Are movie theaters going to die?


In a blog post a few months back, we discussed the future of cinema. Is cinema a dying artform? Is cinema already dead? What we determined is that although there has been a shift in the last decade or so, there are still plenty of aspiring filmmakers and established filmmakers who are making incredible work and telling deeply personal and human stories, that the future of cinema is as bright as ever. 

Although this may be true for cinema and films themselves, what about the means by which we watch them? Streaming services, televisions, laptops, tablets, and even smart phones are an ever emerging means of viewing content, which could have great implications towards the future of the classic movie theater experience. 

David Lynch has said, “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated.”



In times where we carry computers in our pockets with faster and higher performance than the technology used to get men on the moon, it is no surprise that the abilities of this tool are used for entertainment purposes, in this context, watching movies. The bigger framework for this conversation, though, is a new and evolving societal norm. We are living in a time of great convenience. App after app being programmed to make everything and anything easier for the user.

We have grocery apps that deliver to your front door, renewal options so you can be restocked with your groceries without even having to press an order button. Within minutes you can order a car to drive you anywhere, and you can even pre-select what music you want to listen to once your driver picks you up. Having to wait more than two-minutes for a Domino’s employee to walk your food order out to your car is now considered an “inconvenience." Add on to all of that the fact that we have all spent the last two years quarantined in our homes, essentially unable to go anywhere. In some ways, technology is turning us into the blob people from WALLE

Bringing the topic back to film, all of the aforementioned developments, naturally, feed into how we are now consuming our media. There are over 200 streaming services that exist today. Obviously there are the big three, Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. But, on top of that there is Vudu, Peacock, Youtube Red, HBO Max, Starz, Showtime, Disney Plus, Tubi, Fubo, Philo, Sling, Pluto, the list could go on forever. If it is as simple as clicking a few buttons to watch your favorite movie from the comfort of your own home, even from the palm of your hand, why would anyone want to spend extra money, leave their home, and go to a theater to watch a film? 



Over the years movie theaters have already become more extravagant. First it was the cutting of costs by playing films on digital instead of actual film reels. This was hard enough for cinephiles to cope with. Then, movie theaters like Cineopolis began adapting their seating and how they serve refreshments. Gone are the days of sitting in a slightly uncomfortable folding movie theater seat, eating buttered popcorn, candy, and drinking a soda. Now, you can order a five course meal with a glass of champagne by simply pressing a button, while lounging on your very own Barcalounger comfortable enough to sleep on. The movie theater experience has changed. The movie theater experience has become much more like the experience of watching a film from the comfort of your own home. Again, this begs the question, why pay so much money to go somewhere else for an experience you can get practically for free by staying at home. 

To throw another variable into the equation, throughout the pandemic in particular, the issue of going to a movie theater became even more complicated because, theaters weren’t open. This was a crushing blow to movie theaters and filmmakers alike, with only one of the two (the filmmakers) having a valid solution to the problem. Instead of releasing their films in theaters, lots of filmmakers with movies coming out in 2020 and 2021 had their films go straight to streaming platforms, to be enjoyed at home. This put many movie theaters out of business, with iconic locations like the Hollywood Cinerama Dome and the Vista Theater closing indefinitely.



When you put all of the above together, it seems like a pretty clear answer to my question emerges. Are movie theaters dying? Based on what we’ve discussed so far, I’d say yes. BUT, there’s a flip side to every coin, and I would like to say that just like cinema, theaters aren’t going anywhere. Here’s why: 

During the pandemic, although movie theaters were closed down for social distancing purposes, drive-in movie theaters reemerged and saw a surge in customers. So many people were so excited to get out of their houses and, safely, watch a film on the big screen. In a similar vein, many big movies, set to be box office hits, stalled their release dates in order to ensure that people could watch these films where they were meant to be seen, sitting in a dark theater, with a giant screen, and blasting speakers, excitedly munching on a tub of popcorn.

Some of these movies were Fast and Furious 9, No Time to Die, Quiet Place Part II, Spiral, and Black Widow, to name a few. And, better yet, these films were remarkably successful upon their eventual theatrical releases. Black Widow made nearly $400 million dollars at the box office, and No Time to Die has made over $450 million, and it’s not even out of theaters yet. Finally, more great news of the revival of movie theaters, legendary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino recently announced that similar to his purchase of the New Beverly in 2007, he has bought the Vista Theater with plans to reopen soon.



All of this to say, despite it being easy to look at technological advancements and assume their seemingly inevitable takeover, there is something about tangible, physical, real-life experiences that cannot be replaced. Spotify isn’t going to replace the experience of going to a concert. Kindles aren’t going to replace the experience of buying a hardcover copy of your favorite book. And streaming platforms aren’t going to replace the experience of sitting in a dark room, the smell of celluloid and buttered popcorn wafting through the rows, sharing the moment with other people for 90-180 minutes, watching a movie in a movie theater. 

I’m curious, what’s the best movie theater experience you've ever had?

Follow Hannah on Instagram: @hannahwagner3932

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