When I was ten years old and deeply invested in the Harry Potter films, I attended a screening of Deathly Hallows Part 1 with friends at 12:01 AM, the morning of its official release. Yes, red carpet premieres had already taken place and an international rollout meant that thousands witnessed the penultimate chapter of the Boy Who Lived hours or days before. But it excited me to feel like I was among the first people to see the film. At Century Cinema in Corte Madera, eager fans stood dressed head to toe in robes and Gryffindor sweaters. They held wands, cast spells, clutched Marauder’s Maps. My own group’s evening ritual had consisted of an extravagant themed feast: shepherd’s pie, pumpkin juice, and Treacle tart. The line to enter the theater snaked around the building twice. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were introduced separately at the beginning of the film, and each of them received rounds of applause from the audience—these hollers and screams proved as integral to the picture as its own sounds. At school the next day, even the teacher took interest in my midnight experience.
When Deathly Hallows – Part 2 debuted, I returned to Corte Madera and left in the wee hours of the morning. My Hunger Games fandom, though never as intense as with Potter, drew the same friends and me to the first film’s midnight arrival a year later, where fervor and anticipation sent plastic arrows flying across aisles. Then, in November of 2013, I checked on showtimes for the sequel, and was surprised to see that the first available was not at midnight, but 7:00 on the Thursday preceding it. Cinemark theaters had extended screenings back five hours, and in some cases, filled in 9:30, 10:15 and 11:00 before an eventual midnight run. Century Cinema did not include midnight at all.
My friends and I ended up driving half an hour to a theater playing the movie when we wanted to see it—we were not going to change our tradition just because we had different options available to us. The place we found was one of those which included four shows before midnight, so by the time we reached our seats, secured our popcorn and started watching the previews, we realized only two other groups accompanied us below the screen. Now while I undoubtedly felt thrilled by Quarter Quells and rebellion, the atmosphere brought by fans in years previous had disappeared, and Catching Fire was just a movie.
To be clear, I’m aware of the conventions and events that die hard fans of any blockbuster franchise can take part in. Seeing a film at midnight is not the only way to express obsession with your favorite novel or character. But nights at Century Cinema attracted a certain type of devotee: a normal person who was also genuinely excited by the content and meaning in the books on which these immensely popular films were based. Condescension didn’t exist; no snobby preteens could be heard demanding of others the name of the Quidditch team that Cho Chang supports. (That’s what I imagine of any so-called Potter-con, and I’m certain it’s accurate.)
I have tried to figure out why Hollywood would do away with these screenings, but a rational explanation doesn’t exist. In addition to their destruction of the integrity of fan gatherings, 7:00 showtimes essentially rob a film of its claim to an opening; no, Captain America: Civil War cannot sensibly declare its release date to be Friday, May 6, if it’s viewable the day before. There’s also little proof for the argument that earlier openings pad box office grosses. Until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Harry’s final outing topped all pre-show grosses—midnight or otherwise—by a large margin. An astounding $45 million came from just those 12:01 tickets, equaling the entire first weekend of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (itself considered a solid success). Would Force Awakens have still locked up a $57 million Thursday haul if Disney had limited screenings to midnight? You can bet on it. The same people who stake out spots that early will come regardless of a time shift. Plus, weekend grosses before the implementation of Thursday shows in the early 2010’s are now distorted because they don’t factor in an extra twelve hours of cash flow; Force Awakens claims to have the largest three-day launch of all time, even though it really made that money in four days.
So can I please have my strictly midnight experience back? I admit that I can’t currently find a series worth obsessing over (Star Wars is too universal, D.C. is colorless boilerplate trash), but when I do, I want to be transported again. I want to hear spells chanted and Hedwig’s theme sung like an anthem once more. The film industry is changing, I know, and so far, there have been no backward steps to speak of. Maybe this can be the exception.
It’s the Tutshill Tornadoes that Cho Chang loves, by the way.