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Fathom, the company behind classic films at your local theater, is making major gains in moviegoing

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Still from 2009’s “Coraline.”
Focus Features | Universal

At a time when the box office is starved for content and audiences seem pickier than ever, Fathom Events is posting record revenue gains.

For 20 years, the joint venture between AMC, Regal and Cinemark has been best known for bringing alternative content to the big screen in the form of classic Hollywood titles, live telecasts of theater and opera productions, concerts and even television series.

Most recently, it ventured into the specialty distribution space to deliver “The Blind,” “The Chosen,” “Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist” and “Waitress: the Musical” to audiences. Still to come is “Andrea Bocelli 30: The Celebration.”

In 2023, Fathom generated $100 million at the box office, a 116% increase over 2019 levels and its highest-grossing year ever. And that momentum has continued into 2024, as the company tallied $43 million in the first quarter, up nearly 140% compared to the $18 million it tallied in the year-earlier period.

Fathom’s relationships with Hollywood’s biggest studios and its cinematic reach — as the partnership of the industry’s three biggest theater chains — has made it a formidable force at the box office. Its value proposition is twofold: It breathes new life into older films, and into theaters.

“Falling mostly under the event film banner, anniversary titles have truly come into vogue seemingly more so now than in years past with a particular emphasis given to these beloved older films,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “These anniversary re-releases are a win-win, providing joy to movie fans and notably additional revenues to movie theaters often decades after initial theatrical run.”

In post-pandemic times, Fathom has acted as a crutch for many smaller cinema operators, providing much-needed content for the big screen amid a drought caused by pandemic and strike-related production shutdowns. 

Season 4 of “The Chosen,” a faith-based television show about the life of Jesus, generated $32 million at the box office for Fathom, around 75% of its first-quarter haul. 

“‘The Chosen’ was through [Fathom], and it was huge for us,” said Brock Bagby, president and chief content, programming and development officer at B&B Theatres. “It gave us a lot of extra revenue in February and the beginning of March that we wouldn’t have had.”

Fathom has also benefited from its anniversary titles and classic cinema showings. Each year, the company brings films back to theaters to celebrate milestone years alongside fan-favorite titles. 

“We’ve seen that there’s a growing segment in the box office, people that are interested in seeing older films on the big screen,” said Jordan Hohman, vice president of project development at Phoenix Theatres. “These audiences are getting to enjoy classic films, either for the first time or for the first time, in a new way. I think that that’s valuable.”

This year, the company celebrated the 85th anniversaries of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” as well as the 35th anniversary of “Steel Magnolias.” Still on the calendar is the 50th anniversary of “Blazing Saddles,” the 70th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” the 40th anniversary of “Neverending Story” and the 20th anniversary of “Mean Girls.”

It also has a film series called Studio Ghibli Fest, which features 14 films from the studio in their original Japanese and English dubbed versions. This year, the lineup boasts the 20th anniversary of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the 35th anniversary of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and the 30th anniversary of “Pom Poko.” 

And these titles can generate big box-office hauls even decades after they were first released. 

Fathom’s three-weekend run of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy resulted in $8.2 million at the box office. 

“Lord of the Rings was wildly successful nationwide, and for us,” Bagby said. “We just did 4DX Lord of the Rings this weekend in our new Dallas theater, and we sold out every single show.”

4DX is a screen format that utilizes motion seats, practical effects and sensory elements to immerse viewers in a movie experience.

Audiences are already buying tickets for showings in August celebrating the 15th anniversary of “Coraline,” which will be shown widely in 3D for the first time since its original release.

Fathom re-released “Coraline” twice before with great success. In 2022, the film showed in 800 theaters for one day and tallied $1.2 million in ticket sales. Last year, the film extended its release to five days and snared $7.1 million, making it the highest-grossing classic film release in Fathom history.

That $7.1 million figure is about 10% of the initial domestic run for “Coraline” in 2009 and 42% of its opening weekend, according to data from Comscore.

What’s more, 53% of the audience who attended screenings of the film last year were 34 years old or younger.

“New audiences are seeing it for the first time although the film is 15 years old,” said Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events.

Fathom reports presales for this year’s screenings of “Coraline” are selling seven times as many tickets per location as were sold during the same period last year, with two-thirds of those ticket sales for the 3D version of the film.

Because Fathom has a wide footprint through its parent companies and nationwide marketing, it does the heavy lifting for smaller theater chains. 

“[Fathom has] built a lot of relationships,” Phoenix Theatre’s Hohman said. “They worked out the licensing and they created the marketing behind re-releasing these classic films that, you know, we just can’t do ourselves. It’s a national campaign. So, I think that they just offer a lot of value.”

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