We’re deep in summer movie season now, and we’ve already started to see the usual string of sequels, retreads, and high-budget blockbusters. Theaters are doing what they can to get your money, but is it really worth leaving the house?
Most say no
The best information I can get on the internet says that the average person goes to the movies five times a year or fewer. Take out the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the Star Wars films and maybe they see 3 other movies in the theaters. That’s a doubly astounding thought when you realize one company — Disney — owns those two franchises. It effectively means Disney owns moviemaking.
Still I think that number is somewhat skewed. That may be an average number, sure. There doesn’t seem to be available info on how many movies the average teen watches. Teens used to be the “go to” market for movies, and I wonder if they still are. A pair of tickets and some snacks for two people now tops out around $45 in many theaters and the minimum wage is still $7.25 in many states. After taxes a minimum wage worker would need to work an entire day to go to the theaters. “Back in my day,” a movie ticket was a cool $4, and with a date and snacks you’d be out maybe $15. Minimum wage was $3.35 and that meant only five hours spent to pay for that ticket. That still sounds like a lot but it’s better than working an entire day just to see who Thanos kills.
Why bother with the theater?
Most folks who want big TVs have them. Pretty much everyone has a high-definition viewing device is their pocket. Movies are easy to download and stream, and if you’re a person who wants to get them illegally you probably can do that pretty easily. It’s easy to avoid the movie theater if you want.
There’s also the comfort factor. In days past, a big reason for going to the movies in the summer was just getting out of the heat. It wasn’t until fairly recently that most homes had air conditioning, and going to the movies was a great way to keep cool on a weekend.
When you look at great options like on-demand and streaming services, it’s easy to feel like you just never have to set foot in a cinema, where long lines and sticky seats await.
The cineplex strikes back
In the last decade, movie theater owners sure have tried to add value. Today you’ll find stadium seating, reclining seats, and increasingly you’ll find great food, service right to the seat, and even alcohol served. It’s turning into a premiere event.
I’m all in favor of that sort of thing because if I’m going to drop my hard-earned pesos at that rate, I better get something more than just the movie. Keep in mind you can usually own a movie for less than it costs to see it once, so there better be a compelling reason to go out to the theater and do it.
What remains to be seen is if theaters can actually do it. The local “premium” theater near here also lets kids jump up and down on the seats and buys its food from the nearby club store. I’m thinking they’ll want to step it up a bit more than that if they want people to think of them as a top-notch destination.
To fix the problem, change the equation
Right now, there’s a problem with the whole equation. The whole movie industry is focused on these massively expensive adventure movies, which cost hundreds of millions to produce. We’re talking about films that have to make $300 million to break even, and even if they’re runaway hits they’ve made about 200% of their budget. What’s sad is that the quality of these films has gone down in recent years, at least in my opinion. I think that CGI has peaked and is actually worse than in previous years, because it’s such a commodity. The writing is… fine… but I can’t say I’ve seen a truly transcendent summer blockbuster in many years. They’re largely identical and largely forgeattable.
I think one way to bring people back into the theaters is to tell better stories and tell them well. Sure, you can argue that there are good stories out there and they don’t get the distribution they need. You can argue that a good story doesn’t need a massive screen. I won’t dispute either of those things.
I just think that people like good stories as much as they like explosions. It seems like every year there’s one film, like last year’s Get Out, that takes critics by surprise and makes 50 times its investment. I would say, studios need to work on finding more of those diamonds in the rough and spend less time and money working on giant, anonymous blockbusters.
Ball’s in all of our courts
Obviously, nothing is going to change unless there’s a reason for people to change it. Personally, I hardly go to the movies anymore. I prefer DIRECTV Cinema and other on demand options. Last year I went to the theater twice. I’d actually like to go more, but it’s not worth it for me. I’m telling my local theater owner that they’re not giving me enough value for the price.
I say, all of you should be prepared to do the same. If you want a better theater experience, don’t pay for a worse one. In the meantime, choose any of the other options out there for watching, and you won’t be disappointed.