By Wini Austin
At the 2018 Academy Awards in March, critically-acclaimed movies such as “Lady Bird,” “The Post,” “Get Out,” “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Shape of Water” will compete for awards and acclaim. Yet at Grinnell’s Strand Theater, many of the year’s most talked-about films were absent from the lineup.
Thought locally owned, the Strand Theater is one of twenty movie theaters operated in Iowa and Nebraska by R.L. Fridley, Inc. With its friendly atmosphere and retro lobby décor, the Strand is a destination for many residents of Grinnell, but some members of the community have wondered how the programming decisions are made at the Strand — why some popular films make the cut, while others do not.
Ultimately, it comes down to availability, economics and demographics. R.L. Fridley president and film booker Brian Fridley explained how these factors control the movie titles that make it to the big screen at Grinnell and other Fridley locations.
“We don’t get to play whatever we want, whenever we want. The film companies decide where and when their films play; we can only make requests,” Fridley wrote in an email to The S&B.
When deciding which theaters should show their films, companies like Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and Universal Studios look at the gross profits of comparable movies at each location. If the returns are not high enough, that theater will be less likely receive similar films.
Film companies also consider the number of screens a theater has.
“With only three screens in Grinnell, the options are limited,” Fridley explained. “I must decide on what will bring the most people to the theatre in a given week.”
Using film companies’ tracking data, Fridley also considers the level of interest different demographics have in certain films. Critically-acclaimed horror satire “Get Out,” for example, was played at the Strand for a week in March 2017, but generated meager box office success. “Lady Bird” and “Call Me by Your Name” also met with limited demand.
“The Oscar-nominated films in past years have not translated into want-to-see by the public,” Fridley wrote.
“The Shape of Water,” which was nominated for thirteen Oscars, earned only $507 in Fridley’s best-grossing theaters — a financial loss. If that happens too frequently, investors are responsible for making up the losses.
Evidently, the absence of certain popular movies in Grinnell reflects the economic demands of its residents, and the limitations of a small movie theater.
While many factors prevent some movies from making it to Grinnell, Fridley Theatre’s programming decisions for the Strand take into account the entertainment interests of a wide range of audiences, from college students to the elderly.
“I try to balance the lineup when possible so we have something for everyone,” Fridley wrote.
Upcoming titles at the Strand include “Fifty Shades Freed,” “Peter Rabbit” and “12 Strong.”