Back to IndieWire

Theater Owners CEO Says ’12 Years A Slave’ Was “Too Unequivocally Intense To Watch In A Cinema”

Theater Owners CEO Says '12 Years A Slave' Was "Too Unequivocally Intense To Watch In A Cinema"

Despite at least two Academy voters admitting to not seeing Steve McQueen’s harrowing “12 Years A Slave”—they ended up voting for the film anyway—the unflinching portrait of slavery scored the Best Picture trophy thanks to voters unafraid to view our nation’s dark past. But with the prevalence of screeners in Oscar campaigns, how many actually made the trek to watch this tragic story in a room full of strangers on the big screen? Maybe some recent comments made by the president-CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners can give us a clue.

According to THR, during a speech at CinemaCon—the annual industry event for theater owners—NATO (not that one) president John Fithian revealed to the crowd of exhibitors that he couldn’t bring himself to watch McQueen’s film in a theater, saying “it was the only movie of the nine nominated for best picture that I didn’t watch on the big screen. It’s not that I didn’t consider the movie worthy of watching. Quite the contrary. ‘12 Years a Slave’ constitutes one of the most important movies of our generation. It’s simply that, for me, the movie was too unequivocally intense to watch in a cinema, so I waited and watched it home.”

No doubt realizing the irony of the head of a group historically against the home video market admitting his preference to watching movies in the comfort of his own home, Fithian defended his decision as “a personal admission to make a point about the cinema experience. Our members’ cinemas offer the most intense, technically advanced, real-life visual and audio environments ever experienced. For eight of the nine nominated movies and dozens of other films during the year, the cinema was the place for me. For one movie, the intensity of the cinema would have been too much.” 

What do you folks think? Are there films that are just ill-suited to the full-fledged theatrical experience? Are there any films you’ve personally skipped because you felt they would have been too intense of an experience? Is this a troubling indication from the folks at NATO that they are letting studio chiefs know they’d rather have more spectacle and less drama? Let us know below.

This Article is related to: News and tagged



No one would be freaking out about what he said, if instead he had pointed out that "Gravity" was the only best picture nominee that would make a vastly inferior experience if viewed at home.

He is only acknowledging the obvious: home video technology is now robust enough that one can consider the best venue for any given story when deciding on the optimal experience.

Big screen, public viewings are no longer the only, best choice for telling every single story any more than every single musical composition is improved by playing it at a louder volume. Sometimes the experience is enhanced by headphones and a pause button.

Filmmakers can now consider the (appropriate) venue as one more color on the palette of storytelling.


Dude knew he would have a strong emotional reaction to the movie and was probably mortified at people seeing him cry, so he watched it at home. Give him a break.


It is strange that there's never been a problem accepting works about the Holocaust, in fact the vibe for a film like Schindler's List is that it must be seen at the cinema. I'm not sure what the answer to that is, Fithian is clearly deeply respectful of the film, and I think, certainly in this case, that it’s unfair to jump into judgements around racism. I wonder if the difficulty is perceived guilt, I'm sure Schindler's List was a different affair entirely in German cinemas.


This guy is a damn fool.. you could attack him for judging a film he's yet to see, but with such extensive marketing campaigns you can have a pretty good idea of what sort of film you're getting into without having paid admission first.. but at the same time, damn, what a DAMN fool


Well, this underscores Eric Holder's contention that when it comes to race, Americans are a "nation of cowards."

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *