Riding the success of her television show, CDs and concert tour, the fictional pop star Hannah Montana has redefined what cinema can, and probably will, be.
Her 3-D concert film, now in limited release, handily won the box office sweepstakes last week, recording not only the largest profits -- not surprising since tickets cost a whopping $15 -- but also number of tickets sold. Not bad for a girl who doesn't even exist.
Part of the appeal was the format. With tickets to her tour stops almost unattainable, the just-like-being there 3-D aspect was a draw. But I think there's something far more manipulative at work.
Initially, it was announced that the Hannah movie would be in release for one week. That created demand. Actually, it created a panic the likes of which have not been seen since the stock crash of 1929 or Tickle Me Elmo. A nation of little girls, eyes wide with the fear that they might miss the event, sent parents into a ticket-buying frenzy, heating up credit cards at an alarming rate as screening after screening sold out. That was clever.
Not only did a limited run produce a sense of urgency but it also allowed for a tasteful "held over due to popular demand" marketing campaign in subsequent weeks and laid the groundwork for any future DVD release. It also justified the higher ticket price.
The question is what will this mean for the film industry. The Hannah Montana release model is unlike anything seen in cinemas since the days of the big traveling road shows of the mid-20th century. This is how Ben-Hur would have been released, how Gone With the Wind would have been sold to an audience. The only difference is now the audience has an average age of about 8 and theaters smell of lip gloss and preteen spirit.
My guess is the success of Hannah will encourage studios to offer more "event" films in a similar manner. The truth is, earnings from most movies fall off steeply after the first week, so if returns can be padded with an inflated ticket price and a sense of excitement, why wouldn't the Hollywood heads follow that example?
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that while cynical of the marketing, and mark-up, that accompanied Hannah Montana , I also was not immune. I bought tickets last Saturday so my own little pop star could get her Hannah on, in 3-D, at $15 a head.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.