CinemaCon: Fox Derides Theater Chief for Saying '12 Years' Too 'Intense' to Watch on Big Screen

"12 Years a Slave"

Fox executives and others were surprised earlier this week by National Association of Theatre Owners president/CEO John Fithian's public comments, since his job is to promote seeing movies in the cinema.

LAS VEGAS -- A top 20th Century Fox executive on Thursday took aim at National Association of Theatre Owners' John Fithian for saying that 12 Years a Slave was "too unequivocally intense" to watch on the big screen, and that he instead watched Fox Searchlight's Oscar-winning film at home.

Many were surprised by Fithian's public comments earlier this week at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of exhibitors and Hollywood studios, since it's his job to promote the theatrical experience. Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson drove this message home when taking the stage at CinemaCon to promote the studio's upcoming slate.

"We are excited to offer everything from intense epic adventures to equally thrilling comedies to intense dramas -- all of which are films that are meant to be seen in the best possible venue, your cinemas. That includes movies that win the Oscar for best picture, like 12 Years a Slave," said Aronson, drawing a loud round of applause.

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The personal admission from Fithian came as he delivered his annual speech at CinemaCon on Tuesday.

"Earlier, I mentioned human emotion and diversity of product. One movie that brought both of those qualities to the market was 12 Years a Slave, winner of the best picture Oscar. Yet it was the only movie of the nine nominated for best picture that I didn't watch on the big screen," Fithian said.

"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," he continued.

12 Years a Slave, from Fox Searchlight and New Regency, has been a powerful player at the global box office, grossing north of $172 million worldwide, including $56.1 million in the U.S. It is still playing in a small number of theaters, and is available on VOD.

"I share this 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 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," Fithian continued.