The local cinema turns ten
Shortly before children and parents began lining up to see Saturday’s matinee showing of “The Peanuts Movie,” Wrangell’s theater program passed its ten-year milestone.
The Castle Mountain Theater is a city department that runs current films at the Nolan Center.
“It was also part of the reason the Nolan Center was built,” explained Kris Reed, who has managed the theater since its inception.
Up to that point, Wrangell had lacked a movie theater since the last had closed down during the mid-1970s.
“‘Jaws was the last movie shown, if I remember correctly,” Reed recalled. Steven Spielberg’s shark-based thriller defined the summer blockbuster way back in 1975.
On Dec. 16, 2005 local movie-goers were admitted to the first movie shown, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
Over 520 weekends later, local audiences have watched more than 350 feature films. The majority of these have been rated PG-13, aimed at teenage and young adult audiences. Reed explained this was a goal of the original steering committee when the theater was being organized, finding family-friendly features that catered to the widest slice of the community.
Castle Mountain has avoided showing any gratuitous films, though the occasional R-rating has made its way to the screen when receiving critical acclaim. For the most part, this has a tendency to cut down on attendance, and therefore those films earn less over a weekend.
Of the 27 R-rated pictures shown over the past decade, Reed estimated sales averaged $967 per film. Though fewer in number, the 17 G-rated films on average earned the most of any other rating with $1,556.52 per film. The 111 PG-rated movies averaged $1,418.95, and the 201 PG-13 films which are the theater’s main attraction earn an average of $1,391.64.
Typically, children’s animated and action-adventure films make for the highest grossing weekends. The best single weekend was in August 2006, when “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” brought in $3,933 in ticket sales. Conversely, the worst weekend was earlier that same year in March, where the R-rated “Mrs. Henderson Presents” brought in a paltry $216.81.
Some films play out over multiple weekends. For those wondering when “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” will be shown, the film’s distributor requires a four-week commitment for an initial showing instead of the usual two weeks. For a single-cinema theater, that can pose a problem.
“It’s not that we can’t, it just cuts way down on how many movies we can show through the year,” said Reed.
The only film planned to play more than two weekends at the theater was Disney’s “Frozen,” which during its three weekends in 2013 also earned the most of any film shown at $5,644.25.
While the excitement surrounding the new Star Wars film makes an initial showing tempting, Reed explained four weeks – possibly five depending on how well its run continues – would be too long of a stretch for one screen. But after its initial run, the latest installment of the Lucasfilm space opera may be available for a less lengthy commitment by the end of January.
“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed,” she said hopefully. Star Wars has already broken box office records in its opening weekend, earning $238 million in North American theaters. With a deluge of reviews hitting the Internet, Wrangell fans of the series will just have to watch out for spoilers for another month.
Between concessions and admissions, Wrangell’s theater earned about $72,000 during the 2015 fiscal year. These pay for a number of items, from film acquisition and advertising costs to setup and maintenance. A portion of the Nolan Center’s operating expenses is also covered by theater revenues, and the revenue left over goes into a reserve fund for the program, which on June 30 was up to $28,354.
The reserve fund goes toward covering maintenance and eventually
upgrading equipment. The two 35-mm film projectors the
theater was using when it began operations a decade ago were replaced four years ago during the industry-wide transition to digital media. Part of the cost for that transition was
covered by an allocation from the city, but the rest were
paid for with saved ticket revenues.
The theater is also one of a handful of businesses where teenagers can work. Giving students part-time work was another of the steering committee’s original goals.
“At first it was a way for students at the school to earn community service hours,” said Reed. The theater also has two part-time employees, which include herself and assistant manager Greg Acuna, who began earlier this fall and handles most of the day-to-day operations.
The next showing will be this weekend, with Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” a PG-rated adventure about a cave-boy who befriends an Apatosaurus. Check local listings for show times.