In April, Everything Everywhere all at once with Michelle Yeoh it was released in theaters across the country. The film was released on streaming services in May and was released on DVD and Blu-ray in July. On October 10, Vancouver’s independent Rio Theater was able to book the film for the first time.
Owner Corinne Lea says these waiting times are getting longer.
Theaters like hers were receiving such films within two to three weeks of their initial release, he says.
“It’s six months to a year to go now,” he told CBC News.
“It’s often streamed online. You can watch it on the plane, you can see it everywhere except in our theater.”
Lea is among independent theater owners across the country who claim to be the last in line to acquire films. They say distributors tell them they have to wait until the larger chains – mainly Cineplex Entertainment – are done with the films, which independent exhibitors say is taking longer than ever and hurting their business.
“We are often not allowed to play a movie while that movie has already been released for online rental,” said Wendy Huot, owner of the Screening Room in downtown Kingston, Ontario.
Rachel Fox, who manages reservations for the Rio, says she has been told by distributors that if a Cineplex anywhere in Vancouver is showing a movie, they can’t book it.
He says he asked about the movie Elvis after it became available for streaming Craving and I was told no. She says the theater is not able to book yet Top Gun: Maverickwhich was released in May.
“Every Monday we have to send a distributor some sort of embarrassed email asking if a film has passed Cineplex, which means that if the return to the box office has been low enough over the weekend something else is knocking it out.” Fox said.
He says the cinema will also have the films retired if Cineplex takes an interest in them, often during the Oscar season.
The financial pressures of the pandemic may have signaled a shift in how Cineplex is approaching theatrical release, says Joseph Clark, assistant professor of film at Simon Fraser University.
Independent cinemas “have always had to wait until the big chain, Cineplex, was done with big studio releases. But now they have to do it with some kind of hugely successful festival film and so on that have always been distributed by independent distributors.” Clark said.
Cineplex said in a recent publication that it focused on “partnerships with non-traditional studios” and managing more “international product” – the kind of film Clark said would traditionally show in independent theaters.
Cineplex also said its September box office earnings were 52% compared to the same month in 2019.
In Canada, Hollywood films tend to be distributed from their studio – Warner Bros. produces and operates Elvisfor example, while independent films often go to Canadian distributors.
Many of these distributors, including Warner, Toronto-based Mongrel Media, and Elevation Pictures, which manages Everything Everywhere all at once in Canada – declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.
Cineplex refused an interview request. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Ultimately, it is up to the film distributors where to screen their films.”
The company held 75% of the market share at the box office in 2019, according to an investor report from 2021, followed by Landmark Cinemas at 12% and Quebec chain Cinémas Guzzo at 2%. All other theaters combined accounted for 11%.
Landmark CEO Bill Walker said in an email that his company does not require any restrictions on where distributors screen their films.
An executive at a Canadian distributor is unaware of any pressure from Cineplex to prevent films from showing in other theaters.
“There has never been – at least, I have never seen – anything that Cineplex or anyone else tries to take advantage of their place in the market,” said John Bain, LevelFILM’s head of acquisitions and distributions.
“Hey, but we live in the real world and they have 75% of theaters in Canada and you have to take that into account when making decisions.”
Bain says there are many reasons – the proximity of other theaters, the cost to the distributor – why a film could only be shown in one cinema in a given city. He admits that the ever-shorter turnaround between theatrical and streaming releases of a film adds to the challenges for independent cinemas.
“The economics of independent cinema is a little more complicated in theaters these days to make money,” Bain said.
He says he is concerned about the health of independent cinemas in the country.
“There are a lot fewer of them than before. They really are a kind of support for indie films and feature films,” he said. “It’s important to me that they are healthy, but ultimately all stakeholders are also making decisions that maximize their profit, including distributors and theaters.”
The network of independent Canadian exhibitors, an alliance of 79 independent theaters, including the Rio, he complained about everything this to the Competition Bureau in March 2020, arguing that Cineplex has too dominant a position in the market, in violation of competition law.
The office would not confirm whether it is investigating, citing legal confidentiality obligations.
The nature of Canadian competition law makes it difficult to say whether there could be a successful legal case, says Jennifer Quaid, an associate professor in the law school at the University of Ottawa.
Determining whether a company has too much influence on a market is a “contextual assessment,” he said.
“There’s no definition that says it’s X percent of the market.”
Quaid also says there aren’t many cases going on about abuse of dominance and restrictive business practices, which makes it particularly difficult to speculate on this case.
The number of theaters that could show a film was limited by the number of existing copies, each of which had an associated cost. The distribution process is now digital, but Huot says distributors haven’t changed their practices.
She says she’s willing to pay the same movie rates as multiplexes and would like to know what needs to happen for the Screening Room to have access to the new releases.
“We’re not a discount, a second run theater, we’re just a second run because we can’t be anything else,” he said.