The Art Theatre of Long Beach has seen a near 300% increase in ticket sales over the last few weeks as “Oppenheimer” continues to pack the house, according to owner Kerstin Kansteiner.
“This is like a pre-pandemic, you know, almost windfall for us,” Kansteiner told the Post. “It’s been crazy in a really positive way, really well received, you know—lines of people.”
The colossal success of the “Barbenheimer” craze has smashed records for both corporate movie theaters and local film houses alike. But the film frenzy promises to be short-lived, as the Writers Guild of America strike continues to touch every inch of the industry.
“We’re all bracing ourselves,” Kansteiner said. “We’re going from incredible sales numbers to probably one of the biggest slumps we’ve ever seen. … There’s basically no films available.”
Next month, the city’s last standing independent movie house will feature an indie film with a queer topic, and Kansteiner says the theater may also pivot to showing older films and re-releases, in a similar model to what the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana uses, but it will need to obtain the license to do so.
“We’re not only one of the oldest single-screens, but we’re also a first-run movie theater, which means we still show films that are being released right now,” she said. “But I think in this incident, we may have to resort to that and show older films.”
Even if the strike were to resolve quickly, getting the film industry back on track will likely be a stymied and staggered effort.
The success of “Oppenheimer” comes on the heels of another success for the small theatre, “Asteroid City,” which debuted in May. Over the past several weeks, “Oppenheimer” has been filling 100 seats in the theater on average.
Since the theater reopened up until this spring, it hadn’t seen more than 70 people for a showing, Kansteiner said. Since the Christopher Nolan film debuted, though, the theater has sold around 1,000 tickets.
It’s been about three or four years since the Art Theatre has seen this kind of attendance.
“Typically, anytime we’d show like a Brad Pitt film, you know, Tarantino, those are the numbers that we used to see,” she said.
Together, “Barbenheimer” debuted in late July with a combined $235.5 million in a single weekend. Both AMC and Cinemark, which have theaters in Long Beach, reported the double-film debut brought some of the highest-ever box office weekends of all time. And Regal Cinemas, which also has a location in the city, emerged from bankruptcy following the “Barbenheimer” boost.
So, why hasn’t the Art Theatre shown “Barbie”? Kansteiner says the theater was forced to choose between the two highly anticipated blockbusters. The big movie studios will not release two films to single-screen theaters like hers because of the strict requirements to have multiple showings everyday, she said.
“There were some spirited discussions that went on,” she said. “‘Oppenheimer’ is a film that is in every single movie theater, and we debated this before we took the film. We had long discussions like, ‘Is it even worth it? Should we do this, or are people just gonna go to the multiplexes? And should we show ‘Barbie’?’”
Ultimately, the nonprofit-run theater settled on “Oppenheimer” simply because the team felt it would do better with the matinee, afternoon and nighttime crowds.
“‘Barbie’ is not an afternoon kind of film,” she said. “And we just learned yesterday that we’re probably holding ‘Oppenheimer’ until the 18th because it’s still doing so well. So, there’ll be no chance for us to show ‘Barbie.’”
That “Oppenheimer” crowd has also brought more business to Art du Vin next door and to the Retro Row corridor in general as movie-goers opt for a post-film drink or bite.
“It’s worth a discussion afterward for sure,” Kansteiner said.