Duck Dynasty and the Metropolitan Opera are two very different cultural phenomena, but they have at least one thing in common: Fathom Events, the unique and prolific theatrical distributor based in Denver.
Over the past 20 years, Fathom has mastered the art of finding audiences for one-off cinematic events, from live broadcasts of opera, stage plays and live concert pics to anniversary rereleases of classic Hollywood films. A groundbreaking partnership with The Metropolitan Opera put Fathom on the map. Launched in 2006, The Met: Live in HD program, which sees about 10 operas a year beamed into theaters on Saturdays and Wednesdays, has generated more than $205 million in box office sales and consistently lands on a weekend’s top 10 list.
The company has also made a big impression in the faith-based and anime spaces (again, two disparate genres). Fathom ranked No. 9 on the list of top distributors at the 2022 domestic box office, with $68 million in ticket sales from a whopping 117 titles, not all that far behind Lionsgate’s $85.4 million — and, for the first time, three Fathom titles earned more than $5 million.
With its profile heightened, Fathom is expanding its business model by giving original movies a theatrical run. “We are the biggest and best cinema event company out there, and we’ll still do that, but we’re evolving into being a specialty distributor as well,” says Fathom CEO Ray Nutt. “Some things deserve more time on the big screen.”
That includes The Blind, an upcoming faith-based biopic spearheaded by the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame. Set in 1960s Louisiana, the film tells the real-life story of how patriarch Phil Robertson conquered his demons, including addiction, before they could destroy his family. “We did have conversations with other studios,” says Phil’s daughter Korie Robertson, a producer of The Blind. “But Fathom was the right fit for us.” Teaming with Fathom allowed the family to control the film’s destiny, including marketing, and reach their intended audience. In addition to a theatrical run of at least two weeks, Fathom can also play The Blind directly in more than 1,000 churches nationwide that aren’t within 30 or so miles of a theater through its partnership with Faith Content Network.
Fathom’s changing model scored several key victories last year, led by the exclusive theatrical run of The Chosen Season 3: Episodes 1 & 2, part of a series about Jesus, which opened to $8.8 million over the Nov. 18-20 weekend — a third-place finish behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and The Menu — on its way to grossing $14.6 million over its five-week run, a record for the company. (Fathom is expected to continue its relationship with the Chosen filmmakers, who have been granted a SAG-AFTRA waiver to shoot a fourth season.)
Among Fathom’s many recent credits are Kevin Smith’s Clerks III and 80th anniversary rereleases of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
Upcoming original specialty programming includes two films featuring renowned American soprano Renée Fleming touring and singing in Paris and Venice with music luminaries. Made in partnership with Imax and Stage Access, Cities That Sing: Paris opens Aug. 26 in select Imax and Fathom cinemas, followed by Cities That Sing: Venice this fall.
Elsewhere, Fathom is co-hosting a premiere screening event with specialty distributor Bleecker Street for its upcoming drama Golda, which stars Helen Mirren as Golda Meir and Liev Schreiber as Henry Kissinger. Fathom will present a Q&A with Mirren and director Guy Nattiv in theaters across the country Aug. 23, two days before the film’s official release. (It was taped before the SAG-AFTRA strike.)
“They have a great relationship with the audience that appreciates high-quality cinema or who would go to see opera and performing arts events,” says Bleecker head of distribution Kyle Davies, a studio exec who used to run distribution at Paramount. “It allows us to put Golda on the map with that audience.”
Nutt says he’s happy to fill the niche spaces in Hollywood, even if others doubt the strategy. “People kind of look at us and say, ‘I don’t understand why you think this content will attract an audience,’ ” he says. So far, it’s working out well as distributors continue to recover from the pandemic.
Fathom is a joint venture of AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres, the country’s three largest chains. It also has added 400 new smaller exhibition partners in the last year.
“Audiences are looking for special content. They’re looking for something that appeals to them, and our titles are very, very diverse,” says Nutt. “And, for our original programming, we won’t greenlight something unless we know there’s an audience that can put butts in seats.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.