Landmark Theatres’ announcement that it will be closing its 12-screen multiplex on Pico Boulevard has upended not just the Los Angeles art-house scene but the entire indie film industry as insiders and analysts have told TheWrap that distributors must now rethink their release strategies after losing one of their most dependable cinemas.
On Wednesday, Landmark Theatres announced that despite efforts to reach a new agreement, the landlords of the former Westside Pavilion decided not to continue their lease with the specialty chain and the Landmark Pico will shut its doors at the end of May.
The closure brings an end to what was once a bustling shopping and entertainment complex that is now being repurposed into a campus for Google. And for Hollywood stars, workers and film fans, the closure marks the loss of another popular gathering spot and film haven just 13 months after the demise of Arclight Cinemas and its beloved Cinerama Dome multiplex.
“It’s not the only art-house cinema on the Westside, but it was a key part of the release strategy for every studio,” one studio executive told TheWrap.
Since its opening in 2007, the Landmark Pico was a popular spot for indie film premieres as well as industry screenings held by trade publications like TheWrap during awards season. More importantly, the Landmark Pico stood alongside the Arclight Hollywood throughout the 2010s as the two Los Angeles locations that indie distributors regularly used for a platform release before beginning a nationwide rollout.
With both theaters out of the picture, it’s even more likely that indie distributors will move further away from a Los Angeles/New York platform strategy in favor of releasing on several dozen screens in multiple cities to kick off limited theatrical runs, an approach that has gained more favor since theaters reopened last year.
While Landmark has said that it will look for ways to “expand our Los Angeles footprint,” indie films are going to have a harder time booking screens in one of the nation’s biggest moviegoing markets unless Landmark is able to open a replacement. Outside of the now-defunct Arclights, there was no other L.A. location with so many screens dedicated to showing independent cinema. Though the Landmark Pico’s main 300-seat auditorium typically booked major studio blockbusters, at least nine of its 12 screens on any given day screened specialty films.
L.A.’s best-known indie chain, Laemmle Theatres, will likely pick up a great deal of the load. Laemmle has picked up the opening weekends of several summer indie titles that had been set to debut at the Landmark, an insider at the chain told TheWrap, including IFC Films’ “Official Competition” starring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz.
But there are only so many films and only so much play time that Laemmle can support, especially since its two Westside locations, the Royal and the Monica Film Center, have nine screens between them with less parking and seating capacity than the Landmark Pico had. And with top indie distributors like Searchlight expected to increase their output this fall compared to last year, the competition for screen space and moviegoer attention among indie titles will likely get more intense.
Multiple distributors and analysts told TheWrap that they believe some studios will be better positioned to find backup plans for building word-of-mouth without the Landmark Pico — while others will have a much tougher time.
Big-studio art-house divisions like Disney’s Searchlight Pictures and Universal’s Focus Features, along with established indie studios like Neon and A24, regularly release films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Moonage Daydream” that can appeal to younger crowds. These studios should easily be able to release their upcoming titles in more mainstream theaters like the AMC Century City, Regal Sherman Oaks and AMC Grove, as well as specialty locations like Alamo Drafthouse DTLA and Cinelounge that draw younger indie lovers.
But smaller distributors like IFC Films and Bleecker Street may face challenges since their art-house films skew toward the older audiences that haven’t returned to the cinema in large enough numbers as the pandemic has waned. For these labels, Laemmle Theatres and the premium iPic Theatres in Westwood and Pasadena will likely become even more crucial to their business as their films’ appeal towards more infrequent moviegoers will make it more difficult for them to find a screen in most other locations.
The studio exec noted that the Landmark Pico still seemed to be struggling to bring back moviegoers: “I’ve been there on a recent Friday where there wasn’t a big movie coming out and there were way less people than there used to be before COVID.”
So what’s the way out? Studios will need to find new ways to market their films to Angelenos — especially awards contenders. “It’s going to be tough without the Landmark, but this is going to force indie studios to get creative,” one distribution exec told TheWrap. “Honestly, even before this closure, they’ve had to get creative because these older moviegoers still haven’t come back, certainly not to the level that could support the Landmark and now both the theaters that are left and us as distributors have to step up to preserve what remains.”
One theater owner pointed to a successful campaign by Sony Pictures Classics and New York City’s Angelika Film Center for last month’s Jim Broadbent/Helen Mirren dramedy, “The Duke.” Called “Bring a Friend Back to the Movies,” the campaign was essentially a “buy one, get one free” offer for anyone who purchased a ticket to “The Duke” directly through Angelika’s website.
“Yes, it goosed the turnout numbers at that theater, but it helped bring so many older people back to theaters for the first time for a film made for them,” the theater owner said. “Any idea to get people back into the habit of moviegoing needs to brought to the table.”
None of those ideas could save the Landmark Pico, and it’s likely that there are other art-houses across the country that are in a similarly precarious spot as turnout continues to lag. But with surefire boomer magnet Focus Features’ “Downton Abbey: A New Era” coming next week, art-house theater owners have told TheWrap that they are still optimistic about the road ahead.
“Landmark or no Landmark, there are still many theaters still in L.A. where independent, thought-provoking films can find an auditorium to screen in,” one theater owner said. “They may not screen as long as they once did, but they’ll find a home. It’s up to all of us in the industry to make sure that when they do get an auditorium, those seats get filled.”