Are 'The Battleship Island' Opening Records a Pyrrhic Victory?

  • By Kim Sung-hyun, Lee Tae-hoon

    July 28, 2017 13:20

    This summer's much-hyped film "The Battleship Island," which depicts the plight of Korean slave laborers on Hashima Island in World War II, set two records on its opening day Wednesday.

    First it drew 970,516 viewers, but it also opened on an unprecedented 2,027 theaters, breaking the previous record set by "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016 and pushing everything else out of sight.

    The film has reignited debate about the monopolization of theaters by big blockbusters. Even though it did not completely take over because multiplexes also show other movies, it still accounted for 37 percent of all screens.

    And the figures also need to tally the number of times a film is shown. Of 18,440 screenings in domestic theaters on Wednesday, "The Battleship Island" accounted for a staggering 55.2 percent. In other words, it took up more than half the screenings and the busiest evening slots, so for many moviegoers there was simply nothing else to see.

    Moviegoers line up at a theater in Yongsan, Seoul on Wednesday. /Yonhap

    But theaters have their own rules for allocating screenings. They allocate them in collaboration with distributors based on reserved ticket sales, seat occupancy rates and box-office sales.

    As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, advance bookings for "The Battleship Island" stood at 70.6 percent. Second was teen comedy franchise "Superbad 3" at 14 percent. "The Battleship Island" boasted a seat occupancy rate of 52.8 percent on Wednesday, the highest in a month, and theaters argue they have to offer more screening of films if there is demand.

    Yet the initial success of a movie does not guarantee overall ticket sales will be stellar. Kim Hyung-ho, a movie market analyst, said, "Allocating a large number of screens to movies generating big ticket sales is an endemic trait of multiplexes. But the huge number of viewers flocking to a premiere also means that word of mouth spreads faster if the film is no good, which could end up leading to empty theaters down the road."

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