Category Archives: movie theaters


thing-0-rama poster

Just because.



‘The Avengers’ hits $600 million … and 27th place????

Although I only contributed the cost of a couple of tickets – so far – I was pleased to hear that Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” passed the $600 million box office milestone this week.

That puts “The Avengers” in third place, behind James Cameron’s “Titanic” and “Avatar,” in terms of total box office haul.

“Titanic” has topped a cool billion, so I’m not sure “Avengers” will be able to reach that peak.

Each time a new box office threshold is crossed, of course, some history-minded person considers the increase, over the decades, of ticket prices.’s list of movie box office – as adjusted for inflation – is pretty illuminating and also a little disheartening for movie lovers.

Considering that ticket prices were less than a quarter in 1939, how amazing is it that “Gone With the Wind” sold enough tickets (in its original release and subsequent re-releases) to still top the charts, with a an-adjusted-for-inflation take of $1.6 billion? That’s a paltry $198 million in unadjusted numbers.

On the Boxofficemojo list, “The Avengers” and its $600 million haul come in at 27th place.

Here are the top ticket sellers of all time via Boxofficemojo:

1 Gone with the Wind MGM $1,600,193,400 $198,676,459 1939^
2 Star Wars Fox $1,410,707,200 $460,998,007 1977^
3 The Sound of Music Fox $1,127,929,800 $158,671,368 1965
4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $1,123,486,300 $435,110,554 1982^
5 Titanic Par. $1,074,383,500 $658,672,302 1997^
6 The Ten Commandments Par. $1,037,520,000 $65,500,000 1956
7 Jaws Uni. $1,014,384,200 $260,000,000 1975
8 Doctor Zhivago MGM $983,152,800 $111,721,910 1965
9 The Exorcist WB $875,945,400 $232,906,145 1973^
10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dis. $863,280,000 $184,925,486 1937^
11 101 Dalmatians Dis. $791,344,600 $144,880,014 1961^
12 The Empire Strikes Back Fox $777,590,600 $290,475,067 1980^
13 Ben-Hur MGM $776,160,000 $74,000,000 1959
14 Avatar Fox $770,261,700 $760,507,625 2009^
15 Return of the Jedi Fox $744,950,500 $309,306,177 1983^
16 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Fox $715,276,800 $474,544,677 1999^
17 The Sting Uni. $706,011,400 $156,000,000 1973
18 The Lion King BV $705,680,400 $422,783,777 1994^
19 Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $698,083,500 $242,374,454 1981^
20 Jurassic Park Uni. $682,750,300 $357,067,947 1993^
21 The Graduate AVCO $677,755,200 $104,931,637 1967^
22 Fantasia Dis. $657,704,300 $76,408,097 1941^
23 The Godfather Par. $625,066,700 $134,966,411 1972^
24 Forrest Gump Par. $622,081,300 $329,694,499 1994
25 Mary Poppins Dis. $619,200,000 $102,272,727 1964^
26 Grease Par. $609,596,100 $188,755,690 1978^
27 Marvel’s The Avengers BV $600,377,080 2012 1978^
28 Thunderball UA $592,416,000 $63,595,658 1965
29 The Dark Knight WB $588,314,100 $533,345,358 2008
30 The Jungle Book Dis. $583,544,900 $141,843,612 1967^

‘Shocking’ drive-in movie ads!

There’s something about this weather that reminds me of going to drive-in movies.

Around here, we had two — the Muncie Drive-In and the Ski-Hi Drive-In — in or near the city and another — the Blackford County Drive-In — just to the north. The latter wasn’t the type of drive-in your parents took you to, however. The Blackford showed “adult” movies — porn, in other words.

As for the Muncie and the Ski-Hi, I spent many, many hours there as a kid and young adult.

One of my earliest drive-in moviegoing memories was of seeing the 1967 flick “Born Losers” at one of Muncie’s two drive-ins. “Born Losers” was a low-budget action movie that introduced the cult character of Billy Jack (played by Tom Laughlin), a returning Vietnam vet who takes on a motorcycle gang. The movie actually inspired sequels.

I remember seeing it with my parents and paternal grandmother. Why my parents decided to take me or my grandmother to a (in my memory) sleazy, bloody action movie I can’t imagine.

I just remember my grandmother nearly fainting into her concession-stand pizza after the bad guys push a young man’s face into the windshield of a car, resulting in a bloody, slobbery mess. Onscreen, I mean.

From time to time in this spot I’ll share some memories and some great old drive-in movie ads.

How about this one for a re-release of “The Mask” Not the Jim Carrey comedy but a bizarre 1961 horror movie about an ancient mask that has the power to drive people crazy. Some remember “The Mask” from the early 1980s, when it was re-released at the height of the 3-D revival.

This “midnight shock-a-thon” ad features not only “The Mask” but “The Bat,” probably a 1959 Vincent Price thriller and “Town Without Pity,” a 1961 Kirk Douglas movie that is sold, as you can tell from the ad, in the sleaziest way possible:

“The story of what four men did to a girl .. and what the town did to them!”

This ad has some exploitation/drive-in advertising gems, including “A free comb to all after your hair-raising experience!” I can hear it now: “Mom, Dad, can we go to the drive-in tonight? They’re giving away free combs!”

Lastly, how about the exploitation double-feature classic “I Drink Your Blood” and “I Eat Your Skin.” The former is a 1970 movie about Satanists terrorizing a town. The latter originally came out in 1964 and was about zombies. The combination of titles was drive-in movie gold.

The canny drive-in operator offered a free buffet of “skin chips and dip” and “flesh fries” and provided free Tums.

Who wouldn’t turn out for this drive-in combo?

At the movies: Some favorite theaters

I love movie theaters.

Granted, I don’t enjoy some of the modern-day accoutrements of movie theater-going, like people talking, people talking on their cell phones and people coughing directly on the back of my head.

But I have been a lifelong movie fan — even before 1978, when I started reviewing movies — and a lifelong moviegoer.

One of my earliest memories is of going to see a Jerry Lewis movie at the Rivoli Theatre, which would ultimately enjoy its status as the last of the downtown Muncie movie palaces until it was razed in 1987.

CNN International ran a list of the world’s top movie theaters the other day, including the famed Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, as well as some in India and Japan.

The list prompted me to make a list of some of my own favorite movie theaters, both past and present.

To start with the past:

The Rivoli Theatre, downtown Muncie, Indiana: I spent a lot of hours in the Rivoli as a kid and young adult. I saw the re-release of “Gone with the Wind” there as well as Disney classics.

The Rivoli, built in 1927, was a beautiful theater marred only, in its final few years of operation, by a smaller, second theater built inside the larger auditorium. The little theater took up seats in the main auditorium and detracted from the looks of the big theater — jutting out into the line of sight of some seats in the little-used balcony — but the extra revenue probably kept the theater open a little longer. This was the days of the multiplex boom and theaters with one screen were rare.

The Rivoli was demolished in 1987 to make way for a local office building. I reported on the decision to raze the theater and the demolition and it was one of the most disheartening stories I wrote in the early years of my journalism career.

The Eastwood Theatre, Indianapolis: The Eastwood had a comparatively short lifespan for a movie theater. Opened in 1968 and demolished sometime post-1980s, the Pendleton Pike cinema was known for its size — 800-plus seats — and the staying power of the movies it screened. “Star Wars,” opening in May 1977, played for months at the Eastwood. (This was, of course, in the days when movies could play almost indefinitely at theaters. There was no home video, so studios and releasing companies made all their dollars from theatrical screenings. And the longer a movie played, the better percentage of ticket sales the theater received. Not to mention all that popcorn sold.)

I didn’t see “Star Wars” at the Eastwood — that experience came at the Northwest Plaza Cinema in Muncie — but my friends and I saw a number of other movies there, including “The Empire Strikes Back” in 198o and “Return of the Jedi” in 1983. I still vividly remember standing in line to see the “Star Wars” sequels with a big group of my friends and fellow geeks.

The Eastwood, according to the Cinema Treasures website, was torn down — no date specified — and its spot is now a Menards home improvement warehouse.

The Castro Theatre, San Francisco: I’ve only seen one movie at the Castro — “The Third Man” — but the Castro, built in 1922, is in many ways a wonderful example of a neighborhood movie palace. It’s an art movie cinema now, unspooling classics to an appreciative neighborhood and audience.

The Chinese Theatre, Hollywood: One of the most famous theaters in the world, the Chinese is where footprints and handprints in wet cement adorn the courtyard.

On one of my once-regular trips to the Los Angeles area to visit my friend Brian, we saw the 1989 Tim Burton “Batman” movie at the Chinese. Years later, Robin and I saw the movie “Mambo Kings” there.

Built in 1927, the Chinese has been the setting of almost as many movie scenes — remember the climax of “Blazing Saddles?” — as movies that have screened inside.

The Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville: One of my favorite theaters I’ve discovered in recent years is the Tennessee. Opened in 1928, the theater closed in 1977, reopened, closed again in 1978 and was ultimately restored and reopened as home to classic films and live performances.

The Tennessee is a big part of Knoxville’s historic downtown and is worth a visit to see the best case scenario for a downtown movie theater.

Cinebarre, Asheville, North Carolina: Cinebarre is an example, like the Alamo Drafthouse, of what a theater can do to attract customers tired of the worst of the moviegoing experience.

Cinebarre offers not only comfortable movie viewing but the ultimate in movie theater dining. The menu goes way beyond popcorn and warmed-over hotdogs and includes beer, wine, burgers, pizza and more.

Your food is served to you in the auditorium — you eat at a counter in front of your seat; no juggling food on your lap — while the movie is underway. You can even order dessert.

I enjoyed a lot of movies in theaters last year and, with a cool bunch of movies like “The Avengers” on tap for summer 2012, I’ll be seeing plenty again this year. I only wish I could see every movie as comfortably and memorably as my moviegoing experiences at these favorites.

Planet of the movie ads

I’m gonna confess to a particular kind of geekiness here. As a pre-teen and young teen, I was a huge fan of monster and science fiction movies and TV shows. (That’s not the geekiness I’m confessing to. In a world where superhero movies dominate the cinema landscape, we’re living in a post-geek world. Anyway.)

As part of my geekiness, I kept scrapbooks of pictures, newspaper and TV Guide ads and other bits o’ stuff. Most of the contents could be had for the price of  a newspaper. Unfortunately I also cut up issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine for pictures to add to my scrapbooks, only to have to pay to replace them years later. Those beloved monster mags are a subject for another entry, however.

The less traumatic elements of my scrapbooks were the movie ads. I used to cut them out of the Muncie newspapers, of course, and would on occasion buy copies of papers from Indianapolis and beyond for their ads.

I’ve lost track of many of those clippings and scrapbooks somehow, but I dug up a few the other day and thought I would share them — and their nostalgia quotient — with you.

Forgive the quality of the pictures. I don’t have a scanner, so they’re snapped with my iPhone. But you get the idea.

Above you’ll find an ad for a Muncie Drive-In dusk-to-dawn screening of the original Planet of the Apes movie series. This screening took place sometime after May 1973 when “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” the last entry in the series, had been released.

My most vivid memory of this was that my friend Jim and I were taken to the Kilgore Avenue drive-in by my parents. We had to leave after just a couple of movies, however, after Jim came down with some unknown and highly suspect illness. Since I was the oldest and we were like brothers, I held it against him for decades after.

Of courses, Apes movies weren’t the only feature at Muncie drive-ins or indoor theaters.

Here’s a Muncie Drive-In ad for a trio of grisly horror movies toplined by “Raw Meat,” a 1973 film. I’m not sure I went to see these. Two of the three were R-rated and I would have been 13 at the time.

Muncie’s Ski-Hi Drive-In Theater is represented by this ad for a five-movie “spook-a-thon.” The ad notes that coffee and doughnuts were served during the final feature and a “vampire woman” — in her coffin — could be found in the drive-in’s lobby.

That kind of goofy “extra” was one of my favorite things about going to cheap and cheesy exploitation pics like these. I remember going to a drive-in screening of “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies” in which ACTUAL MONSTERS — teenagers hired by the theater’s manager no doubt — roamed the aisles. Since the movie was originally released in 1964, I must have seen it at a re-release.

A year later, the same director, Ray Dennis Steckler, made “The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters,” a horror movie spoof. As you can see from this ad, Muncie’s Rivoli theater screened this classic. I was there.

“Girls bring your boyfriend! Learn if he’s man or mouse!” the ads taunt. Considering the movie was rated G, I’m guessing nobody’s boyfriend died of fright.

The Rivoli — the subject of a blog entry still to come — was the scene of a lot of fun screenings over the years. Here’s an ad for “The Green Slime,” a 1968 Japanese monster movie released in the states. As you can see, this is a silly “teaser” ad for the movie but the fact that it’s personalized — “The Green Slime” Covers Muncie — makes it that much sweeter.

I miss movie ads in newspapers. Not just because of the convenience of picking up the paper and checking out showtimes, but because movie ads like these were little works of marketing art. In these days of “sophisticated” marketing, we won’t see their like again.