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Now showing: First-run movies in military theaters

Aug. 9, 2013 - 12:23PM   |  
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In a world where big-screen features come and go faster than on-screen car chases, military moviegoers are often left out in the cold when it comes ot the latest blockbuster hits.

That changes now.

With the release of “Planes” on Aug. 9, some military theaters will now show Disney’s latest releases on the same day they open outside the installation gates. “Planes” is currently showing at 14 Army and Air Force installations.

Troops and their families have long been stuck with second-run, hand-me-down titles usually showing up at base theaters more than a month after new premiere buzz has dwindled to I-can’t-believe-I-haven’t-seen-that-yet blues.

The new deal hammered out with Disney Studios, however, now promises to pack in military moviegoers while their titles are still hot.

The bad news: Tickets for the first-run shows will cost more at many military theaters, with kids, ironically, getting hit the worst. Some on-base box offices will jack up prices by more than 100 percent on these titles for viewers under age 12.

At Fort Drum, N.Y., for example, tickets usually cost $5.50 for adult and $3 for kids. Those hoping to catch “Planes” on its opening weekend will have to shell out $6.80 for both adults and kids. Other bases are posting similar increases for their first run titles.

Even so, those prices are generally well below what commercial theaters charge.

“There are pricing differences for first-run movies and those that are considered second-run,” says Army and Air Force Exchange spokesman Chris Ward.

Second-run titles are typically defined as any movie more than four weeks past its initial release. Overseas bases already show the latest titles usually within a week of their release.

Ticket increases will vary between installations with the amount based on local market surveys.

“The prices will increase only for first-run movies. All other movies will be at the current established price,” which are capped at $5.50 for adult tickets.

The transition to showing new releases when they’re actually still new is made possible as military movie theaters convert to new digital projectors, replacing the old reel-to-reel film systems that carry higher distribution costs for the studios, Ward says.

The arrangement with Disney marks the first time in the 118-year history of AAFES that movies will be shown at continental U.S. military theaters on the same day as their general market release.

“We’re delighted to work with Exchange theaters to offer quality family entertainment to our dedicated and hardworking military families,” said Dave Hollis, executive vice president for theatrical distribution at The Walt Disney Studios. “We are excited to begin this journey as Disney’s ‘Planes’ flies into theaters.

All this the begs the question of whether the other major studios will follow suit.

OFFduty reached out to several of the biggest movie distributors, but they did not return repeated requests for comment.

However, Ward says AAFES is discussing new distribution deals with several studios.

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