The arthouse multiplex, which has been a mainstay of indie film releases, is closing at the end of May, and there’s no clear replacement in Los Angeles
The closure ends what was once a busy shopping and entertainment complex that is now being repurposed into a campus for Google. And for Hollywood stars, blue-collar workers and film buffs, the closure means the loss of another popular meeting place and movie haven, just 13 months after the demise of Arclight Cinemas and its beloved Cinerama Dome multiplex.
“It’s not the only art house theater on the Westside, but it’s been a key element of the release strategy for each studio,” said a studio executive.
Since opening in 2007, the Landmark Pico has been a popular spot for indie film premieres as well as industry screenings hosted by trade publications such as during awards season. More importantly, in the 2010s, the Landmark Pico stood alongside the Arclight Hollywood as the two Los Angeles locations that indie distributors regularly used for a platform release before beginning nationwide rollouts.
With both theaters out of the picture, it’s even more likely that indie distributors will move further away from a Los Angeles/New York platform strategy to release on multiple dozen screens in multiple cities to launch limited theatrical runs, a Approach, which has gained traction since theaters reopened last year.
While Landmark has said it will look at ways to “expand our footprint in Los Angeles,” indie films will have a harder time booking screens in one of the country’s largest theatrical markets unless Landmark is able to open a replacement. Outside of the now-defunct Arclights, none existed Miscellaneous LA location with so many screens dedicated to independent cinema. Although the 300-seat Landmark Pico’s main auditorium typically booked major studio blockbusters, at least nine of its 12 screens showed special films each day.
LA’s best-known indie chain, Laemmle Theaters, will likely shoulder a large part of the burden. Laemmle has picked up the opening weekends of several summer indie titles set to debut at the Landmark, a chain insider said, including IFC Films’ “Official Competition,” starring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz.
But there are only so many films and only so much playtime that Laemmle can support, especially since its two Westside locations, the Royal and Monica Film Centers, have nine screens with less parking and seating capacity than the Landmark Pico. And with top indie distributors like Searchlight expected to increase production year-on-year this fall, competition for screen space and audience attention among indie titles is likely to intensify.
Several distributors and analysts said they believe some studios will be better positioned to find backup plans for building word-of-mouth without the Landmark Pico — while others will have a much more difficult time.
Art house divisions of major studios like Disney’s Searchlight Pictures and Universal’s Focus Features, along with established indie studios like Neon and A24, regularly release films like Everything Everywhere All at Once and Moonage Daydream that can appeal to younger audiences. These studios should be able to easily release their upcoming titles in mainstream theaters like AMC Century City, Regal Sherman Oaks and AMC Grove, as well as specialty venues like Alamo Drafthouse DTLA and Cinelounge, which attract younger indie lovers.
However, smaller distributors such as IFC Films and Bleecker Street may face challenges as their art-house films cater to older audiences, which have not returned to cinemas in sufficient numbers after the pandemic has abated. For these labels, Laemmle Theaters and the world-class iPic Theaters in Westwood and Pasadena are likely to become even more important to their business, as the appeal of their films to less frequent box-goers will make it more difficult for them to find screens in most other locations.
The studio head noted that the Landmark Pico still seemed to be struggling to bring moviegoers back: “I was there recently on a Friday when there wasn’t a big movie coming out and there were a lot fewer people than COVID used to be.”
So what’s the way out? Studios need to find new ways to market their films to Angelenos – especially to award contenders. “It’s going to be tough without Landmark, but that’s going to force indie studios to get creative,” said a sales executive. “Honestly they had to get creative even before this closure because those older moviegoers still haven’t come back, certainly not at the level that the Landmark could support and now both the remaining cinemas and we as a distributor have to stand up, to preserve what is left.”
A theater owner pointed to a successful campaign by Sony Pictures Classics and New York’s Angelika Film Center for the Jim Broadbent/Helen Mirren dramedy The Duke last month. The campaign, titled Bring a Friend Back to the Movies, was essentially a buy one get one free offer for anyone who bought a ticket to The Duke directly through Angelika’s website.
“Yes, it has boosted attendance at this theater, but it has helped so many older people come back to theaters for the first time for a film made for them,” the theater owner said. “Any idea to get people going to the movies again needs to be brought to the table.”
Neither of these ideas could save the Landmark Pico, and it’s likely that there are other art houses across the country that are in a similar precarious position as turnout continues to lag. But with Focus Features’ surefire boomer magnet Downton Abbey: A New Era due out next week, art-house theater owners have said they’re still optimistic about the future.
“Landmark or not, there are still many theaters in LA where independent, thought-provoking films can find an auditorium to screen them in,” said one theater owner. “They may not screen as long as they used to, but they will find a home. It’s up to all of us in the industry to make sure those seats are filled when they get an audience.”