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Time Is Passing The Movie Theaters By.

As time goes by and technology advances, chunks of Americana are starting to disappear from our collective memories. The movie theater and box-office sales seem to be the latest casualty in the natural war that progress constantly wages on tradition.

This ongoing cultural shift has erased things that used to be mainstays in the cultural zeitgeist. We don’t read a magazine or look at the newspaper with our morning coffee. Now, we check our phones. Days at the ballpark have turned into nights on the couch. We don’t “Make it a Blockbuster Night” anymore. Proper terminology nowadays, I believe… Is “Netflix and Chill.”

After COVID-19 Shut The World Down, Movie Theaters Have Had a Hard Time Packing Their Lobbies.

After the disastrous effect that COVID-19 had on movie theaters, the industry’s problems have further been compounded by the meteoric rise of streaming services.

The movie theaters are on the ropes for multiple reasons. From the consumer’s point of view, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon.

Middle Class Families Are Priced Out Of The Theater.

1999 was my first year in High School. That was when I really started to enjoy going to the movies. The average price for a movie ticket back then was five dollars and eight cents. Even adjusted for inflation that adds up to just over nine dollars.

That is a reasonable price for a group of friends, or a middle class family to enjoy a night out. Maybe you treat yourself to some McDonald’s beforehand, fill up before they get your wallet at the concession stand. Going to the movies was an old standby for Americans for years. Even if you didn’t eat beforehand, you were willing to spring for a box of Raisinets because it was a night out. You’re having fun and you could afford it.

Large Theater Chains Like AMC Have Priced Families And Casual Movie Goers Out Of The Theaters.

It’s not like that anymore. I live in Annapolis, Maryland. If I want to take my wife and daughter out tonight and see¬†Kung-Fu Panda 4, it will be $18.50 for each adult and $15.50 for my four year old at my local AMC Theater. Before taxes even kick in, I’m spending $52.50 on movie tickets. After snacks and drinks, you’re looking at almost $70.00 for two hours of entertainment that you might not even enjoy.

The problem with that is; the prices have raised. A lot of people have yet to see a pay increase to match these numbers. Twenty dollars an hour used to be amazing pay. Now it is the cost of admission to a movie. Yeah, the seats are more comfortable. However, that does me no good If I can’t afford to sit in them.

What used to be a fun, spontaneous night out for people is now a financial decision to consider. 

The Economy Hasn’t Been Friendly To Us For A While

As a career service industry worker, I can confidently say that I can pinpoint when things took a turn for the worse. Not only for the movie industry, but for extracurricular activities in general. The great recession of 2008 really stuck it to restaurants, entertainment and anything¬† else that wasn’t related to the bare necessities of life.

I noticed it as a bartender. Before 2008, Friday and Saturday nights were booming. People were drinking, bills were getting paid. We were riding on a gravy train with biscuit wheels. When the recession hit, Friday nights became mediocre and Saturday nights were good, but nowhere near the nonstop nights we had years prior where you were pouring drinks like a McDonald’s soda dispenser.

The Great Recession Of 2008 Forced A Lot Of People To Spend Their Free Time At Home.

This is because the hit that the economy took forced people to make a choice. You choose either Friday or Saturday night. Both nights aren’t affordable anymore. Entertainment is also a decision to make. Most guys couldn’t afford to take their dates to the traditional “dinner and a movie.” that previous generations have enjoyed. People going out on a date had to decide between dinner, a movie, or the bar. As a result, multiple industries suffered.

It has been sixteen years, and we still haven’t gotten out of that mindset.

Hollywood Always Evolved With The Times

The theater going experience has changed over the years. Before television, you would go to the theater for entertainment. Your ticket would sometimes be a double feature while cartoon shorts and newsreels played between shows. If a movie didn’t do well at the box office the first time around, there wasn’t as much to worry about as there is now. You would eventually make your money back on the rerelease unless the movie was an absolute dud.

Television came along and wasn’t much of a threat to the box office at first. The first threat to the theaters really came in 1972 when HBO revolutionized television. Before HBO, television was considered inferior to theaters. It was a box that gave you cheap entertainment, sports and the evening news. Still, the movie industry didn’t really bother to care because HBO couldn’t air their movies without obtaining the rights. Damage was minimal.

Before Streaming, Home Media like the VCR was the main competition for Movie Theaters.

There was a little bit of apprehension in the eighties, when VHS technology started to become popular. Home video at the time was a fresh concept. People were excited about being able to see their favorite movies in the comfort of their own home. Movie theaters still had little to worry about. The picture quality on a television was inferior. On top of that, films for cinema are shot in widescreen. The technology for a rectangular television wouldn’t come around until the late 1990s. so the viewing experience was not the same.

What’s more is; VCR technology was not cheap. The price tag for the luxury of viewing feature films in your own home ranged from $600-$1,200.00. That is in 1980. Putting that into perspective, that is the equivalent of spending between $2,259.66 and $4,119.00 on a blu-ray player when they first came out.

Even with the rental market, ticket prices remained affordable. The majority of people still opted to head out to the theater to experience cinema on the big screen.

Streaming Stalled Hollywood’s Evolution

Movie theaters have been at the apex of American entertainment for a century now. However, they seem to have met their match with streaming. The success of Netflix brought about the realization that Hollywood studios could control the destiny of their product on their own. No more haggling over television rights. The movie theaters had less leverage at the negotiating tables when the time would come to discuss profit splitting.

The studios were drooling over this new platform and COVID-19 was a catalyst for them to go all in on it.

Netflix Is One Of The Only Profitable Streaming Services On The Market Right Now.

Unfortunately, streaming isn’t the cash cow that the studios envisioned it to be. As of last year, Netflix and Hulu remain to be the only profitable streaming services. Disney Plus continues to hemorrhage money. Disney also hasn’t helped themselves by favoring streaming over theaters. Contractual issues led to them having to settle out of court with Scarlett Johansson when Disney chose to stream¬†Black Widow while it was in theaters. Streaming technology has also inadvertently made Pixar Studios Disney’s de facto direct to video department.

Now, most movies hit streaming services about a month and a half after their theatrical debut. This is detrimental to the movie theater industry. Why am I going to pay $20.00 to go see a substandard Marvel movie in the theater, when I can just wait a month and a half to laugh at it in the comfort of my home? 

Studies have even shown that two out of every three Americans prefer to stream movies at home. That leaves the movie theater industry with only 33 percent of Americans dedicated to watching movies on the big screen.

This Has Made Movies Expendable, Unless They’re Events

There are still movies that are turning profits in the theaters. They are usually the result of the production team actually knowing what the fans want. Barbie, Super Mario Bros. and Oppenheimer all crossed the billion-dollar benchmark last year. However, these are all movies that catered to their fans.

Oppenheimer, like most Christopher Nolan films, is shot specifically for theatrical viewing. Greta Gerwig put out a call of action to feminists around the world with Barbie. Feminists responded in spades. Nintendo fans have been waiting over forty years to see their favorite characters in action (with the exception of Pokemon) they were not disappointed.

Christopher Nolan Filmed “Oppenheimer” For Optimal Viewing Experience In The Movie Theater.

The same thing is happening right now with Dune 2. The long awaited second act of the epic adaptation that Warner Brothers has planned out is a hit with fans. 

If there is anything we can take away from these movies, it’s that the studios have lost the power of brand recognition. Nobody is going to blindly see a movie just because DC, Marvel or Star Wars is attached to the name. Now, the studios have to work for their audience.

Final Takeaway

Studios have taken their audience for granted. They have also turned their back on the movie theater industry and this mistreatment is hurting all parties involved. If Hollywood insists on making streaming their top priority, the box office is going to take a hit. If they want to start making money again, they NEED to keep the theaters alive.

What they should do, is treat streaming the same way that they treated the video rental market.

  • Release the film in theaters and let it run its course.
  • Make the movie available for sale or digital rental 3 months AFTER it leaves theaters.
  • After the rental market makes its money, THEN you release the film on streaming.

That was a beautiful system. It worked and audiences appreciated it because they weren’t overloaded with content. It also wouldn’t hurt if the studios produced movies that people actually want to see.

I love the movie theater. It is one of those experiences that is satisfying, no matter who you are. When the theater doors shut, they keep the troubles of the world outside and allow you to escape for a period of time. I hope Hollywood course corrects and makes things right.

I would hate to see another treasured pastime become just another memory.

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Thank You for reading! When I am not writing I enjoy spending time with my wife Barbara, my four year old daughter Frances, and my loyal hound Marbles.  For more hot takes, follow me here.  You can also check out more of my content on my author’s page.

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