Film company exhibition tracks

posted by ArchStanton007 on April 30, 2007 at 4:45 am

How does the track system begin and change over time with movie theaters?

Does a theater chain sign a contract with a distributor to play its product at a specific list of movie theaters? How does this change over time? Was looking at microfilm ads and noticed one former Century theater ( New Rochelle, NY) had switched from running steady United Artists and MGM films to Universal and 20th Century Fox in the early 1970’s.

Aside from Jason Squires book “The Movie Business” are there any others that were written about distribution and exhibition patterns, etc??

Thanks much

Comments (1)

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 4, 2007 at 11:32 pm


I realise no one with more insight has answered, so here are my experiences.

When I worked for ABC Florida State Theatres in the early seventies we were aligned with Warner Bros. and United Artists. We would play all their films without exception along with half of the Buena Vista product in rotation. There was little diversion on the whole but there were exceptions in zones where we either did not have a theatre or a competitor did not.

In the South Florida area, screens were divided into three “tracks”. The first track consisted of all the larger screens in each booking zone and was the largest group with every zone represented. The second group was around on third the size and represented about half the zones as many did not have more than one screen.

The third group was made up of three screens.

The large track would get wide releases such as James Bond, Disney and the dirty harry sequels. Track two would get the more eclectic films such as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, KLUTE and WHAT’S UP? which needed time to build an audience.

The third track consisted of exclusive long engagements in each major population area, in this case Miami, Miami Beach and Ft.Lauderdale. This track would host long runs of films such as ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and A STAR IS BORN in smallish screens.

The film bookers negotiated the tracks with each distributors. If the movie proved to be a blockbuster it would simply sell out week after week in the small track with no threat from DVD and with film rentals dropping in favor of the exhibitor. It was not rare for films to sit in the small screen at a twin for six months while flop after flop moved through the big screen for one-week runs. If all three distributors had Christmas films something got bumped till later resulting in some films opening months after their dates elsewhere. When product available was low we would play re-releases usually from those same distributors. BILLY JACK and BLAZING SADDLES (WB), GONE WITH THE WIND and RYAN’S DAUGHTER (UA) were perennial fillers.

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