Kurland On Film Editorials: Diminishing Returns or The Death of Independent Cinema


By Scott Kurland

            Usually, the term diminishing returns has to do with sequels, spin-offs, or reboots. If a film franchise begins to dip in financial returns that said trilogy, quadropoly, or what have you is either killed or spun-off with one of the more popular characters in the lead. However, diminishing returns also has to do with dooming great independent cinema from being seen. Last year the highest grossing Anime film in the history of Japan “Your Name” came to America with an English dub for a six week run. Yet, people didn’t see it and the six week run became a condensed three week run. This editorial is going to focus on why diminishing returns shouldn’t make a difference when it comes to independent cinema.

            Most states and local communities don’t have independent theaters, so distributors broker deals with multiplexes for their indie films to be seen. However, with the renovation to multiplexes it’s more for the theaters to cater to action flicks, comedies, and superhero movies. So instead of giving smaller films a chance with consistence four showings a day, they’re pushed to either a single night show or a midnight screening.

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            I know what you’re thinking, why are you even bringing this up Scott? Well it’s because I’ve noticed a steady decline of independent films  and their run in mainstream theaters. In 2009 films like the “Brothers Bloom” and “Sugar” found a home either in the movie theater or video rental (keep in mind this was a time when video stores still existed). It was in 2014 the decline started as to take hold with the rise of VOD same day as theaters, that year Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe had two films that were in and out of theaters in the blink of an. The films in question are “Horns” and “What If…” How did a man go from being the number one box office draw from 2002 till 2011 to having two fantastic films in 2014 not seen by anyone. Well for starters 2014 was not the best year for romantic comedies, “What If…” was a great one, but because there was too much “romcom congestion” no one cared.

            Moving forward to this year it’s May but so far we’ve had three fantastic films that were pushed by the wayside and had their runs cut in half. First there’s “Early Man” aardman entertainments stop-motion hysterical family film, but because it was released at the same as both “Paddington 2” and “Peter Rabbit” no one saw it. It went from one full week with six showings, to a second final week of only mommy & me showings. Because it was a tame well received film with a British dry wit no one wanted to see it. The second film was Natalie Portman’s trippy sci-fi gem “Annihilation” a film that was totted as the next “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Yet, it had the misfortunate of coming out a week after “Black Panther” and too many viewers thought it was too dark and confusing. There’s no bigger kiss of death for a film then bad word of mouth and being told your film is too confusing. The final film in this equation is Anton Yelchin’s final film before his death “Thoroughbreds,” another  brilliantly dark film like “Annihilation”  that was too smart for it’s own good. This film was the perfect combination of “Heathers,” “American Psycho,” and “Taxi Driver.”

            So what have we learned, if anything? For starters diminishing returns are killing cinema runs for decent independent films. Long ago a indies got two weeks at four showings a day no matter what. These days not so much. I don’t know if it’s the rise of the digital streaming age, or the lack of interest in original content. Whatever the case may be if viewers continue to snub smaller movies in the theaters we’re looking at the end of independent cinemas in local communities. Not every town is lucky enough to have an Landmark cinemas like Boston and New York, or an Archlight and New Beverly like in LA. If your local Showcase, AMC, or Cinemark gets an indie feature go see it.


scott kurland