The writing is on the wall and its been a long time coming. We are witnessing the death of the American movie theater, no matter how troubling and depressed it makes me. Will it change enough to survive?
Going to the movies was one of my favorite things to do. Growing up it was always special and once I hit middle school and high school, I’d frequently go to the movies, often seeing the same movie on back to back nights. As a filmmaker and movie fan, the last decade has been troubling. I’ve struggled with my own disappointment in the American movie theater, how its changed for the worse and fallen into a pit of despair. With no end in sight to the current pandemic and major cities like Los Angeles and New York still closed, the death of the American movie theater is upon us.
My own contention with the theater industry stems from the evolution of “going to the movies.” Let’s not forget, it’s only been during the last decade or so that ticket prices and the movie experience shifted from an affordable experience to an over-priced affair. In many areas, like Los Angeles, it costs well over $15 per ticket and can get up to $30 for a “premium” experience. Then there are the obscene markups on concessions. Popcorn and soda are an extremely inexpensive snack, unless you buy them at the movie theater.
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Now after five months of the American movie theater being closed, how do you feel about going back? Our three theater chains, AMC, Cinemark, and Regal, are all having major financial troubles. Not only are most of their theaters closed, but studios like Universal and Disney are changing the theatrical window period and altering releases. Universal successfully negotiated change with AMC, shortening the 90-day period to just 17 days. What does this really mean? For those that don’t want to rush back to the theater, you simply have to wait a little over two weeks before watching a new movie at home.
With our theaters bleeding money, you’d think all theaters would be open to change. But Cinemark and Regal say they will not shorten the theatrical window. Let’s face it, of course they will. The industry is changing, the movie theater experience is dying, and with its death comes a new experience. Something better is emerging, where all you have to do is wait two weeks and you can watch a new movie at home. Studios all have streaming platforms and are using them. Disney+ will stream Mulan for a one time fee of $29.99 and Mulan is yours to rewatch as many times as you want. The movie gets added to your account for as long as you have Disney+.
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Even when movie theaters reopen, the experience will be vastly different. Social distancing protocols will not allow for theaters to be packed and additional cleaning will likely mean more time between showings. Yet prices must remain the same, or no one will care to return. Even diehard moviegoers aren’t lining up to see movies anymore, myself included. Only a handful of films reach the theater and many are subpar. They are being produced for a global audience that doesn’t share our same tastes. Gone are the days of people truly flocking to see a film. Gone are the comedies, dramas and romantic thrillers. Hello blockbusters and franchises.
Some of this change was inevitable. Studios need to get their movies out to the masses. What the pandemic has shown us is that moving forward, they don’t need movie theaters to do so. Now granted, VOD and streaming do not bring in the box office numbers, the money, that traditional theater releases did. But how much do they actually make from these films? An inflated $200 million tent pole film “makes billions” worldwide, but does it really? There is marketing, production costs, and so many hidden expenses to factor in.
Where does this leave the American movie theater? They are on the outside for good, unless they change their ways. Moviegoers have been clamoring for a change in their experience, but no one has stepped up. Hello Movie Pass and AMC’s poor attempt at replicating it. Even though that venture did not technically survive, the model resonated with theater patrons. People want to see more movies without paying a fortune. They love a flat fee for an open-ended experience. When theaters reopen, no one will want to pay the old inflated prices to see films, especially if they are out of work or feeling the brunt of our coming recession.
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The death of the American movie theater will be a positive reset to the industry. How will theater chains survive when in essence, studios don’t truly need them? What can AMC do to retain its foothold in our lives and the industry, without closing a majority of its 8,000 theaters? Think outside the box and flex. AMC already has its own app where they rent movies. What if they evolved their app to be part of the VOD experience? What if you paid a yearly or monthly subscription for access to all of their VOD movies, just like a movie pass, but for the home!?
There are so many creative and new ways to evolve the way we see movies. Ultimately, changing the American movie theater experience is a necessity. Drive-In movie theaters are popping back up. Why not turn the parking lots of closed movie theaters into outdoor drive-ins, especially on the weekends? Theaters need to get creative and quit thinking they have a stronghold in the industry. If this pandemic has taught us anything, its that no industry is immune and we need to adapt the way we view our movies.
I absolutely love the movie theater experience and last year I introduced my daughter to the movie theater. She absolutely loved it and frequently asks when we can go to the movies again. We must not lose this, because its why we love films. But at this point, I don’t see us going back to the movies until well into 2021. I know we’re not the only family that feels this way. Being a filmmaker, I value the movie theater experience, but we must adjust with the times! Adapt or die.
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The death of the American movie theater does not have to be the nail in its coffin. This can be a period of rebirth. The movie viewing experience will rise like a phoenix from its ashes as long as the studios, the industry, and the theaters get of out their own way. Everyone must learn from this pandemic and accept the truth. There a myriad of amazing ways to experience a movie. Quit holding on to one traditional way and open yourself up to the ever growing list of ways we consume our entertainment.
Meet Our Writer:
Mandi Mellen is Lead Editor, Staff Writer, and Featured Host at BuzzChomp. She’s an Actress, Writer, Director and Producer. Get lost in her YouTube comedy channel PillowTalk TV. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
American Movie Theater Photo Credits to Spectrumlocalnews.com, Variety, and Warner Bros.
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