices.
Could this signal a real resurgence of $$$ advance screenings? With so many movies set for this holiday season, some studios may contemplate going with this method to get a boost in buzz and momentum heading into opening weekend.