For the first time in decades, Farmington Civic Theater is a first-run movie house

Clint Eastwood would have been around 10 years old when the Farmington Civic Theater first opened in 1940.

It’s not a stretch to presume that Eastwood’s figure has been projected onto the screens of the Civic more than a handful of times over the years. The Hollywood legend made his on-screen debut in 1955 and has starred in and directed dozens of blockbuster films over the decades.

What is for certain is that on Friday, Sept. 17, Eastwood once again graced the screen and marquee of the Civic Theater, this time as an actor and director in his latest film, “Cry Macho.” It was a momentous occasion for the Civic: The opening of “Cry Macho” marked the theater’s return to showing first-run movies for the first time in at least a couple of decades.

Scott Freeman, Farmington Civic Theater. Photo by David Lewinski.Scott Freeman, general manager of the Civic, isn’t sure of the exact date when the Civic switched from first-run to second-run movies, but says it was sometime in the 1980s. He decided that this was the year to make the switch back.

“As GM for the past 11 years, I’ve noticed a trend that people want to see movies when they first come out. And that’s only been accelerated over the pandemic,” Freeman says. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down entertainment venues like the Civic for months on end, saw production companies making movies and releasing them on at-home streaming services instead of — or at the same time as — movie theaters.

“If customers have the opportunity to experience a product on a different service before coming to see you, they’re going to take it. That second-run theater model, it’s more difficult nowadays. We’re doing what the customers want.”

Freeman says he’s seen a spike in ticket sales since making the switch to first-run movies, something he was expecting but relieved to have confirmed. Scheduling movie releases is easier now, too, he says, allowing the theater to promote movie releases with more lead time.

The Civic has raised ticket prices to account for the switch to first-run movies; second-run films are cheaper to acquire, allowing for cheaper ticket prices. But with general admission prices at $8.50 per ticket, that’s still much cheaper than your average corporate multiplex. Budget prices, like matinee showings and discounts for senior citizens and others, offer tickets for $5.75.

“Being able to make changes like this has a big impact on the survivability of any business,” Freeman says. “We have to provide what people want because there are a lot of entertainment options out there now.”

Farmington Civic Theater is located at 33332 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.