Dwindling audiences end late-night flicks at Byrd Death of a Byrd Theatre tradition

Dwindling audiences end late-night flicks at Byrd Death of a Byrd Theatre tradition

The smell of butter and popcorn no longer fills the entrance of the Byrd Theatre on late Saturday


For the past five years, the historic Byrd Theatre had featured a classic film every Saturday night at midnight. Film fans flocked to the Byrd to see movies, such as “The Goonies,” “The Princess Bride” and “Labyrinth.”

Byrd Theatre manager Bob Enos recalls the Saturday night crowds.

“Most of the films we played were from the late ’70s and into the ’80s. The midnight movies played to the 16- to 20-year-old crowd,” Enos said.

Many students at VCU, such as mass communications major Matt Becker, 23, used to go to Carytown for the chance to catch a late-night classic on the big screen for only a couple of bucks.

“Me and my friends would get together to go see ‘Donnie Darko,’ ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ and ‘The Goonies,’ as well. More often than not, the theater was packed,” Becker said.

For now, VCU students will have to find other things to do on a Saturday night, since the Byrd Theatre is no longer a haven for fans of a late-night flick.

“The Saturday-night feature has got to bring in enough money to pay the bills, and it has to support itself … or at least break even,” Enos said.

The problem the Byrd is experiencing is a matter of patronage, said Tony Pelling, president of the Byrd Theatre Foundation. Patrons who once came to the features are no longer present. Those former patrons have either left town or lost interest in the midnight movie, he said.

“Our patronage kept us going. Without the patronage, we can’t keep showing the Saturday-night feature,” Pelling said.

In order to show the Saturday-night feature, Enos and the foundation had to pay their employees overtime, which highly increased the theater’s overhead costs to show the films.

“The operating cost for the feature would need to maximize the return. The people just weren’t showing up anymore,” Pelling said.

The lack of patronage for the Saturday-night feature left Pelling and the other members of the board no choice except to stop showing the midnight movies. However, Pelling, along with the rest of the foundation, wishes to keep a relationship with VCU and its students.

“If the VCU students would like a movie, they better let us know, for we would like to continue our association with the school as time goes on,” Pelling said.

The Saturday-night feature developed a repertoire that often packed the 1,400-seat theater, employing the balcony and the lower level. However, Enos said eventually the repertoire was stuck on repeats.

“The reruns we were playing – some worked, and some didn’t. Because of this people stopped showing up,” Enos said. “We just wore out the three dozen films that did well for us.

“We will probably try it again; we will just have to see,” Enos said. “But for now it just hasn’t been in our interests financially.”

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