The Future of Movie Theaters

Overall the future of movie theaters is still up in the air.

The Future of Movie Theaters

Shea Blanchard, Staff Writer

Remember back when you were a small child ready to walk into your local movie theater. As you entered, you felt the cool breeze from the air conditioner chill your body and the smell of buttered popcorn smack you in the face. I can still remember the pain of my brain freezing after drinking my ICEE too quickly.

Simply put, there is no better way to get invested in a movie than watching it on the big screen. However, movie theaters are losing customers at an alarming rate and the business itself is dying. 

Movie theaters have stood the test of time for over one hundred years. Movie theaters offer different types of food and beverages and have a wide variety of entertaining films. It is easy to understand the appeal of the theater; however, attendance has been declining for almost two decades.

Ticket sales in the last 30 years peaked in 2002 with a little over 1.5 billion tickets being sold. Ever since, ticket sales have slowly declined, especially in the last couple of years.

The sudden decline in box office sales can be attributed to the Coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the year 2020, COVID-19 had a huge impact on how citizens consumed entertainment. With millions of people quarantined and movie theaters temporarily closed, viewers were forced to stay home for their video entertainment. This led to an already declining business to lose more money. With theaters closed from mid-March onward, movie attendance dropped to around 220 million for the year, in all probability an all-time low.

Another reason why movie ticket sales dropped the past couple of years was those movie studios delayed their blockbuster films, which kept audiences home. Blockbuster films such as Black Widow and No Time to Die were originally meant to come out in 2020 but were pushed back due to the COVID crisis since no one was going to theaters. The hope was that once these Hollywood films arrived, so would the crowd, but that wasn’t the case.

It wasn’t until the COVID vaccine was released that people felt safe to go out in public again. However even with the vaccine, the Omicron variant and COVID pandemic continue to loom and delays are still happening.

It has been tough to keep up with all the movie changes during the coronavirus pandemic and now with the omicron surge, no date will be set in stone. With COVID seeming as if it is here to stay, the movie theater industry does not have a clear path to recovery. 

In addition to blockbusters being delayed, streaming services are becoming more and more popular. With movie theaters closed for months, instead of people seeing new movies there, streaming services released the movies on their platform meaning people could enjoy them in the comfort of their own homes. Movies such as Soul and Mulan were released on Disney plus and, instead of risking getting sick at the theater, citizens simply stayed home to enjoy movies.

There definitely has been a shift toward streaming, gaming, and other smart-phone based entertainment. However even though these streaming services provide a new way to consume entertainment, nothing compares to watching a movie at the theater.

This past December, the newest Marvel blockbuster Spider-man: No Way Home was released and made an estimated $260 million at the box office. This $260 million figure surpassed the once record-breaking $257 million debut of Avengers: Infinity War, and falls only behind Avengers: Endgame, which holds the record at $357.1 million.

I got the chance to see it on opening night with some of my friends and the theater was completely sold out. Everyone in the crowd was beyond excited to watch the movie, there were even fans dressed head to toe in Spiderman costumes. The audience was on the edge of their seats for the whole movie and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

This experience made me realize that the cinema is the best place to watch movies. The big screen fully immerses the audience into the movie and there are no distractions to stop you from enjoying the film. Even though it can be expensive, there is no better way to watch a movie. 

There are even more blockbuster films being released in 2022. Black Panther, The Flash, Thor, Aquaman, Doctor Strange, and Batman are among the superheroes films hitting the big screen in the New Year. There are also new movies from the Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park, and Avatar series being released as well. Since many of these popular movies have been pushed back, there are an abnormal amount of blockbusters that will for sure sell throughout the year 2022.  

The movie theater industry is slowly recovering from the pandemic, but the business is far from what it used to be. Despite signs of hope like Spider-man: No Way Home, the total box office for the year 2021 was only around 4.5 billion dollars. This is double the amount from 2020, but down over 60% from 2019.

One of the bigger issues the industry is facing is the older the audience, the longer it takes for them to be back in the theater due to the pandemic. This greatly impacts adult dramas like West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s 100 million dollar remake.

Even the most successful movies this year have underperformed compared to pre-pandemic numbers, aside from No Way Home. However, less than half of a normal year can still be seen as a win since the industry is rebounding from a worldwide pandemic.

Insider spoke with executives close to the theatrical business on their outlook for the future of movies and how the industry can make a comeback. Some takeaways from this are that Warner Brothers released all its movies in 2021 simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. This gives citizens no reason to come to the theater instead of their home, aside from the bug screen.

But heading into 2022, some major studios have announced plans for exclusive, but shortened windows for their theatrical releases including Warner Bros, giving theaters a degree of exclusivity before releasing the movies on streaming services. The traditional window of between 75 to 90 days will be a thing of the past. 45-day windows have emerged to be the new standard, but nothing is concrete. 

Overall the future of movie theaters is up in the air. The movies being released in 2022 will definitely excite and bring in the audience, but it is unclear when movies will sell like they did pre-pandemic. But one thing remains the same, there is no better place to watch a movie than the theater.