Theater Owners Chief: '12 Years a Slave' Was 'Too Intense' to Watch in Cinema

2012-15 BKLOT John Fithian H

Fithian in his office at NATO headquarters in Washington, D.C.

UPDATED: National Association of Theater Owners president-CEO John Fithian surprised CinemaCon with his comments about the Oscar-winning film, which he praised for "being one of the most important movies of our generation."

LAS VEGAS -- The head of the trade organization representing theater owners -- whose job it is to promote seeing movies on the bigscreen -- caught some off guard when publicly revealing that he watched 12 Years a Slave at home, not in the cinema.

The personal admission from National Association of Theater Owners' John Fithian came as he delivered his annual speech at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of exhibitors in Las Vegas. He gave high praise to Steve McQueen's harrowing slave drama, but said it was too "intense" to watch in a theater.

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"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 told a packed audience of theater owners and Hollywood studio executives.

"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 all but done with its run in theaters.

Several Fox executives in attendance were surprised by Fithian's comments (as were others), although Fithian made it clear it was a disclosure used to highlight a bigger point -- the high-quality of today's theaters. 

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"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 in his speech.

It's safe to say he probably isn't alone. A significant number of those who voted in the various awards races likely saw 12 Years on a screener provided by Searchlight. Indeed, Hollywood studios and independent distributors send out screeners for all their awards contenders.