- More blockbuster TV shows like “Last of Us” should be shown on the big screen.
- TV budgets have ballooned to movie-like levels, and some shows would look great in a theater.
- Plus, exhibitors could use the content as studios are releasing fewer movies in theaters.
In November, the first two episodes of the third season of the TV show “The Chosen,” a historical drama about Jesus Christ, earned nearly $9 million during its opening weekend in over 2,000 theaters.
It was just shy of topping the weekend’s other new release — the film “The Menu” — which made $9 million.
“The Chosen” screening, released by entertainment company Fathom Events, ultimately earned around $15 million — more than the totals for some actual movies and potential Oscar contenders like “She Said” and “Tár.
It raised the question: Should more TV shows be put on the big screen?
I saw the first episode of “The Last of Us,” HBO’s video-game adaptation that premieres Sunday, at a screening at the Angelika Film Center in New York, and my answer is “yes.”
The show is the latest big-budget spectacle of cinematic quality to hit the small screen. It cost more per episode than early seasons of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” did, according to The New Yorker. And that money is well spent: The show looks and sounds great, especially in a theater.
As the rise in streaming created a content arms race, TV budgets ballooned to movie-like levels.
The final season of “Game of Thrones”cost $15 million per episode, and its prequel “House of the Dragon” about $20 million per episode, Variety reported. Amazon spent $465 million to make the first season of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. And Disney continues to drop big bucks on its Marvel and Star Wars series.
“House of the Dragon” has a movie-like budget and deserves to be seen at a theater.
Media companies are missing out on an opportunity to make money and drive excitement for these series ahead of their TV premieres. Why not offer limited-time screenings of TV premieres or finales that cater to a show’s fanbase?
There’s precedent for it, too, even though the strategy “hasn’t been adopted or taken hold in a consistent manner,” Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Insider.
Fathom Events, which specializes in event cinema, jumped into this space in 2013 when it partnered with the BBC to show “The Day of the Doctor,” a special episode of “Doctor Who,” in 3D theaters. That event earned nearly $5 million, according to Fathom Events CEO Ray Nutt.
In 2015, the last two episodes of the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” along with a teaser for season five, were shown in Imax theaters. The airings earned $2 million from just 205 theaters, according to The Los Angeles Times, and the episodes had already aired on HBO.
If the practice were to become more regular and mainstream, Nutt said that screenings would have to be “special, with an added benefit,” such as live Q&As, sneak peeks, or deleted scenes.
Of course, both media companies and exhibitors would have to come to agreements over these kinds of showings.
Fathom Events licenses content from providers for a certain window of days and then partners with theatrical exhibitors to show the content. Each party gets a share of the box office.
“Everyone has a stake and has an incentive to promote the content,” Nutt said.
Theaters would essentially be helping market a series, while also getting extra product at a time when theatrical film releases remain down from pre-pandemic levels. There were 75 wide releases (movies in 1,800 or more theaters) in 2022, according to Comscore, down from 113 in 2019.
“That gives you an idea of the growth opportunities in the event-cinema and alternative-content space,” Nutt said. “The theater industry is changing, and we need to think differently about content in movie theaters.”
In August and September last year, for example, the box office was struggling without major tentpole. Meanwhile, blockbuster shows like “House of the Dragon” and “The Rings of Power” had premiered on the small screen. Theaters could have used that kind of content.
“Whatever can spark enthusiasm for going to the theater and filling seats is a good thing no matter how you slice it,” Dergarabedian said.