How Long Do Movies Stay in Theaters?

Why do some movies only stay for a couple of weeks in theaters, while some stay much longer? How long do movies stay in theaters?

Movies stay in theaters for about four weeks on average. Some movies stay on an extra week in certain movie theatres.

If a big blockbuster movie only lasts about two weeks in theatres, that is a sign that it wasn’t as popular or successful in the box office.

There is usually a contract between a movie distributor and a movie exhibitor. The contract is generally for a minimum of two weeks if it’s a Hollywood movie.

For small, independent films, the minimum time is usually a week. From here, the movie may be extended in theaters if it does well in the minimum time agreed upon.

Read on to learn more about how long movies stay in theaters for and what movies have screened the longest in history.

How Long Do Movies Stay in Theaters?

Movies stay in theaters for about four weeks on average. Some movies stay on an extra week in certain movie theatres.

Ever wondered why some movies have a longer run time in theaters? Why does that happen? It starts with movie distribution by a film distributor. The movie distributor is different from the movie producer. While movie producers make sure that a film stays on schedule and within the budget, movie distributors make sure that the movie is marketed well.

The movie distributor will draw up a contract with a movie exhibitor, who is usually the owner or operator of a theater. If it is a big Hollywood movie, the contract to show the movie will usually be for a minimum of two weeks. If it is an independent film, they may run it for a minimum of a week.

From the initial minimum number of weeks, a contract may also extend, depending on several factors. The major factor is the number of seats sold during screening. Thus, it’s about the selling power of a movie.

If it’s still filling up seats after a minimum of two weeks, the movie distributor and the movie exhibitor may strongly decide to extend. And if a movie goes beyond a two-week run in the cinemas, it is safe to say that the movie is making a good profit.

Both movie distributors and exhibitors will also decide if a movie extends depending on how well a movie performs in relation to other movies that are screening at the moment. If it is a movie that does relatively better than others, then there is a greater chance for it to extend. 

So, it’s safe to say that most new movies will run for a minimum of two weeks. If it’s a small independent movie, it may run for a minimum of one week.

On average, big blockbuster movies stay in theaters for about four weeks. Some movies stay on an extra week in certain movie theatres. If a big blockbuster movie only lasts about two weeks in theatres, that is a sign that it wasn’t as popular or successful in the box office.

Movie Distribution and How it Works

To know more about how long movies stay in theaters, it is important to look at movie distribution. Movie distribution can go about in two ways: bidding and percentage. 

1. Bidding

Bidding is when a movie distributor and a movie exhibitor agrees that the exhibitor pays a fixed amount to show a movie for an agreed amount of time.

Let’s say an exhibitor offers to pay $50,000 for a movie to show for a span of two weeks in the theaters. In those two weeks, the exhibitor can make $75,000, making a profit of $25,000. Or the exhibitor can only make $30,000, incurring a loss of $20,000. However, bidding is now rarely used by distributors and exhibitors.

2. Percentage

Percentage works basically with the distributor getting a percentage of the box office or ticket sales. 

The exhibitor states the needed amount of house allowance, which is a set amount that covers the basic expenses of the theater each week. They set the percentage split for the ticket sales after deducting the house allowance. In addition, they set a time frame for the movie screening, which can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, with provision to extend if necessary.

how long do movies usually stay in theaters
How long do movies stay in theatres?

Agreement Between Distributors and Exhibitors

Movie distributors get the majority of the profit brought in by the movie. The distributor and exhibitor agree that the distributor gets the set percentage of either the net ticket sales or gross ticket sales, whichever amount is greater.

Let’s say a theater has agreed to show a certain movie from a distributor. The theater will compute expenses or the house allowance. This amount is deducted from the total ticket sales.

  • Net Percentage – The net percentage that’s going to the distributor is 95 percent for weeks 1 and 2, 90 percent for week 3, and then 85 percent on week 4. 
  • Gross Percentage – For gross percentage, 70 percent goes to the distributor for weeks 1 and 2, 60 percent for week 3, and 50 percent for week 4. 

With this example, you see that weeks 1 to 3 have a higher gross percentage. The amount also goes to the distributor. On week 4, the net percentage is higher, and that amount goes to the distributor. The theater will break even on week 1, lose money on week 2, and only profit on weeks 3 and 4.

Now, you may wonder why theaters continue to thrive when most of the profit goes to the distributors? It’s the food concessionaires that make them a good profit. Ever wonder why popcorn is expensive in theaters? That’s the answer. Without these concessionaires, a lot of theaters would not stay in business for long.

Now, if the movie is doing well and the crowds continue to come, a renegotiation may happen between distributors and exhibitors.

We have answered the question, “How long do movies stay in theaters?” or “How long are movies in theaters for?”; Next, let’s take a look at the movies that stayed the longest in theaters.

What Movies Have Stayed the Longest in Theaters?

Before the era of LaserDiscs, DVDs, and Netflix, it was common for new movies to stay in theaters for months on end. Today, movies last shorter in cinemas because of the birth of ‘downloads’ and ‘on-demand’. Decades ago, without the option to watch the latest movies at home, going to a theater was the only way to watch the latest movies.

These movies lasted the longest in theatres: 

1. E.T.

Steven Spielberg produced E.T., which is one of the best family movies of all time. E.T. stayed in theaters for more than a year.

2. Star Wars

This classic science fiction and fantasy movie captured audiences around the world. Star Wars screened in theaters for 44 weeks.

3. Back to the Future

It is a total feel-good movie for all ages that starred Michael J. Fox. Back to the Future stayed in cinemas for 37 weeks.

4. Beverly Hills Cop

Actor Eddie Murphy combined both action and comedy in this well-loved movie. Beverly Hills Cop showed in theaters for 30 weeks.

What Movies Spent the Longest Weeks in the Top Ten Box Office Sales?

We’ve seen some amazing movies made it to the top ten box office sales in the past decade or so. They were so great that they spent at least 11 weeks in the charts of top box office hits.

And if you think about it, that’s at least two and a half months running in the cinema, with audiences still steadily turning up. Which movies are these? Let’s take a look.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Hits

1. Inception

Released in 2010, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, this mind-bending movie drew the crowds week after week, with many coming to see it a second or third time.

2. Avatar

James Cameron, whose other films were also blockbuster hits – Titanic and Terminator, directed this all-time favorite movie. The Avatar spent 14 weeks in the top ten.

3. Black Panther

This 2018 American superhero film was a huge success. Marvel Studios released this film, and Walt Disney Motion Pictures distributed it.

how long do movies stay in theatres
How long do movies stay in theatres?

4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This fantasy-adventure-comedy film is proof that even if a movie doesn’t make it big in the first weeks, it can still be a success. Jumanji screened the same week as Star Wars: The Last Jedi rolled out on the big screens.

It was doing poorly until after the second weekend when people came to see it. Moreover, it stayed for at least seven weeks on the top ten after that second weekend.

5. Jumanji: The Next Level

This movie is the 4th installment in the Jumanji story. It even surpassed its prequel, which already did very well in the cinemas. Jumanji: The Next Level stayed 11 weeks in the top ten. 

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

This American superhero movie is another hit by Marvel Studios. Spiderman: Homecoming was screening in cinemas all through summer and fall of 2017.

Hit Musicals

1. Frozen

The adorable story of Elsa and Anna won the hearts of many in this Hans Christian Andersen-inspired story. Walt Disney Pictures released Frozen in 2013. This movie also spent 16 weekends in the top ten.

2. La La Land

It is an American musical and romantic film released in 2016 starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This movie stayed for 13 weeks in the top ten.

3. The Greatest Showman

Aside from drawing in people to cinemas, this movie’s soundtrack made it the top-selling album in 2018.

What Movies Spent the Least Time Showing in Cinemas?

If there were movies that stayed for months on end showing in theaters, there were also movies that had a really short time showing in cinemas. By the end of week one, exhibitors already get an idea if a movie will do good or not.

The following movies had the shortest theatrical runs in the U.S. Some of them were even pulled out after a few days.

1. Glitter

The same star of the movie, Mariah Carey, co-developed the movie Glitter. Although there was extensive PR coverage for the movie, it didn’t do well in the charts. Critics said that Mariah’s acting was bland, and the movie plot was nothing extraordinary.

2. Gigli

Gigli starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in a mafia story. Gigli only stayed in theatres for one week as critics were reacting very negatively to it. Its second week also didn’t do any better, so it was pulled out shortly after that. 

3. Jem and the Holograms

There were many expectations in this movie because the cartoon series in the 1980s was a smashing hit. But almost everything from the original cartoons was scrapped and replaced with a 90s plot. It was criticized to be one of the worst movie adaptations in the 21st century. The movie stayed two weeks in theaters before it was pulled out.

4. Delgo

It is a 2008 computer-animated film meant to compete against Disney movies. Delgo disappointed much of the moviegoers because it had inferior animation quality. It did very poorly on its first few days alone that it was pulled out of theaters after only a week of showing.

5. United Passions

This movie has the shortest run ever; it only lasted three days in theaters before being pulled out. United Passions is a drama about a football association governing body. It was so bad that it only made $918 on opening weekend in the U.S. in 2015.

Conclusion – How Long Do Movies Usually Stay in Theaters?

On average, new movies stay in theaters for about four weeks. Some movies stay on an extra week in certain movie theatres.

If a movie only lasts about two weeks in theatres, that is a sign that it wasn’t as popular or successful in the box office.

Some movies may stay longer than others. It depends on the number of people who actually see the movie.

A distributor and an exhibitor will agree on a minimum time frame to show a movie. The minimum is two weeks for big movies and a week for small, independent films.

After the minimum time, if a movie is still bringing in people, there will be a higher chance of extending it. This may go on for weeks as long as there is a substantial number of people still seeing the movie. Thus, it depends on the tickets sold.