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Studios Mull Box Office Impact of Lafayette Shooting

The industry, after weathering tragedy before with Aurora, remains cautiously optimistic about this weekend’s moviegoing

Hollywood studios will be keeping a close eye on how the tragic shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, will affect the domestic box office this weekend, which brings three new wide releases in the form of Sony’s “Pixels,” Fox’s “Paper Towns” and the Weinstein Company’s “Southpaw.”

“While this tragedy strikes home [for] everyone in the entertainment industry, it doesn’t appear that it will have an effect on box office,” one insider at a studio releasing a new movie told TheWrap.

Another studio veteran with a stake in this weekend’s new releases noted that audiences flocked to theaters on Thursday night — though the news was still spreading during the evening. “We’re always worried, but it did not impact business last night [as] best I can tell,” the executive said, adding, “It doesn’t seem like it was a terrorist act.”

20th Century Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson was one of the few Hollywood executives willing to speak on the record about the tragedy — in which gunman John Russell Houser opened fire during a screening of Universal’s “Trainwreck,” killing two people and injuring nine others before turning the gun on himself.

“This is a tragic situation that happens in a number of places, not just movie theaters. It’s too early to know whether it will have an impact, as the consumer will ultimately decide whether they will go out to a movie,” said Aronson.

“Although this is a terrible thing, I am hoping we will go about like we usually would, enjoying our freedoms, and not let a person with mental illness affect people’s behavioral patterns,” he added. “We are cautiously optimistic, but we always are when we open movies.”

That pro-theater sentiment was echoed by many people on social media, where movie fans defiantly said they would not be discouraged from going to the movies this weekend.

Warner Bros. faced similar anxieties in 2012, when James Holmes committed a mass shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” on opening weekend. “There’s no question about it,” the studio said at the time as to whether or not the tragedy would impact box office receipts.

Indeed, a poll released by the Nordic Research Group following the shooting purported that 20-25 percent of American moviegoers were hesitant to see the film in light of the incident.

The second weekend of wide release for “Dark Knight Rises” underperformed its predecessor “The Dark Knight,” though many viewed its box office through the positive lens of the public supporting Hollywood in wake of the tragedy.

Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations sees the two tragedies as quite different. “There’s something we saw with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ where locally, within the city [Aurora] that it happened in, you saw attendance fall a little bit,” Bock told TheWrap. “As far as ‘Trainwreck’ goes, I don’t think we’re going to see a drop. It’s incomprehensible why [Houser] chose this film in particular. It’s so random that I think it’s an isolated incident that could’ve happened anywhere people gather.”

Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak dismissed the notion that the tragedy would impact this weekend’s ticket sales. “‘The Dark Knight Rises’ had a $75 million opening the day after Aurora happened,” he said. “Moviegoers are very resilient today in a world where you have to be vigilant about your personal safety and aware of your surroundings.”

He added, “If a teenage girl planned to see ‘Paper Towns,’ she’s going. This is not going to stop people from going, and it hasn’t in the past.”

[Matt Donnelly contributed to this report]

Watch video reactions to the Lafayette movie theater shooting below.