A solve for the film crisis – bring back the double feature

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When I was a kid, my dad took me to see The Towering Inferno. It would be the first of ten times I would see it in the movie theater and countless times at home. My wife only knows the film as an annoying poster that hangs on our walls. But for me, it was one of the films that made me want to make movies.

Although I knew Irwin Allen’s fiery epic was truly one of the first event films of the modern day, I had no idea how big of a film it was for Hollywood at the time. First, the film brought together two of the biggest stars of the day Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.

Second, The Towering Inferno brought together two books – The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.

The former was brought by Warner Bros and Irwin Allen, who was coming off great success with The Poseidon Adventure, was going to make that his next disaster epic. The latter novel was brought by Twentieth Century Fox and was moving ahead at the same time.

Allen saw the box office battle brewing before the studio heads did. So, what did he do? He made Warner Bros and Fox sit down and collaborate.

McQueen, Dunaway and Newman

Yes, two rival studios collaborated and created a disaster movie classic, whose spectacle has really never been challenged by any of the newer disaster films like 2012 or even Titanic. Yeah, I’m looking at you, James Cameron. The first hour and a half is unwatchable.

But I digress. Fox and WB went on to make hordes of money by teaming McQueen and Newman with other big stars of the day in the biggest movie of 1974, which was also nominated for Best Picture.

Studios collaborating can work. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can succeed.

We are in the middle of a lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. Because of this 120,000 jobs have been temporarily lost in just Hollywood according to IATSE. Productions such as the highly anticipated Matrix 4 and The Flash film are on hold. And releases of most major tent pole films including Black Widow, F9, A Quiet Place II and more have been pushed back.

Yesterday, we reported Warner Bros is now (with good reason) considering pushing back the release of Wonder Woman 1984. They have since denied it, but let’s face it, situations change daily.

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When things do get better, and believe me they will, there is going to be a glut of major films fighting for release dates. Some films may even get pushed back until next year. This is going cause angst not only for the studios and its marketing people, but the audiences as well.

Do we really want to choose between Black Widow and Wonder Woman or No Time to Die or Mulan? Aaaaaah. I can’t even think about it here.

Here’s a solution, studios. Think about your audiences this year who will one day flock back to the theaters. I propose bringing back the DOUBLE FEATURE.

Just temporarily.

A Brief History of the Double Bill

The format was created in the 1920s, because production was at a high and people with average incomes could afford to go multiple times a week.

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During the ’30s and ‘40s, supposedly every man, woman and child went to the movie theater two or three times a week. Recorded music and radios were too expensive for all but the upper middle class to have in their homes until the late 1930s.

I remember as a kid seeing Westworld (yes kids, it was a great B-movie first) paired with Emperor of the North (loved Ernest Borgnine after The Poseidon Adventure). Every Saturday afternoon, my best friend Brian and I would go to the Sam Eric theater near us and sit through a Double Feature.

Drive-ins (god I miss them) thrived for decades by pairing up films.

Even today at the Writers’ Guild Theater it’s possible to see three to four films – very different films – in one day.

Think about the good will studios could elicit from movie goers if Warner Bros paired Princess Diana with Marvel’s Natasha Romanoff? Universal, you’re going to have great, make that amazing car scenes, in F9. Why not talk to Paramount and pair it up with Tom Cruise’s return to the cockpit in Top Gun: Maverick?

We suggest bringing back the Double Feature

Imagine the scares of Lions Gate teamed its Chris Rock Saw reboot Spiral: From the Book of Saw with Jordan Peele’s reboot of Candyman?

And Disney, you are going to occupy many of the multiplex theaters already. Just pair Artemis Fowl with either Soul or Jungle Cruise.

Just for one summer, consider this possibility. There are many great films coming out and we won’t be able to see all of them.

The possibilities are endless if we bring back and embrace the Double Feature. Sure, the films would have to split their box offices, but isn’t that better than the film flopping?

Irwin Allen saw what could happen if two studios worked together. Take a page from his book.

Next up, baseball. Bring back the doubleheader this season.

The Geek is a working screenwriter, director and screenwriting instructor.

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