Steven Soderbergh's release plan, MoviePass program shake up movie business

It’s been part of American life for decades: Consumers pay to see films and movie studios and movie theaters profit. But that process is being disrupted, and it’s happening against the backdrop of a tough summer for Hollywood. 

Claudette Barius/Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street/AP
Adam Driver (l.) and Channing Tatum in 'Logan Lucky.'

It’s been part of American life for decades: Consumers pay to see films and movie studios and movie theaters profit. But that process is being disrupted, and it’s happening against the backdrop of a tough summer for Hollywood. 

Director Steven Soderbergh recently drew attention because he had sole control (no movie studio was involved) over his August film “Logan Lucky.” Mr. Soderbergh raised money to make the film by selling distribution rights outside the United States and then amassed marketing funds by selling post-theater rights to companies like Amazon. The movie, which had a production budget of $29 million, has grossed more than $35 million worldwide. “I think there’s going to be more and more of that,” says Ross Brown, director of Antioch University Santa Barbara’s master of fine arts in writing and contemporary media program. 

Then in August, subscription service MoviePass began offering people one movie ticket a day for about $10 a month. Theater chain giant (and former MoviePass partner) AMC is unhappy, saying it will depress ticket prices and further erode studio profits. AMC says it “is consulting with its attorneys” to see if it can prevent people from using the passes at its locations. 

At the same time, Hollywood is facing dismal summer box-office numbers, with the North American summer box-office ranking the lowest since 2006 without adjusting for inflation or looking at increasing ticket costs. (Since then, horror film “It” has caused the box-office performance to jump a bit, beating projections in its opening weekend.)

Overall, it’s bad news for the studios. “They’re going to have to do a postmortem,” says Mr. Brown. The question, he says, is, Are box-office numbers down because Hollywood made the wrong movies, or because there are so many entertainment options? “There are just so many choices – and good choices – for how to spend your entertainment time and dollars,” he says. “[And] that just puts more pressure on the movies.”

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