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My recollection is that movies are not shown to the general public until their release date. I remember going to midnight screenings of highly anticipated movies when I was younger. My wife just got us tickets to the Last Jedi for this evening, but its release date is not until tomorrow. The answer to this question suggests Thursday evening screenings on the opening weekend are rare.

My question is how has the rate of occurrence of early screenings on opening weekend changed over the years?

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Yes, it has.

You may remember a few years back, there was a shooting at a midnight show of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. The industry was shaken by this black swan event, and there were a series of (in my opinion) irrational actions taken by the studios in response (including, for example, delayed reporting of box office numbers).

One of the responses to this was to move midnight premieres, which were regular events for the bigger tent-pole movies, to 7:00pm. Almost every movie released today comes with permission by the studio to begin shows on or after 7:00pm the night before the release.

Part of the rationale for this was that many guests prefer to arrive in-costume, and it was perceived after the shooting that this would make other guests uncomfortable. It was believed that an earlier showtime would help alleviate this.

Since the midnight movie shooting was a one-off event, it would be impossible to draw any conclusions about whether or not this was effective. However, it did have one important benefit, and that is to extend the opening weekend of every movie by about one day. It's not uncommon for a smaller release to pull in $1-2M from these advance screenings, while the big movies net $40+M.

Personally, I prefer the midnight shows. They were special - as a theater owner, we did not run them for every release (where now we typically open all releases on the Thursday before). We've definitely seen the loss of the special character of midnight screenings - especially the hordes of people dressed up as Harry Potter or Star Wars characters - but there's the added benefit of some additional revenue. I guess I prefer the costumes.

  • This is great. I now remember the Dark Knight incident and I bet that was around the last time I went to a midnight screening. They were a lot of fun. – StrongBad Mar 27 '18 at 15:08
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It is also worth noting that some statistical sources (eg boxofficemojo.com) show revenue and bums-on-seats occurring before the official release dates.

These occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes movies are shown at special festivals long before they are officially released; sometimes, especially for cult movies or movies likely to be very popular, there are screenings during the week before the official launch date. Early week showings have the advantage for distributors that the stats often count towards the launch weekend bolstering the "buzz" for the movie when the first-week stats are released. These practices are not routine, but are common enough that they are well-known.

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