Classic Christmas movies, a television staple for decades, have a renewed life in movie theaters across the country. Showings of iconic Christmas movies, from 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” to the more recent “Elf,” please fans old and new while serving as marketing tools for the theaters.
“Elf,” played at Classic Cinemas Woodstock Theatre when it premiered in 2003 and returned this year Dec. 9. More than half of the 256-seat main theater filled up with enthusiastic moviegoers from babies to grandparents. Most had seen the movie before, but some were there for the first time to enjoy the fairytale of Buddy (Will Farrell), an orphaned stowaway on Santa’s sleigh, adopted and raised as an elf, who journeys as an adult to New York City to find his real dad (James Caan) — who is on Santa’s Naughty List.
Mark Mazrimas, marketing director for Classic Cinemas, said some of the company’s 14 theaters have shown older Christmas movies for at least 15 years, while the showings began in Woodstock five or six years ago. Sponsored movies have free admission, while movies that have promotional partners are shown for $1. (The Woodstock Independent partnered with Classic Cinemas to present “Elf.”) The movies have a “multigenerational” appeal he said, drawing families.
“Some parents drop off their kids and go shopping on the Woodstock Square,” Mazrimas said.
Woodstock’s Martha Baker, a 9-year-old student at Prairiewood School, invited her neighbor and sometime babysitter Alexandra Norgard to accompany her 7-year-old brother, Simon, and her to the movie. Alexandra’s mom, Marla Norgard, joined the group.
“I watch ‘Elf’ all the time,” said Martha, “but the movie theater is fun.”
“You don’t get Icees at home,” observed Marla.
“Or candy,” Simon chimed in.
Concessions bring additional revenue to the theater.
“More people than you would think,” said Robyn Kratzke, assistant manager of the Woodstock Theatre, purchase concessions, especially popcorn, at 10 a.m. She put the percentage of those who bought concessions at 60 to 70 percent of attendees.
“Ten o’clock is not too early for popcorn and soft drinks,” Mazrimas said.
The Christmas movie showings introduce children to seeing a movie in a theater with an audience, said Mazrimas, noting that many now watch their first movies at home on an electronic device. Being in the theater is “more infectious,” he said, when audience members can hear each other laugh.
John and Jenny Potter brought their sons Elliot, age 3 1/2, and Milo, 1, from their home in Palatine to see “Elf,” along with grandpa John Potter Sr. They had seen the movie advertised while in Woodstock for the annual Christmas parade. “Elf” would be Elliot’s first movie in a theater, and the low admission price was part of the attraction in case the boys couldn’t make it through the entire show.
“Elf” retains its appeal for those who first saw the comedy as children. Woodstock resident Kate Pollack and her sister, Megan Russell, treated Kate’s husband, Will, to the movie as a birthday present. Will said he had seen Elf “at least eight times,” but this would be the first time in the theater.
“It’s kind of special [to see the movie in the theater],” Russell said.
Paula Rocks drove in from Streamwood with her husband for the movie. Part of the appeal was sentimental. She remembered driving into Chicago with her children who recited the movie line-by-line, each going in turn. The other attraction was the theater itself.
“We think this is the best theater,” Rocks said, “and we go to every one between here and Streamwood.”