I miss the movie- theater. I miss the physical act of going to the movies. I miss planning a time with friends, waiting in line, figuring out seats, and the pounding of my heart when the screen fades in and studio network logo appears. And as the pandemic continues, the question on whether movie theaters will survive is sadly, a question that’s on the table… But let’s be real for a second…
Long before the coronavirus, there had already been a decline in movie-goers, or to be more specific, I guess I should say movie theater– goers. For me, I think it’s a no- brainer: the theater is better in every possible way. I think my description above makes that clear. There is nothing more fun, more satisfying or more fulfilling than seeing a movie in theaters. But yes, it is nice to park yourself on your couch, pop some popcorn, pour some wine, pick a movie and chill out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to just stay in. The thing is people wanted to stay in long before COVID.
Streaming is not a new thing that became popular because of quarantining, it was just all we had. So of course, Netflix, Disney Plus and more recently, HBO are going to start showing theater releases on streaming… Again, this is not a new thing either. Netflix for example has released movies for streaming and in theaters prior to the world shutting down. With the recent announcement of “Dune” to be released on HBO and in theaters at the end of this year, and services such as Amazon and Netflix doing this prior to quarantine, you cannot convince me that this is one hundred percent related to COVID…
There’s the ongoing question of the future of movie theaters. Will they open back up? Will the companies themselves survive? If they do survive, will people just have to sit scattered around the theater? Yet, the fear or question on how long theaters can last has been floating around way before 2020. The world has been pushing audiences to stay at home (COVID- 19 aside), as opposed to watching movies on the big screen. If the audiences agree… why would they continue to stay at home?
#1 Easier to Stay In
Isn’t this the obvious reason? You can stay in comfy clothes, order food, rent a movie, scroll through streaming options… it’s become the definition of “chilling.” While it depends on the movie itself, staying in creates a different experience. Although to be fair, staying in isn’t about the experience it’s about the convenience. Bottom line, it’s easier and slightly cheaper… Which brings me to the next reason—
Yeah… this is another obvious answer. This seemed to be the usual response I hear when people say why they don’t go out to the movies anymore (prior to COVID obviously). My own mother even said to me once that there’s nothing she wants to see bad enough to spend the money. Ticket prices for movies have gone up over the last several years. Why spend the money to go out when you can just stay in? If it’s not currently streaming, it will eventually.
Logically, this makes sense.
There’s a variety of reasons why a viewer would want to wait until a film is streaming, or free on streaming (i.e. live- action “Mulan” on Disney Plus). Point is, if you really want to see a movie, you’ll spend the money. So, if you’re not rushing to the theaters, you might not desperately want to see the movie the second it comes out, and that’s okay.
Overall, prior to the pandemic, the decrease of movie theater- goers implies that people already seemed to have made up their mind about actually going to the movies. I don’t necessarily think those viewers, under normal circumstances, will suddenly return to the theater. But fortunately/unfortunately, we’re not in living normal circumstances. With everything gone, everything different, what will come back? What will change? Is the lack of options the truly underlying issue here? Will the people that typically preferring watching movies at home want to go back to the theater? Why would anyone want to go back?
#1 Getting Out of the House
This is a stupidly obvious one but it’s true, just think about it for a second. You can’t convince me that the day theaters are truly open again and the world is back to normal that people won’t go back to the movies. Yes, I’m aware it’s a weak argument, but I do think it’s a valid one. Picking a time, putting on real clothes, buying a ticket, enjoying the previews (if you love trailers, no surprise I do), taking a break from life and getting fully absorbed (if it’s enjoyable) in the story. Along with getting out of the house, movie theaters offer something else—
#2 The Experience
Watching at home versus watching at a theater does not compare. People obviously have a preference, but in terms of experience, you can’t convince me that one isn’t obviously better. Seeing a movie in theaters is an experience. I can’t say necessarily that watching a film at home isn’t or can’t be an event in itself. But seriously… sitting, chatting, snacking on your popcorn or Red Vines, checking your phone to see what time it is (and then turning it off…), the lights suddenly dim… As opposed to sitting in your living room and flipping the switch to off… It’s not quite the same. The excitement is missing. Yes, you can argue that that specific thrill isn’t a necessity, simply watching the movie is what’s important. But guess what’s at home? Distractions. Getting up to go to the bathroom, grabbing food etc. etc. Even if you keep it playing while you do something else, it’s not the same as the theater.
I get distracted easily. I tend to pause the movie, think about what I just saw, or think about something else, blah, blah, blah. This might not seem like a bad thing… however, it often takes me longer to watch the movie.
I admit, there are times where I’ll be at the movie theater and there’s a particular scene where if I was at home I’d pause. Although not getting to can be good because for viewing purposes, it means you can take in the story as it’s happening
When I watch something new, especially for the first time, I want to take it all in. I want to be fully engaged and fully absorbed. Okay, duh, if I’m watching a particularly bad, slow, boring etc. movie, being at home or in theaters might not make a difference (other than when you’re at home you can change to something else, but at the movies unless you feel sick or literally can’t sit there for another moment, are you really going to get up and leave?). My overall point is, the theater forces you to sit there, shut your brain off (depending on the movie) and experience the story. Yet, the experience is not just with the movie itself—
#3 The Audience
Without a doubt, the best part about seeing a movie in theaters, is the audience. Why? The reaction.
Whenever I’ve argued this, my dad would say how it’s not a play, you don’t need the audience reaction. For a play, the actors want the reaction, but for a movie, the reaction is for the audience. The scream from the audience when the lights dimmed for the midnight premiere of “Deathly Hallows Pt. 1.” The gasp that rippled in the theater when we saw that Captain America was worthy. The laughter from jokes, the screams of delight, the gasps from disgust… There are movies where I will always hear the audience’s reaction in certain moments. The audience is just as much a part of the experience as the darkened theater. Sure, we’ve watched a movie with people and the laughter, surprise or joy made it fun, but it’s maybe 10x better in a packed theater.
Before the pandemic, I noticed empty seats in the theaters. I’ve noticed the lack of reaction from the audience, because there’s not enough people that you’ll really hear it. It was disappointing. Was it just because of the day I went? The time of day? Or the lack of interest? With the struggle already on the horizon, did COVID fast forward the end of movie theaters? I really truly hope not.
Personally… I don’t think it’s the end of them. I don’t think I’ll never sit in a theater seat again. I don’t think I’ll never have to figure out a date or time for when I’m going again. I do believe as of now it’s all just been pushed back. But I hope I’m not the only one who thinks that… because when this is all over, the end could be nearby. Let’s just hope that’s not the case.