Source: Park Circus

‘After Hours’

Cinemagoing is still down on pre-pandemic levels but one niche of the theatrical market that continues to grow is the re-release of classic films.

Last year, distributor Park Circus made £875,000 at the UK/Ireland box office with seasonal holiday screenings of Home Alone, while 30th anniversary re-releases of Jurassic Park and Hocus Pocus grossed £542,000 and £509,000 respectively. These are numbers that many new releases would struggle to achieve.

The company is at the Berlinale this week with its restoration of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, which screens tomorrow (February 21) in the festival’s classics section. It will go on to play at Glasgow Film Festival (March 3-7) before a UK cinema release on March 22. 

Doug Davis, who was appointed CEO of Park Circus in late 2022, speaks of “a definite boom time” for classic movies in the UK and international market. 

“As a company and a classics market, we think it’s an all-time high,” says Davis. “That’s partly because during Covid, exhibitors – while they were still able to operate – had a dearth of product. They experimented with classic products and, in almost all cases, it worked and they wanted to stick with it.”

Park Circus’s UK cinema releases over the next two months alone include the original Mary Poppins, One From The Heart, Interview With The Vampire, Fight Club, The Lavender Hill Mob, On The Waterfront and Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher. In October it will be re-releasing Foxy Brown on behalf of MGM for Black History month.

The company recently commissioned research from Gower Street Analytics and Comscore into the classics market. This hasn’t yet been published but one early finding Davis shares is that the UK and Ireland market for classic movies in 2022 and 2023 grew 139% compared to the 2017-19 average.

A generation ago, classic movies tended to be seen on scratchy prints in rep cinemas. Now, thanks to digital technology, they’re shown in spanking new copies on regular circuit screens. Glasgow-based Park Circus invests in new marketing materials for the films, often coming up with new trailers and posters.

Davis won’t reveal the terms on which Park Circus releases films on behalf of its clients, which include all of the Hollywood studios, but says “it’s not too dissimilar from traditional distribution”.

The re-releases aren’t just targeted at older audiences which may be nostalgic about seeing former favourites but are also marketed to younger cinemagoers who think that “retro is cool”, says Davis. The company can sometimes piggyback on its US studio partners’ social media accounts to reach such viewers.

Although Park Circus has a DVD and Blu-ray business, a market which Davis describes as “very resilient”, its main focus is on the theatrical side of the business. Other companies in the classics market tend to follow a different model, looking to re-releases to drive DVD and streaming sales.

Arrow Films re-released teen dark comedy Heathers (1989) in UK cinemas four years ago and did strong business, garnering £110,000 at the UK box office. 

“That success prompted us to look at theatrical re-releases in more detail,” says Arrow’s head of theatrical Cameron Waaler. However, as he also acknowledges, “in order to get a re-release back into cinemas these days, it needs to have a marketing hook – a brand new restoration or an anniversary. On a re-release, you have to be a lot more nimble and flexible in terms of bookings.”

Waaler won’t expect a seven-day booking on a classic movie, and accepts each film may be given only limited screenings.

“We also use the theatrical re-release as an engine for our home entertainment release,” he notes. Last June the company did a series of one-day-only screenings of Bruce Lee martial-arts classics such as Fist Of Fury and The Big Boss ahead of a limited edition Blu-ray collection of the star’s films.

Other recent Arrow re-releases include Old Boy and David Cronenberg’s Crash.

It’s not just in the UK where re-releases of classics have been doing solid business. Film Movement grossed $350,000 on 50 screens across North America with a 30th anniversary release last September of Chen Kaige’s 1993 Palme d’Or winner Farewell My Concubine

“This was far and away our biggest success with a revival theatrical because it was a new 4K restoration, and being shown uncut for the first time on screens in North America,” says Film Movement president Michael E. Rosenberg.

Other Film Movement re-releases include Ang Lee’s Pushing Hands and Nanni Moretti’s Dear Diary, while a new 4K restoration of Oliver Schmitz’s South African crime drama Mapantsula (1988) is scheduled for this summer.

Powell and Pressburger

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Source: Berlinale

‘Made In England: The Films Of Powell And Pressburger’

Accompanying the restorations and re-releases of these older titles are an increasing numbers of new feature documentaries about the directors behind them.

For instance, Made In England: The Films Of Powell And Pressburger about the legendary British filmmakers behind The Red Shoes narrated by Scorsese and directed by David Hinton, receives its world premiere as a Berlinale Special, also on February 21. 

The film was produced by Nick Varley and Matthew Wells. Varley was the founder of Park Circus. Ten years ago, he sold the company to event cinema specialist Arts Alliance. 

By then, he was beginning to make a series of short documentaries to support the movies Park Circus was releasing, including a few about the films of Stanley Kubrick which were directed by Wells.

“But we had this idea bubbling under for a film about Powell and Pressburger,” Varley remembers. 

Varley knew Michael Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker (also Scorsese’s editor) because of his earlier work on Powell and Pressburger restorations. Through her, he reached Scorsese. He also recruited David Hinton who had directed an episode of The South Bank Show on Powell and Pressburger several years before.

Initial financing came from Arts Alliance. Screen Scotland and BBC Film also came on board as did Altitude to handle world sales. Yesterday, it was announced that MUBI had acquired Made In England for multiple territories.

“Through Marty’s office, we very generously got an investment from Rolex and from Olivia Harrison [George Harrison’s widow],” explains Varley of some of the other sources of funding.

The doc is arriving just after a major season of Powell and Pressburger films has finished at the BFI Southbank in London, but is still expected to drive audiences to the pairs classic films such as Black Narcissus and The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, on DVD and streaming platforms.

In the meantime, those behind the theatrical releasing of classic older movies are expecting 2024 to be another strong year. As Arrow’s Waaler puts it: “I imagine we will see many more classic films being screened in cinemas in the coming 12 months simply because of the strikes in the US. Circuits will be struggling for content. There will be that need to fill those slots.”