Are Movie Theaters Doomed?
In the golden age of streaming and amidst the rise of cinematic television, is the end coming for the age of the movie theater? Will we see a day soon when the theater goes the way of Blockbuster?
This morning, The Wall Street Journal published an article in which movie theater executives lamented a dismal summer in movies. According to the article, attendance is down 5% from this time last year, and revenues are down 2.9%, which seems like a small number, but when you are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry, three percent of the pie can be a pretty penny.
But even amidst the decline in summer movie attendance, is this the really the beginning of the end?
I believe the question is far more complicated, and the answer lies entirely in the wringing hands of the nervous film executives.
The biggest worry for executives and investors this year was the poor performances of the big budget summer popcorn movies. Studios have historically made bank from well-marketed, ostensibly-jam-packed-with-fun summer blockbusters. But film after film in this vein has begun to fail at the box office. A few of last year's casualties were "Warcraft," "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows."
This year, the issue has intensified with more than six blockbusters-to-be going out with a whimper. Films that were supposedly critic-proof, like "Baywatch" and "The Mummy" faltered domestically. Two of Hollywood's biggest franchise-savers, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Tom Cruise, couldn't even make these box office gold.
And that's when the excuses began to roll in.
Those attached to "Baywatch" rushed to blame Rotten Tomatoes for their domestic box office failure, and Alex Kurtzman, director of "The Mummy," insisted that his film was made for fans, not the critics. A similar situation happened with the most recent installment in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, which underperformed despite currently sitting as the number five earner of the summer domestically.
To extrapolate, those involved behind the scenes chalked the failure of their films up to the fact that we, the audience, knew ahead of time that these films weren't all that great.
Going to see a movie is an investment of both our time and our money. When my fiancé and I went to see "Spider-man Homecoming," we spent over $50 on two tickets, two drinks, a popcorn and a candy, and between driving to and from the theater, sitting through commercials and watching the movie itself, we spent four hours of our short weekend together at the movies. Seeing a movie is not cheap, and that is why resources like Rotten Tomatoes, which may be imperfect in its lack of subtlety but still valuable, and film critics do what they do. They help us to answer the question "Is this unknown quantity worth my investment?"
For those involved in the making of a film to begrudge that tells me one thing and one thing only: that if a film fails to be good, they want to trick us with stellar marketing into seeing it anyway.
And that, boys and girls, is the heart of the issue. In this age of mind-blowing television and Netflix, we don't have to invest in an experience unworthy of us. More films are being made today than ever before in history, which inherently means there will be more duds than ever before, but the assumption that the audience is unintelligent and will come to see these duds anyway is proving more and more false by the day. The film-going audience is wising up.
What has changed is that we go to the theater to be wowed, inspired and to react as a community to something we love. Take "Wonder Woman" for instance, the summer's top earner, that has smashed record after record and exceeded expectations. This film was new and different. It was inspiring. It was a spectacle with heart.
So do I believe that movie theaters are doomed? I sure don't! I simply believe that what we are willing to invest our time and money in has changed. Smaller-scale movies may perform better and attract more eyes on streaming services, but big screen masterpieces will always attract an audience to a movie theater.
The movie theater scene is certainly changing, but I don't believe it will die. If studio executives begin green-lighting and appropriately promoting more movies worthy of their audiences and start nipping the transparent cash grabs in the bud, I think they will see an upswing in profits.
Show us something different. Show us something new. Show us something you believe in, not something that you believe will fill your wallet.
"Wonder Woman" proved audiences are tired of cynicism in our films and that we want something with sincerity and heart. Maybe it's time for our film executives to follow suit.