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A roadshow theatrical release (known also as reserved seat engagement) was a term in the motion picture industry for a practice in which a film opened in a limited number of theaters in large cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities around the world for a specific period of time before the nationwide general release. Although variants of roadshow releases occasionally still exist, the practice mostly ended in the early 1970s.

As far as is known, virtually all of the films given roadshow releases were subsequently distributed to regular movie theatres. This was called a general release, and was akin to the modern-day wide release of a film. However, there are five important differences between a roadshow presentation of a film and today's limited releases:

Roadshow theatrical releases almost always placed a ten to fifteen-minute intermission between the two "acts" of the film, and the first act was frequently longer than the second.

Films shown as roadshow releases, especially those made between 1952 and 1974, were nearly always longer than the usual motion picture, lasting anywhere from slightly more than two hours to four hours or more, counting the intermission. Examples include Ben-Hur (1959), or Cleopatra (1963). There were no short subjects accompanying the film, and rarely any movie trailers.

Roadshow presentations were always shown on a one or two-performance a day, reserved seat basis, and admission prices were always higher than those of regular screenings. Unlike today's limited releases, seats had to be reserved; one could not simply buy a ticket at the box office and go in to watch the film. The two-performance-a-day screenings were usually limited to Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. During the rest of the week, the films would be shown only once a day. (However, in the case of Oklahoma!, there were three showings a day of the film on weekends, rather than two.

Souvenir programs were often available at roadshow presentations of films, much as souvenir programs are made available when one goes to see the stage version of a play or musical. These movie souvenir programs contained photos from the film, photos and biographies of its cast and principal crew, and information on how the film was made, rather like today's "extras" on DVDs.

In the days of frequent roadshow releases, production companies and film distributors never used them to determine whether or not a film should be given a wide release, as is done today occasionally when films perform poorly at the box office. From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, a roadshow release would always play widely after its original engagements. This was true even of box office flops.


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