Editoral: Are Movie Theaters Becoming Irrelevant?
As you guys (my readers) can tell…. I love going to the movies. The feeling of going into a movie theater, the ambiance of watching a blockbuster / highly anticipating feature film on the big screen, and the whole viewing experience is the stuff that gets excited. Of course, I go to the movies every week (one or twice sometimes) for my movie blog to views the latest releases that are coming out, but what about the general public? Are movie theaters becoming a thing of the past? Here’s my thoughts on it in my editorial piece.
Going to your local movie theater / cinema complex was generally the only way for viewers to see new movies. Of course, some offered to wait for its home release and / or wait for it to appear on TV a year (or two). Still, the expression “going to the movies” was a commodity of sorts; a way of spending time with friends and family or even with your significant other (i.e. “date night). However, times are changing and movie theaters (as a whole) are on the decline and have been for the better part of a decade. There’s a ton of contributing factors as to why theaters are not producing the same projected numbers that they once were.
THE HIGH PRICE OF “GOING TO THE MOVIES”
It’s no shock that the prices of actually going to a movie theater complex and seeing a feature film can be quite expensive; creating a large “sticker shock” price tag for many people out there. Over the years, the ticket price for a movie has inflated and can range anywhere between roughly $7 to $11 (depending on what time of day you see the film). However, that’s only for 2D movies. Let’s know forget the choice of 3D movies, IMAX viewing, and 4D experiences, which could balloon the cost of seeing a movie to a very sizable amount. I just looked up the price for a 4D viewing of Avengers: Endgame (6:00 pm) showing and it’s a whopping $29 per ticket.
Looking past tickets prices are the concession stand prices. Naturally, people get hungry and want to eat something while attending a film. However, the prices of concession food has also gonna up, with prices of candy, popcorn, and even soda have inflated. I mean…. a small personal size bag of M&Ms there could cost somewhere around $4 of $5, which is about the half price of getting the large family size bag of M&Ms at your grocery / retail store. Another example is getting a small popcorn and large drink there, which has a price tag of $15!
So, to put this perspective…. let’s take the scenario of the average American family of four (two parents and two kids). It’s Friday night and they go to see the latest animated movie from Disney or Pixar. Purchasing tickets for the 7:00 pm (regular 2D showing), the family spends roughly $40 to $50. Now, the kids want food there. One wants nachos and large soda, while the other one wants a hot dog and a bag candy and let’s just say that the parents get a popcorn to share and each get two mediums sodas. The family has spent an additional price ranging from $25 to $40. So, the price of going to the movies for the average family of four can estimating from $65 to $90 (on average estimate of course). On top of all that…. the movie itself might not even be good and might be a disappointment; deterring future returns of seeing feature films in theaters from that studio and / or genre.
So… when you consider everything…. actually going to the movies can be quite pricey and expensive.
THE COMFORTS OF HOME
This might be a minor complaint, but some people actually don’t like the atmosphere of attending a movie at the cinema complex for several reasons. Of course, the distractions of others viewers attending the film as well is one of those contributing factors. Suffice to say, some viewers don’t observe / have “movie theater” etiquette. What do I mean? Oh, you know…. the people who talk during the whole movie (rather loudly and making comments throughout), the people who leave their phones on during the feature (leaving the screen brightness at a high level) and text their friends, and the people who just do strange and weird while attending the screening. Let’s not forget…. unruly / screaming kids, the “creepier” who sits close to you (in an empty theater), the oblivious person who sits next you (munching loudly on his popcorn) and taking your leg / arm space, the constant “Sssshhhers” individuals, the rude / obnoxious teens, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. So, considering all those background noises of attending a film at a movie theater, isn’t it sometimes better just to wait for the movie to come out on home release and see it the privacy and comforts of your own home. Plus, some people have actually started to have a “media room” in their domiciles, replicating a miniature movie theater that has the “look and feel” of it going to the movies, but none of the unwanted distraction from others.
THE RISE OF THE STREAMING SERVICES
It’s a known fact that the 2010s have seeing the rise of streaming services, captivating the general public’s mass appeal with its usage of having a cloud-based catalogue collection TV series and movies are your fingertips (or click of a button). Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and other sites have quickly risen in popularity and in usage, gaining vast streaming empires with its millions of viewers. Take Netflix for example…. the company has gained enough revenue from it subscribe viewers that it’s becoming a contender of developing its own original content and purchasing feature films (bypassing larger films studios in the process). Heck, some movie studios actually have even sold their content to Netflix in way to “cut their losses” on lesser feature projects rather than letting it bomb completely during its theatrical release run. Of course, some of those movies are adequate endeavor, but Netflix’s movies like Bird Box and Roma are becoming quite popular; promising greater cinematic endeavors on the horizon. This, along with a collective library of movies at a person’s disposal, is a clear indication that you don’t need to go to the movies to see high quality content of feature films and showcasing the steady increase of streaming services within the confines of your own home.
THE AGE OF ILLEGAL PIRATING
It’s no shock that the usage of illegally downloading and / or streaming pirated content has also been on the rise since the early 2000s, most notably with Napster and other media sharing platforms. When considering movies, there are a multiple of reasons why people do it. Maybe they don’t have enough extra financial funds to go see a movie (again, the prices of going to the movies has played a contributing factor)? Maybe there isn’t a movie theater near them? Maybe they prefer to stay at home? Or maybe just because of the simple fact that it is free? Given the content and circumstances…. everyone (beyond a shadow of a doubt) will gravitate towards something that is free (or at a lesser cost) than what they have to pay for. Sure, they not be HD quality and might be presented on someone recording device, but illegal pirating of feature films has become a common practice on the world wide web; finding many users flocking to websites to watch or download illegal / pirated films of what’s currently in theaters. Heck, Avengers: Endgame, one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of 2019 was illegally pirated and placed online several days before the US theatrical release. Much like what Napster did with the music industry, this practice is hurting the movie industry, with movie theater chains getting hit in the wallet first before film studios. Thus, it’s no wonder why downloading / streaming illegal movies are becoming popular (even though they are illegal to do so). However (and let’s be honest here), who hasn’t watched and/ or downloaded some type of illegal pirated content before?
WHAT MOVIE THEATERS DO OFFER?
So, what can be done about movie theaters. Well, its hard to say. It’s definitely the “sign of the times” as people are choosing either to forgo going to the movies altogether (choosing to spend their money elsewhere) or finding alternative ways of seeing feature films. Movie theater chains are not exactly “down and out” sort of speak, but are just trying to entice and attract viewers to attend their cinema complexes. This includes better moviegoing experiences for the viewer, with entertaining benefits of cushier reclining seats, optimal reserve seating, and higher quality viewing of features (for a higher price, of course). In addition, some movie theaters have started to offer more than just the standard commonplace concession stand foods of popcorn, soda, and candy; offering burgers, pizza, and ice cream as well as full-on bars service for whatever’s on tap / mixed cocktail drinks.
What also should be noted with is the reward programs that major movie theaters chain have to offer from free concession stand upgrades to free movies tickets. Its all good ideas and something the people should embrace as well. I certainly do. I have a member to Regal Card and have a built up on a ton of points and I have been using them to get free stuff…. quite frequently. Also, programs like AMC Stubs A-List and several others can offer some good benefits in offering frequent usage of going to the movies. There was also MoviePass….but, while good for a time, imploded from within.
Additionally, most prominent movie theater chains offer up a plethora of movies to watch, with some theater complexes housing anywhere between 8 to 18 theater screening rooms; offering a variety of choices for a person’s taste of what’s currently out on the theatrical market. Even some movie theater complexes can also showcase a plethora of non-main stream / blockbuster feature films, including special presentations of classics movies, older films, and independent feature endeavors. Also movie theater chains now offer the now current Thursday night releases for new film that are scheduled to be release the next day (Friday), enticing people to catch a new movie before its actually gets the released on its scheduled date.
In the end, movie theaters might be on the decline to due to the changing of times, but I wouldn’t count them out completely. Personally, I do hope that theaters survive the era of moviegoers. What the future holds for cinema theaters is uncertain, but I remain eternally optimistic; hoping for theaters to endure and continue to showcase new release feature films from Hollywood. Only time will tell if movie theaters will have cast their “final curtain” call….
In Singapore, I definitely noticed fewer people during my weekend sessions, although the cinemas would still be packed for major blockbusters. Personally I continue to go because to me, nothing beats watching a good production is that sort of spacious environment.
Also, the cinemas here have been experimenting with different concepts. Triply-priced, lavish seats with drinks weren’t very successful, so now they are trying “premier economy” types of seats. The newest cinema at our airport also has a kid’s hall. That auditorium comes with a play area at the front, and softer audio.
What an interesting article! I’m also worried about the decline of the movie theater experience and I’m actually less optimistic than you are… Streaming is taking over, people are lazy (and as you said, going to the theater can be expensive) and above all don’t seem to care about the quality of the audio/video of a movie. I know tons of people watching movies on their phone! :–/
I would love for theaters to do well and prosper again, but I’m afraid it won’t happen anytime soon…
Excellent article, Jason. As soon as I read the title I thought of a few things, and each one of them you mentioned here (dare I say great minds think alike?)… I love going to see a movie, especially an action blockbuster, in the theater. Luckily I live in an area where the large majority of people still know how to act right in certain public places, so there’s not a lot of rude distractions. On the rare occasion there is a problem the employees are quick to handle it.
The thing that hit home the most was the first place you went- the price! Movies and the meals and/or snacks can be obscenely expensive, especially for a large family like ours. Your estimate is right on track. We take two kids at a time usually (teens don’t like what the preteens like and vice versa so we save by leaving two behind) and our final outgo is about $75-$80 but only because we live near a theater that is $6.50 and not $11.50 like the one just another couple miles down the road.
Someone that makes $20 an hour might be lucky to bring home $14 of it after taxes and health insurance, so that movie for a family of 4 just cost him about 6 hours of his pay. Nearly an entire day of work to pay for 90 minutes of entertainment. At a more expensive theater, it would cost him a day’s pay plus some out of the next day. That is insane.
Sporting events are the same way, except reach a higher level of insanity.
Really good editorial! When it comes to movie theaters, I think that a contributing factor to ticket prices is how a majority of movie studios spend 100 million dollars or more on feature films. Because of this, these studios expect a large financial return for their projects. While some movies can justify having a budget of 100+ million dollars, studios do not need to spend that much money on almost every film. I also think that the types of movies that are created can affect the return of customers. In the 2010s, there have been a lot of prequels, sequels, and re-makes shown in theaters. These are not necessarily bad things. But movie studios have relied on them a little too much.