The Movie Theaters Of Battle

If you, like most Americans, are seeing fewer movies, now you have another reason to stay out of movie theaters. Your money may be being used to promote right-wing propaganda and religious fundamentalism.

Over the past few years, theatrical films have suffered a noticeable decline in attendance. This has been blamed on a variety of factors including quality, content, cable and DVDs, cost, and even competition from other forms of leisure activities like video games and the Internet. The real reason is certainly a combination of all of the above. I would add that the overall experience of seeing a movie in a theater is less satisfying and more burdensome than ever. After having to contend with traffic, parking, crowds, concessions, and then being forced to sit through 20 minutes or more of commercials, it better be a damn good movie. And in most cases, it is not.

Now, in addition to the aesthetic and practical motivations to see movies, Justin Clark at gives us a portrait of Citizen [Philip] Anschutz, the Christian conservative CEO of Regal Cinemas:

Named Fortune’s “greediest executive” in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ‘ thirty-fourth richest American, two spots above Revlon’s Ronald Perelman. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country’s movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed.

Anschutz’ empire includes the Regal chain as well as the United Artists and Edwards chains. He also runs National Cinemedia, the largest theatrical advertising firm, and Crusader Entertainment, the producer of the “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Through aggressive acquisitions, Anscutz has formed an exhibition network that wields considerable power in Hollywood. Studios need theaters to play their films, and a major operator can create anxiety for producers if it imposes content restrictions on what it will play. That can serve to suppress free expression as the studios surrender their creative jurisdiction to crusading exhibitors in order to gain access to the widest distribution possible.

What’s happening here is not free-market decision making, but proselytic blackmail. And Anschutz has made it clear that this is his intention. Perhaps it is time for those who care about movies and creative freedom to make their intentions clear with their dollars. You do not have to deprive yourself of movies to do this. Exhibitors make the vast majority of their income from concessions. Abstaining from popcorn and soda (for which they gouge you anyway), you will have a much bigger impact than by not showing up. But it’s important to let them know why their concessions sales are declining.

Tell the manager what’s on your mind. To make it easier, I have made this card that you can print and leave with the manager on your way out. If you’re particularly motivated, print bunches of them and hand them out to everyone in line. Taking back the country means taking back the media, and movies are an important part of that. We can have better, more diverse and more entertaining films, in an ad-free environment, if we’re willing to fight for it. And the result would bring more people back to the theaters. A real win/win proposition.