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Many theaters refuse to book "Hurt Locker" despite Oscar win

March 9, 2010 |  5:00 pm

Bigelow Even a best picture Oscar isn't enough to get theaters excited about playing a movie already on DVD.

On Monday, the day after their movie "The Hurt Locker" won top prizes at the Academy Awards, Summit Entertainment chief executive Rob Friedman and his team worked the phones trying to expand the Iraq war drama's run beyond the 283 theaters where it played last weekend. The independent studio was hoping to capitalize on its victories, which also included the director prize for Kathryn Bigelow, and enhance the picture's paltry $14.7-million domestic box-office total.

But most of the nation's major exhibition chains refused to give Summit more screens, citing a policy of not showing films that are already available to watch at home. Two of the three biggest, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark, agreed to play the movie at just a handful of theaters, according to a knowledgeable person. However, Regal Entertainment, the biggest theater circuit in the U.S., won't show the film at all, the person said.

Regal did not immediately respond for comment.

Because exhibitors want to discourage studios from releasing films on DVD before they finish playing in theaters, they generally refuse to re-book a movie after it's available in home entertainment formats. They do occasionally bend that rule, however. For example, Warner Bros. has re-released 2004's "The Polar Express" several times during the holiday season, as has Walt Disney Studios each Halloween with "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

In total, Summit was only able to book 35 new theaters for "The Hurt Locker" in the U.S. this Friday, bringing its total to 318. Most are independent theaters or part of small chains.

After coming out on DVD Jan. 12, "The Hurt Locker" has continued to play at just a few hundred theaters, some of which don't typically play first-run films.

In Los Angeles, "The Hurt Locker" is already playing at several theaters, including ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood and The Landmark in West L.A.

"The Hurt Locker" has performed well in the home entertainment market. Through Saturday, Summit sold 780,000 DVDs and electronic downloads. In addition, the movie has been rented 5.4 million times by consumers. That's a relatively high number for a movie that has grossed less than $15 million.

It will likely get a further boost in DVD sales and rentals this week following the Oscars.

The last Oscar best picture winner that was already on DVD was "Crash," which took the prize in 2006. Lionsgate was only able to book the movie in about 200 theaters after it won. Over four weeks it generated $1.2 million in additional box-office receipts.

--Ben Fritz and Claudia Eller

Photo: Director-producer Kathryn Bigelow holding her two Oscars for "The Hurt Locker" at Sunday's ceremony. Credit: Gabriel Buoys / AFP / Getty Images.

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