Small Town Iowa Theater Refuses to Screen ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Owner says theater can’t weather Disney’s demands

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is poised to have the biggest opening weekend of the year, but at least one small town theater won’t be contributing to the windfall of box office returns.

Lee Akin, owner of the single-screen Elkader Cinema in Elkader, IA, (population: 1,213), told the Des Moines Register that he will not be screening the film next month.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Disney is requiring theaters to pay 65 percent of box office revenue, and will claim an additional five percent if theaters do not meet all their demands. Disney is also requiring the theaters to hold the film for four weeks in its largest auditorium, meaning that for single-screen locations like Akin’s “Star Wars” is the only movie they can screen for a whole month.

“The biggest reason that I’m not going to show it is the four-week minimum play time,” Akin said. “My little town cannot afford to play any movie for that long of a time. I can’t get the entire town in my auditorium in one week’s time let alone four.”

For theater chains, it’s a different story. The percentage requirement and the four-week hold was also enforced for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, making headlines when Quentin Tarantino complained that he couldn’t screen his 70mm film, “The Hateful Eight,” at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood because the Disney-Lucasfilm movie’s mandatory four-week hold.

Financial analyst Eric Wold told TheWrap that while mom-and-pop theaters will get squeezed out by this deal, it makes perfect business sense for Disney to take advantage of the popularity of “Star Wars,” and it’s something that major chains have long been prepared for.

“Of course, other studios are going to be upset because they’re going to have to fight for theater space, but if you look at the slate, there’s nothing coming after ‘Star Wars’ for a month that could compete,” he said. “And historically, it’s not unusual for studios that are on a big box office run like Disney is right now to request higher film rents for major releases.”