Depression-Era Film Revivals & Exhibitor Demand
During the 1930s, the studios valued their film libraries primarily for the production of remakes. A dynamic set of market forces, however, ensured that old films never left American screens.
Theatrical presentations of old films took one of two forms: reissues or revivals. Reissues were national releases initiated by the studio, which struck new prints and created new marketing materials.The studios used reissues to fill gaps in their release schedules (most often in the summer) and generate a small but reliable profit stream.
Revivals, on the other hand, were local in nature and initiated by the exhibitor. An exhibitor contacted a studio’s nearest exchange and inquired whether the exchange still possessed a print of a particular old film. If the exchange had it, they generally rented it to the exhibitor at a low, flat rate. Exhibitors were able to rent national reissues from studios for similarly low rates. Like the silent feature era, the demand for old movies in the 1930s was driven by the needs of independent exhibitors, who identified reissues and revivals as opportunities within a system that perpetually put them at a disadvantage.