Indie Cinema Forces: Demand for Visual Media

For two decades, American filmgoers have been buying roughly a billion tickets each year.

In 1989, the film industry was a $5 billion business (1.1 billion ticket sale), the highest since 1984, and in 1993, as a result of summer hits and record-breaking holiday season, another peak of 1.2 billion was reached. In 1998, the film industry boasted an all-time record business of $6.88 billion, with an estimated 1.4 billion tickets sold.

In 1984, the studios’ cumulative revenues from domestic ticket and videos sales was $2.4 billion, of which a third came from videos. In 1985, the cumulative take was 3 billion, with half coming from videos. Video distributors became an important source of production money in 1987, when for the first time more (1,040,000) video cassettes were rented than theater tickets (1,030,000) sold. In the 1990s, studios’ domestic revenues from homevideos amount to about 23 percent.

Initially, industry executives feared that video would become Hollywood’s enemy, a dreaded competitor for viewers. But quite the contrary, the VCR revolution shored up the Hollywood industry, and many VCR owners became more avid moviegoers after purchasing their VCRs. Renting videos has apparently exposed them to movie culture, encouraging them to read and know more about movies.

Correspondingly, entertainment news coverage became more visibly aggressive in all the media, evidenced by the popularity of film magazines like Premiere, the showbiz publication Entertainment Weekly, and the consistently high ratings for Entertainment Tonight (E.T.), not to mention popular shows on network E! and Access Hollywood.

The fact that nonconventional movies, such as Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade, Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, and Robert Duvall’s The Apostle, are playing on hundreds of screens at multiplexes all over the country is most encouraging. The increase in the number of screens across the country has been a positive factor for the new indies. In 1975, there were 16,000 screens, in 1985, 22,000, and in 1997 over 27,000. Multiplexes now program at least one or two high-profile indies on their screens.