Cost-Cutting Measures

Movie options during economically tough times

Nov 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

The average Hollywood movie now costs more than $100 million to make and market. Some would characterize that as an abomination given our current economic climate, but Hollywood has never been known for its frugality.

Made near the end of The Great Depression in 1938 and 1939, uber-producer David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind cost a then-astronomical $3.7 million. But the investment paid off — the lavish epic garnered 10 Academy Award nominations (including a Best Picture win) and it still holds the record for the most tickets sold in the history of cinema.

It’s often been said that movies transport us to an alternate universe, a place where we can leave our daily concerns behind and tune out for two hours. (Or, in the case of Selznick’s juggernaut, three hours and 46 minutes.) Yet unlike the Gone With the Wind era, we now have many ways in which we can numb ourselves from the shitty state of the world today. Video games, the Internet, iPods, fantasy football, HD televisions with hundreds of channels and various other technological do-dads allow us to live in our own little cocooned bubbles.

The rise of these competing media has blunted the impact of the movies. More films than ever are released each year, yet fewer break through to become true cultural touchstones. Even a relative smash like Twilight has a limited audience: lovelorn teenage girls and vampire geeks. A week or two atop the box-office heap is a far cry from Gone With the Wind’s four-year stay in movie houses.

But the state of contemporary cinema is not our topic of the day — this is CityBeat’s “Holidays on the Cheap” issue. Movies are actually one of the cheaper ways to spend what’s left of your disposable income this holiday season.

(The quality of the product is an entirely different issue.) While a single firstrun adult movie ticket now costs nearly $10 in Cincinnati ($14.50 in New York City), it’s still more affordable than your average sporting event, theatrical production, Rock show or dinner.

True, popcorn, drinks and other treats can add up quickly — often costing more than the movie itself — but there’s an easy solution: Don’t consume them. Sneak in an apple or a bagel. On the other hand, please do not bring in a four-course meal, as one asinine Toronto Film Festival patron did earlier this year, spilling his tub of hummus on my lap during a screening of Guillermo Arriaga’s directorial debut, The Burning Plain.

Then there’s the age-old (well, at least since the advent of the multiplex, which has been around my entire life) option of “house jumping,” aka sneaking into another movie when the first one is over. Of course, I’m not recommending you do this, but I won’t tell if you don’t. I once watched five consecutive movies on a snowed-in Saturday, including back-to-back screenings of Jane Campion’s flawed but totally engrossing 1996 adaptation of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. (I like John Malkovich as an actor and as a dude — check out his illuminating recent interview on Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment — but his craggy, miscast visage was too much for even
Isabel Archer to overcome.)

If a night at the first-run multiplex or art house is still too pricey for you, there are cheaper ways to satiate your movie fix. With big-screen-to-home-viewing windows collapsing to as little as a few months, in some cases (pay-per-view TV and Netflix) you can stay on top of the cinematic scene without ever leaving the
comfort of your couch. (Curious contextual tidbit: Gone With the Wind didn’t appear on television until 1976, nearly 40 years after its theatrical release.)

Netflix. What could be better than receiving that glorious red envelope in the mail? Its reassuring presence is a psychic counterbalance to that menacing green postcard notice you get for not paying your
latest parking ticket on time. For as little as $8.99 a month, you can rent titles from Netflix’s eclectic, well-stocked virtual warehouse ( — organizing one’s personalized Queue is an all-consuming art in itself. Just don’t follow my recent Netflix track record: While I’m sure it’s possible to squeeze in more than a dozen rentals in any 30-day period, I’ve had Buster Keaton’s The General for more than six months now. Yes, that’s six month’s worth of membership fees on one rental. (In my defense, it was lost amid the avalanche of DVDs piling up next to my TV.)

Cincinnati Public Library, Main Branch. This place is a film buff’s wet dream: free four-day rentals from a selection that includes thousands of DVD titles in every genre and era. Sure, newer releases can be tough to snag, but with a collection this large, only a pickiest of cinefiles wouldn’t be able to find something of interest. Did I mention they’re free? Well, that is if you bring them back on time: I added to my recent months-long Keaton marathon with two more silent classics — Birth of a Nation and Battleship Potemkin — both of which I turned in way late. Sensing a pattern here?

Danbarry Cinemas. If you insist on actually going to a “cinemas” yet don’t want to pay first-run rates, this series of second-run movie houses is a decent option. While the quality of the screens, seats and film prints is pretty weak, you can’t beat the $3 ticket price ($1.75 on Tuesdays). Better yet, the dilapidated Western Hills location — which doesn’t seem to have been updated since it opened in the 1990s — is like a trip back to the days when old-school, single-screen movie houses weren’t spotless, technologically enhanced, cookie-cutter joints. Yes, character counts — even in a place that insists on screening The Bucket List for months on end.

Of course, the ultimate in cost-cutting measures would be to go without movies altogether. Me? I’d rather go without replacing my recently wrecked Plymouth Breeze than sacrifice the glories of our greatest art form.