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An Indian blockbuster’s success flips the script for movie theaters

An Indian blockbuster’s success flips the script for movie theaters


The Future. The premiere of Tollywood blockbuster RRR smashed box offices throughout India (and the U.S.) despite a nonexistent international advertising campaign. Now that streaming platforms have changed the game for moviegoers and theaters alike, audiences may turn out for a different type of cinematic experience — something warmer and more communal.

Thinking inside the box
After becoming the second highest-grossing Indian film in U.S. box office history, RRR raked in $12-$15M on its opening weekend in the States alone, prompting many theaters to schedule specialty screenings or even repeat daily showtimes.

  • The movie. The latest offering from S. S. Rajamouli, RRR (“Rise, Roar, Revolt”), is a three-hour epic about folk heroes forming an unlikely alliance to fight the British raj in 1920s India. With a budget equivalent to $72M, it’s one of the most expensive Indian films to date.
  • The legacy. Rajamouli’s Baahubali film franchise holds the current record for the highest-grossing Indian movie ever made, so domestic audiences knew what they were getting with RRR — a heartfelt action story devoid of the ironic self-awareness typically found in Hollywood blockbusters.
  • The wait. Initially slated to be released in January 2020, RRR was delayed twice by the pandemic, pushing its opening night by more than two years, further intensifying hype around the film.

While RRR has been in U.S. theaters, it’s also been available to stream on Netflix — which hasn’t seemed to dampen viewer turnout.

Bigger is better
For one thing, streaming means movie theaters are getting fewer big releases, which has driven them to diversify their offerings to cast a wider net. On the other hand, that also pressures them to prioritize big films like MCU productions, which aren’t quite as much fun at home.

Unlike Marvel movies, RRR draws on an entirely different cultural canon, resulting in a more hammy and unself-conscious product than most American fare. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a close second. As streaming continues to play a more dominant role in how fans see movies, theaters may take inspiration from films like RRR and only show the most exciting (and simply fun) movies — the kind that viewers can enjoy even if they don’t speak the language or know the characters.

Hollywood used to own that space. But maybe not for much longer.

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