|Williamstown's Images Cinema Enjoying Banner Summer|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
08:09AM / Sunday, August 20, 2023
|Williamstown's independent theater has had a box-office bonanza this summer and expects its higher-than-normal attendance to continue with the opening of "Oppenheimer" over the weekend. |
Moviegoers queue up for a private screening recently at Images. The single-screen theater and Pittsfield's Beacon Cinema are now the only open movie houses in the county.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Greta Gerwig is the undisputed favorite of North County cinephiles.
The folks at Images Cinema have the receipts to prove it.
"In the before times, pre-COVID, the biggest film we ever had was 'Little Women,' which was directed by Greta Gerwig," Images Executive Director Dan Hudson said this week. "I'm finding it interesting that [Gerwig's] 'Barbie' is now our biggest box office draw."
And it is part of a big summer for the community-run, non-profit theater on Spring Street.
On the success of June's "Asteroid City" and July's "Barbie," Images already is having its biggest summer on record. And Friday's North County premiere of "Oppenheimer" figures to help that record grow.
The summer months got off to a solid start with the animated "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," but Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" doubled Spidey's box office numbers in Williamstown.
In fact, over its three-week run, "Asteroid City" brought in just more than $15,000, challenging the $16,869 that "Little Women" generated in 2019.
The opening weekend for "Asteroid City" (June 23-25) brought in 478 movie-goers and $3,892 in gross revenue, the biggest weekend at the Images box office in 20 years.
But, Barbie said, "Hold my pink cocktail."
The Gerwig-helmed blockbuster brought in 947 attendees and a $7,859 gross from Friday, July 21, to Sunday, July 23.
"The opening week of 'Barbie,' we had five sell-outs," Hudson said. "Three of those were opening day. That made it also our most sold-out film ever. Many other screenings in the first two weeks were nearly at capacity."
With four shows left on Wednesday and Thursday, "Barbie" had done twice the total business as "Asteroid City," Hudson said.
It helped that "Barbie" had an unusually long, for Images, four-week run.
"It's definitely a strategy that we were pursuing, specifically in the context of how we program differently in the summer than the rest of the year," Hudson said of "Barbie's" engagement. "When school is in session, Williams College is a big partner for us.
"We went after studio 'tent pole' movies that had crossover appeal: award recognition movies and also some fun summer movies. That's how we selected the films we did, because they were first-run studio films, we ran them longer than would be typical."
Hudson said the closures in recent years for multiplexes in North Adams and at the Berkshire Mall factored into decisions about how to program the single-screen art house in Williamstown.
"Showing the animated 'Spider-Man' movie earlier this summer, something that normally would have played at the North Adams multiplex, that would be an example of that," he said.
A different closure, albeit temporary, factored into Images' summer revenue boom as well.
"'Asteroid City' normally would have been at the Triplex in Great Barrington, but they've closed while they're restructuring," Hudson said. "We did get a boost from people coming up from South County who wanted to see it in the theater.
"We would have wanted to show that film whether or not the Triplex was open, but we did see a bump in attendance."
Hudson said he did hear the criticism that Images got in social media for bringing in films that some considered out of line with the theater's traditional fare with a heavy emphasis on independent films. But he did not feel the need to defend the decision.
"There are always going to be a few people who wish we'd shown a different movie, or that we'd never shown 'Barbie,'" he said. "We are a single-screen theater, so we're limited with what we can bring in. Whether it's 'Barbie' or something else, there are always a few people who wished we'd brought in something else. There were a few people who didn't like the animated 'Spider-Man' movie. If we show any studio movie, there are people who are going to be upset.
"But these same people weren't picketing when we showed 'The Fablemans' around the holidays, and that was a big studio movie. And some of the people who are upset we showed 'Barbie' and 'Spider-Man' are clamoring for 'Oppenheimer,' which is a big studio movie."
Speaking of those studios, this summer's strikes by writers and actors are threatening to choke off the supply of films and do further harm to an industry already struggling before an injection from the summer of "Barbenheimer."
"There were some first-run bigger indie films we expected we'd play in September that have been delayed due to the strikes," Hudson said. "It's something that will potentially affect us. But we aren't able to do that many big studio first-run movies during the school year anyway, so I think this programming mode where we program one way in the summer and the other way the other nine months of the year will continue.
One film he can point to in the near future is Martin Scorses' highly anticipated "Killers of the Flower Moon," which is coming to Images in October for a multi-week run.
"It's kind of on a film-by-film basis how often we'll be doing a big studio film versus programming films that are smaller, indie or foreign, which is on brand for Images," Hudson said. "And we want to continue to bring that kind of programming.
"We're really trying to program for the whole community. Not every single film will be for everyone. But within the context of the full calendar year, there's a spectrum of programming."