Mark Cuban owns a lot of things, websites, cable channels, sports teams, and even some movie related companies. Magnolia Pictures is a distribution company that focuses on distributing foreign and art films in the United States. Landmark Theaters is a theater chain that plays those foreign and art films, the biggest one in the U.S. actually. They are both part of Cuban’s holdings, but now he’s put them up for sale. As a movie fan, I find this news to be pretty scary.
The state of the distribution of independent, foreign, and art films in the United States is lousy enough already. Travel anywhere outside of a major metropolitan area and you’re not likely to find anything other than huge multiplexes playing the same six big studio films on multiple screens. Streaming services like Netflix and even some cable companies’ video on demand services are making great strides in getting smaller, more experimental films into people’s homes, but the opportunity to watch them first run and on the big screen is still rare in many places. Living near Chicago, I’m lucky enough to see a lot of weird, cool movies in the theater, and a large part of why that’s possible is the city’s Landmark Theater. While there are a handful of great places to see independent films around the city, the Landmark is the only art multiplex that’s always playing six or seven of them at a time. Their current business model does great things for me, and I’m scared at the possibility of it changing.
Cuban says that by putting the two companies up for sale he is just “testing the waters” and that, “we won’t sell unless the offer is very, very compelling”; but the thought still scares me. U.S. box office sales are down 20% this year, and I could see that as meaning trouble for theaters that play niche movies. What if a big company like AMC, who has already been gobbling up all the remaining theaters around here that aren’t AMC owned, picks up Landmark just to get a tighter stranglehold on the industry and acquire some real estate? The possibility that I might one day walk up to the Landmark and see a newly hung AMC sign and a marquee playing nothing but big budget action movies and romantic comedies (with probably one art film in the smallest theater) is the stuff of nightmares. Offers to buy the companies are supposed to be filed next week. What say we pool together our money and scoop them up ourselves?