Has The Lion King paved the way for more big screen re-releases of older hits?

News Simon Brew 19 Sep 2011 - 07:23
The Lion King

Can the sizeable succes of The Lion King's re-release in US cinemas pave the way for wider re-releases of popular, older films?

Appreciating that it didn’t have too much competition at the box office over the weekend, the nonetheless staggering business that the 3D reissue of The Lion King rustled up these past few days in America must have opened up some eyes.

The film brought in an opening weekend of $29.3m in the US, comfortably winning the weekend. Second placed Contagion scored $14.4m, whilst the brilliant Drive had to content itself with $11m (the second week running that a terrific film has underperformed at the US box office, after Warrior).

What’s particularly interesting about the success of The Lion King, though, is that it arrives on Blu-ray in a month’s time, and yet it can still motivate lots of people to go and watch the film on a big screen. Granted, some of the success will be attributed to the decision to do a 3D makeover on the movie. But we suspect it’s something a bit more primal than that: people just wanted to see The Lion King on the big screen again.

And this is something that DVD, for all its benefits, had damaged. Disney in particular used to cycle many of its movies in a pattern of cinema re-releases that tended to arrive a few months ahead of a VHS release. And the likes of Snow White in particular always used to be capable of rustling up a spare $40m at the US box office, back when that was regarded as a lot of money. Which is still is, to be fair, for a film that’s basically getting another run at the big screen, without notable production costs attached.

This meant that many generations got to discover the likes of The Jungle Book, The Aristocats and Pinocchio on the big screen. But that’s not happened for a long time now, outside of the likes of an IMAX makeover of Beauty And The Beast, and the odd, small-scale special re-release.

What’s particularly impressive about The Lion King re-release, though, is just how much Disney committed to it.

This wasn’t shovelled out on a few hundred screens in the States. No, it was rolled out to 2,330 cinemas. That’s about half the number you’d expect for a massive blockbuster, but about the same level as films such as the Straw Dogs remake, and new Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle, I Don’t Know How She Does It (both of which also debuted in the US this weekend).

But can this herald, then, a return to earlier days? Those days before quality home cinema, when the real cinema was regularly deemed the best place to see a movie, whether it had been released previously or not? Sadly, we doubt it, but there are signs of promise.

We’re a week away from a limited re-release of Jurassic Park in UK cinemas, and, of course, we had Back To The Future pop back onto the big screen last year. We’re also promised a big screen outing for Ghostbusters next month. And let’s not forget that Toy Story and Toy Story 2 had a 3D big screen re-release.

This is all encouraging, and it’s a sign that film chiefs are willing to take a gamble on a wider re-release than we’re used to getting.

The next big, expensive wide release on the calendar, though, will be Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D, which might make $30-40m in total on its US run, we’d wager, but is unlikely to light the touchpaper for a more regular collection of older films getting wider releases (it's arguably the wrong film for that). Titanic 3D is going to follow, too, but these are high profile projects, and currently the exception to the rule.

What’s more likely is that Disney, at least, is likely to take more of a gamble with its animated back catalogue. Certainly it’d be great to see the likes of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame getting sizeable theatrical re-releases. These were films that never really got the chance for a second stab on the big screen, given that DVD arrived in the midst of Disney’s usual theatrical re-release schedule. Furthermore, Disney also seemed to lose confidence in the box office power of its older animated titles in the last two decades, which didn't help.

But it should have that confidence back now. And while we can live without a 3D makeover, and while few older Disney titles are going to make the kind of money in a weekend that The Lion King just has (this is the firm’s biggest-ever hand drawn animated movie, after all), there might just be hope of seeing films destined to for occasional one-off big screen outings getting a more substantive, and wider run. Here's hoping...

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