Flicking through the newspaper this week I noticed a few cinemas were screening the original ‘Twilight‘ – which, mind you, has been on video for quite a while, and is about to make its pay TV premiere locally – a few hours before that first, reportedly sold-out ‘New Moon‘ (it being the sequel to â€˜Twilightâ€™) session. My first thought was, ‘Oh, its a double feature – good thinking, fans will love that! ‘ but then I read the fine print, punters would be charged to revisit the now twelve-month old film… and then charged again to check out the new film an hour or so later.
What the fuck?!
I hate going on these ‘back in my day’ spiels, but in this case, its true : in my day distributors would’ve screened ‘Twilight’ for punters free-of-charge— it’d be their reward for buying a ticket to the sequel, or, as was usually the case, the studio A film. Those running the shop would simply laugh at my assumption these days. It, like two schlongs in a virgin, just doesn’t happen very often anymore.
I should know, I sat through hundreds of double features in my youth – kicking off with the legendary ‘Star Wars’/'Empire Strikes Back’ double in the early 80s – but thinking back, all those two-for-one’s seemingly stopped by the time Reagan was out of office.
Exhibitors and distributors originally introduced the double feature in the 30s, to lure people into theatres. Generally, a distributor would match up a double feature for the cinema that would encompass both a major feature and a support film (or a b film).
And for the next thirty years or so, it would remain a regular staple of both the cinema and the drive in.
I remember going to some terrific double features as a youngster/teenager – like ‘Footloose’ and ‘Urban Cowboy’, ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Weird Science’, ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’, ‘Stakeout’ and ‘Deadly Pursuit’, and loads more *
It was great – a Saturday afternoon ritual. A cheap way to spend a day! And remember, this is back when it cost no more than 6 bucks to see a film, so it really was great value for money. I probably spent every weekend of my youth â€“ up until I left home at age 16, anyway â€“ at the cinema watching a twofer.
The double feature arose partly because of a studio practice known as “block booking,” a form of tying in which major Hollywood studios required theaters to buy B-movies along with the more desirable A-movies. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately squashed the practice, and as a result the double feature died. Which is partly the reason why youâ€™re being forced to pay the same price for say, â€œSorority Rowâ€ or â€œAll About Steveâ€ (two films that wouldâ€™ve quickly been demoted to â€˜support filmâ€™ status back in the day) as you are â€œMichael Jacksonâ€™s This Itâ€ or â€œNew Moonâ€.
The drive-in’s were essentially the only outlet that kept showing double features (though I worked at both an army theatre and a smaller independent cinema that continued to screen double features each night) after the Supreme court ruling, and to this day, still do (most of them do anyway — my friend runs a drive-in that still prides itself on offering punters good value by supplying two films for nix. Itâ€™s wonderful).
I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a double feature at a cinema – and ‘Grindhouse’ essentially being the one movie split into two, doesn’t count – was it ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Big’?., â€˜Beetljuiceâ€™ and â€˜Arthur 2 : On The Rocksâ€™? â€˜Predatorâ€™ and â€˜Project Xâ€™? – I reallyâ€¦ can’t remember… Itâ€™s that long ago since Iâ€™ve seen a twofer in a major chain (The Astor Theatre in Melbourne still screens doubles) theatre.
Disney recently attempted to resurrect the double feature by re-issuing â€˜Toy Storyâ€™ 1 and 2 as a two-header in anticipation of the third films release next year. And looking at the box office receipts for the bill, it seemed to do OK! I’m sure the distribs will hate it if the public starts demanding more double features, and theyâ€™ll probably cite the â€˜Grindhouseâ€™ case as a reason not to (it did miserably) but by golly, I hope they do!
I mean, the majors donâ€™t have to automatically offer up a new release to punters as part of a two-for-one, but they could do so a few weeks after its initial releaseâ€¦ in turn, giving audiences another reason to return to said film (Imagine how many young girlies would flock to a â€˜Twilight/New Moonâ€™ double if it were on come Christmas, or if Universal slapped something like â€˜Couples Retreatâ€™ with â€˜A Single Manâ€™ a few weeks after its release â€“ itâ€™d certainly drive people to the theatre to see something they mightnâ€™t have otherwise bothered with â€“ and yes, im referring to both those films, as sad as it is to admit). It could be a win-win. Just a thought.
And hey, Iâ€™d love for the cinema usher to babysit my daughter for four hours every Saturday – just as he/she did me!
* â€˜Robocop & Extreme Prejudiceâ€™, â€˜Spaceballs & Mannequinâ€™, â€˜Masters of the Universe & Superman IV : The Quest for Peaceâ€™, â€˜Crocodile Dundee & Malcolmâ€™, â€˜Planes, Trains and Automobiles & Back to the Beachâ€™, â€˜Twins & Scroogedâ€™, â€˜Childâ€™s Play & The Serpent and the Rainbowâ€™, â€˜Red Heat & Rambo IIIâ€™, â€˜My Stepmother Is an Alien & A Nightmare on Elm Street 4â€™, â€˜La Bamba & Peggy Sue Got Marriedâ€™, â€˜Three Men and a Baby & Ernest Goes to Campâ€™â€¦. And it goes on and on.