16 years ago today, Toy Story ended its theatrical run*. Given that it came out on November 22, 1995, you might think, wow, that's a long time in theaters, and you'd be right. Toy Story was the number one film for 1995, earning almost $192 million, and spending an amazing 37 weeks in theaters! That length of time is almost unheard of nowadays. For instance, The Avengers, the number 3 largest domestic grossing film of all time at $620 million, has been in theaters only 18 weeks, less than half that of Toy Story. Granted, it's still playing in theaters, but it doesn't seem too likely it will stay much longer. Or what about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the fourth largest grossing film worldwide? It was in theaters only 19 weeks! And what about Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time ($761 million domestically)? It was in theaters 34 weeks - a good, long run but not as long as Toy Story. Even Toy Story 3, the highest grossing animated film of all time, was in theaters only 24 weeks.
It hasn't always been this way. Toy Story 2 was out for 35 weeks. That same year, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace was in theaters for 37 weeks. In 1994, the year before Toy Story was released, The Lion King was in theaters for 36 weeks. And in 1997, Titanic, the second highest grossing film of all time, stayed in theaters 41 weeks!
This trend of films spending less time in theaters has been going on for a number of years. Films are expected to have a blockbuster opening; if they don't they're immediately considered a failure (case in point, John Carter, which Disney was practically writing off as a failure even before its release). They're not given time to build up a following. My cynical side says it's all about profit. I know very little about film distribution, but I'm guessing the studios make a lot more money getting the films to home video and onto cable pay-per-view. This is too bad; films are meant for the big screen. I love going to see a film opening weekend with a large crowd, then going back a few weeks later to see it again. But nowadays, by the time I want to go back the film is gone. Unfortunately, I don't see this trend reversing. At least for Pixar fans, we can look forward to their films being re-released in 3D so we can again experience them as they were meant to be: on a large screen being enjoyed with other movie fans.
* - All figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo.