The Laemmle Theatre chain, Southern California’s 81-year-old, family-run arthouse cinema exhibitor, has reportedly put all or part of its nine-venue operation up for sale.
“We’re exploring a number of different options,” was all the West L.A.-based company’s president, Greg Laemmle, felt comfortable saying about the situation, adding that he was not denying recent reports. He indicated it was impossible Monday to relate any additional information about the future of the chain, which has theaters in Claremont, Pasadena, Glendale, North Hollywood, Encino, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West. L.A.
The circumstance arises at a time when what might be called upscale moviegoing – to films made for discerning, adult audiences at theaters that offer fancy drink and food options – is going through some changes.
The high-priced, luxury iPic chain, which operates venues locally in Pasadena and Westwood, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month and is seeking a buyer. Late last year the venerable Landmark chain was sold to the foreign and art film distributor Cohen Media Group. Though a national operation, Landmark is Laemmle’s top local competitor when it comes to showing smart films for grownups.
Those kinds of movies have not been doing too well commercially this year, which is likely a key reason why Laemmle could be seeking a buyer.
“Nobody likes to see this,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst and box-office expert at the Sherman Oaks-based media measurement firm Comscore, added of Leammle’s possible sale. “The Laemmle chain is iconic, within the world not just of the movie theater but within the world of film. Whoever may acquire this company, I hope will keep their traditions and their name alive, because it’s really important.”
But iconic might not be enough to survive in a tough market.
“Adult dramas, or films aimed at 40-plus-year-olds, it seems that it’s been harder for those films to break out,” observed Dergarabedian. “That could certainly be hurting the bottom line for any theater that is relying on not the typical blockbuster, but films that appeal to older audiences and filmgoers that read reviews.”
Dergarabedian noted that Comscore’s overall figure for 2018 independent film grosses was around $120 million, while so far 2019 is registering less than half that, around $45 million, eight-and-a-half months into the year. He also noted that overall North American box office receipts for 2019 are pacing around 6.4% behind last year. And while the summer season is running closer to last thanks to such blockbusters as “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Lion King,” there’s no Laemmle-friendly adult sleeper like last August’s “Crazy Rich Asians” on the horizon before the season ends.
With new multiplexes that have played major blockbusters on some of their screens, Laemmle Theatres seemed to have been successfully expanding this decade with its North Hollywood NoHo 7 and a state-of-the-art Glendale fiveplex that opened last year. The company also broke ground on a sevenplex in Newhall last year, which it owns through an LLC on a parcel of land given to it by the city of Santa Clarita.
“We are moving ahead with construction in Newhall, and hope to get the theater open as soon as possible,” Greg Laemmle confirmed. He also indicated that drawn-out negotiations are still underway for his company to revive the dormant Reseda Theatre in the San Fernando Valley.
Chain-founding brothers Max and Kurt Laemmle were among the scores of relatives Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle brought to the U.S. from his native Germany during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Max’s son Robert and then grandson Greg have guided the family business with their forebears’ commitment to bringing foreign, art, experimental and just plain good movies to Southern California audiences for decades since.
While such grown-up appeal big studio releases as “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” and “Yesterday” have done well this summer, “The Farewell” has been the best-performing non-horror, truly indie release – the kind Laemmle thrives on – of the season so far, with just under $13 million in North American boxoffice receipts. Last summer’s Mr. Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” grossed nearly $23 million.
“Every movie theater relies on the product, and if the movies aren’t bringing people in to buy concessions and you have that monthly nut to keep up with, that can be a tough go,” Dergarabedian observed.
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