While this weekend's release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens signaled the end of a banner year for Disney's theatrical division, it wasn't all sunshine and daisies for fans in Texas. In fact, there was a good portion of Spanish speaking movie-goers that couldn't enjoy the film, which is allegedly thanks to AMC Theaters' supposedly exclusionary business practices.
The allegations come from the short lived theater chain Viva Cinema, a Spanish speaking theater that specialized in subtitled and dubbed versions of Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Houston theater was forced to close its doors a couple of years ago, and according to a report from THR, the chain is accusing AMC Theaters for this misfortune. The company's lawsuit stems from their claims that AMC Theaters and major studios are in a pact to limit the release of top tier blockbusters to more major theatrical chains.
If these allegations sound familiar, it's because we previously reported how Cobb Theaters launched a similar suit in early 2014. That case alleged that the bigger chain was demanding that studios like Sony and Warner Bros grant them exclusive first-run access to big ticket titles like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. Competitor Regal Entertainment has also been the recent subject of such legal proceedings, with their case stating that American Sniper was initially promised as a first-run exclusive to their smaller competitor, Cinema Village Cinemart, only to have that promise revoked and re-routed to Regal.
With allegations such as those made by Cinemart or Viva Cinema, the case of unfair treatment is hard to make. On the outside, the decision of a major studio to put a film like Star Wars: The Force Awakens into a major theater chain like AMC Theaters, rather than making a deal to give a smaller chain exclusive access, seems like a no-brainer. As a film studio, you want your film to be in front of as many eyes as it possibly can, in hopes of having a record breaking run similar to that we saw this weekend. However, it's the accusation that Viva Cinema is being targeted due to it's "niche" market of Hispanic film lovers, that makes this scenario hurt the most.
Of course, allegations like these don't help when major chains like AMC Theaters are buying up their smaller, more vulnerable competitors. Just last week, the Starplex Cinemas chain announced that it was successfully acquired by the theatrical exhibition behemoth. With only 33 locations to their name, the chain will now become a part of the company that only a decade ago absorbed the legendary Loews Cineplex Entertainment brand. With theatrical patrons already worried about Starplex's lower ticket prices being raised as tribute to their newly acquired AMC banner, this certainly isn't going to make the waters any calmer between movie-goers and the chains that supposedly cater to them.
No matter the findings of the legal proceedings against AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment, the subject of theatrical turf wars should be one of intense discussion. More importantly, the issue of accessibility should also be on the table, in order for movie-goers of different backgrounds to be able to enjoy the films they want to go see. Here's hoping that this latest in the line of already existing allegations sparks a discussion that will ultimately benefit both audiences and theater owners alike.