Revival screenings thrive despite streaming

In the age of streaming video, moviegoers are still going to see older films in theaters. The big screen and the appeal of a communal viewing experience may be bringing in these patrons.

Warner Bros./AP/File
Bill Murray (l.), Bugs Bunny, and Michael Jordan in a scene from 'Space Jam.'

Despite the ease of streaming films on services such as Netflix and Hulu and the prevalence of home video libraries, with films available on DVD and Blu-ray, catching an older film on the big screen remains a popular pursuit.

And it’s not just at revival houses in bigger cities: The Michael Jordan/animated classic “Space Jam” received a two-day nationwide rerelease on Nov. 13 and 16 in celebration of its 20th anniversary. 

After Prince died unexpectedly in late April, AMC Theatres did a limited run of the music icon’s 1984 “Purple Rain” motion picture debut at 87 of its multiplexes.

Movie studios digitally restore the films prior to their rerelease on video, so exhibitors can usually show versions of classics that are more vibrant than the prints that were originally screened.

“There is a niche – but it’s a broad niche – of cinephiles who are willing and able to see these films in the best shape that they’ve been able to,” Tom Lucas, vice president of Studio Relations at Fathom Events, says.

Founded in 2002 and based in a suburb of Denver, Fathom Events is a distributor of self-described “cinematic events” such as live opera, theater, and music performances; BBC television programs, including “Sherlock” and “Dr. Who”; and faith-based films. Theatrical rereleases of feature films constitute about 20 percent of its offerings.

“People come out in the hundreds of thousands to celebrate key anniversaries and see restored or remastered films,” says John Rubey, chief executive officer of Fathom Events. “This despite the fact that they already own what they’re seeing on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and through Vudu or UltraViolet. 

“The big screen just can’t be replicated,” Mr. Lucas adds.

While advancements in consumer video and audio equipment make the at-home experience more comparable to the cinematic one, the communal aspect continues to be appealing to fans. “They’ve got to see it with everyone else,” Mr. Rubey notes.

Social media has helped to foster the mini-revival trend. Trailers for the rereleases are uploaded online (as well as played in movie theaters) and shared among friends and followers.

“As a business, Fathom would not exist on the scale that we do without that,” Rubey says. “Trailers create new awareness, and social media allows everyone to share and engage.”

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