EDITORIALS

Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Cinemapocalypse

by
November 17, 2008

Cinema De Lux

What are you going to do when all the movie theaters are gone? I know, you'll probably take the money you would have spent on tickets and save up for a really nice home theater. And you'll still enjoy watching movies, only on a smaller scale. No big deal. Well, not me. I'm really not that into DVD, VOD and streaming video as permanent alternatives to moviegoing. They're fine as supplemental viewing options, but if they were the only things available, I probably wouldn't be as much of a cinephile as I am. If all the movie theaters disappeared, I might have to get back into live music or take up recreational sports.

Why all the doom and gloom? Why am I imagining a dystopia not unlike the one in Reign of Fire, with its lack of cinema clearly evident in its characters' dramatic staging of Star Wars (never mind the dragons - I'm more afraid of a world without movies theaters)? Because if National Amusements is having financial troubles, then I don't see much hope left for the rest of the exhibition industry. The cinema chain, my old employer, has been one of the strongest bedrocks of the business for many decades. And six, seven years ago, when many of the big chains were declaring bankruptcy due to the optimistic overbuilding of multiplexes, National Amusements continued to be in great shape. But now, with reports that the company is struggling to either partially pay off or restructure a $1.6 billion debt, it seems that even the best-run theater chains are no longer immune to economic woes.

Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone stated recently that his company is working with banks better than has been reported and his daughter, National Amusements president Shari Redstone, will do everything she can to avoid selling theaters, despite speculation that the chain will be forced to do so. So it's possible the chain isn't in too much trouble. But the whole ordeal is still an omen that the end of movie theaters is nigh. Exhibitors have already been experiencing low profits before the financial crisis began. And since then, moviegoing hasn't necessarily been down but concession consumption is reportedly in a terrible state.

Certainly theatrical movie exhibition won't die out completely, at least not right away. I see it being somewhat like what happened to video games. When most of the arcades that populated suburbs in the '80s closed down, gamers were fine staying home with their Nintendos and PlayStations. But for people like me, who never got into playing video games on a TV, there were eventually two options: overpriced attraction-based arcades like Dave & Busters or a favorite Brooklyn watering hole featuring more than 20 coin-operated machines appropriately called Barcade.

Two similar directions are already visible in the business of movie theaters. On the one side are the overpriced "high-end" cinemas, such as National Amusements' own Cinema De Lux theaters, which offer fancy menu items, cocktails and concierge service, and Village Roadshow's new Gold Class Cinemas, tickets for which will cost $35. Also in this bracket are the movies-as-attraction cinemas that will primarily show spectacles in IMAX and 3-D, although not too many of those exist just yet. On the other side of the spectrum will be bar-cinema hybrids, whether they're like the Alamo Drafthouse and Speakeasy Theaters brand varieties or simply neighborhood bars that project movies on a wall.

The cinemas that fall between these two options are likely to disappear. Say goodbye to the average local multiplexes with their decreasing attendance and near-bankrupt popcorn stands. Moviegoing in general will be a more spread-out pastime, both in terms of how often we go and how far it is to the nearest luxury theater. It will truly be an event then, like going to an concert, football game or amusement park. More convenient and casual, though, will be the pub cinemas and other indie stalwarts, which may resemble the art houses of way back when. They, too, may be spread out, though primarily in metropolitan areas.

If you're like me and prefer all your movies to be on the big screen, you'll probably need to move to the city sometime in the next few years. But if you're not like me, and instead you're completely content with the home-viewing experience, and you're fine with the occasional trek to the nearest cultural center for a once-in-a-while treat, you likely won't even notice when the majority of movie theaters are gone.

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  • Peloquin
    No No No!!! Please don't take away our theaters...a few hours of a fantasy world every week is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning in these hard times... I have a great home theater with a 1080p projector and surround sound, but it's still not the same and I find myself in the theater every week anyways. I enjoy listening to a crowds reaction and seeing all the promotional items for coming films in the lobby. It's such a magical experience for me and I'd hate to lose it. Not to mention that when I go to a movie I think long and hard about which film I will support so the film maker receives my $11.00 and uses it as a boost towards their next project. With illegal downloading nowadays if they got rid of the theaters than I would download everything and thus it would kill the incentive for film makers to continue to make quality movies. Without that chance to cast my vote for a film there would be no positive reinforcement for a film maker to know that what they're doing is being accepted by the public.
  • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
    First things first, while I know where you're going with this, I firmly believe movie theaters will NEVER disappear. Even if this means they become a rare commodity with one or two per city max, they will always exist. They will never go away - that won't happen. Hollywood and this city won't let it. Second, I'm a big proponent of change. And I believe than anytime someone is too stubborn to believe in change, they begin to fall apart. Movie theater chains are the biggest sticklers against change. For years they've stuck with the same idea - sell overpriced cheap concessions like popcorn to moviegoers and keep operating costs at a bare minimum. The exhibition industry needs some big changes - the way the theaters work, the way movies are viewed in general, the experience, the quality of food, so many things. It's that stubbornness that is causing them to fail - not the economy! It has been proven time and time again that entertainment strives during economic crisis - because people want to escape. They can't blame our economy - I just blame their stubbornness and inability to change and adapt. THAT is what we need if the exhibition industry is to survive...
  • Peloquin
    Amen Alex...Chris really had me scared for a minute there, but thanks for putting my nerves at ease.
  • Laser-beak
    If the day comes when there are no movie theaters, it will also be the day movies are no longer any fun at all. Long live the community experience!!!
  • Sean Dougherty
    Ditto. My standing response to people who ask "why does {such and such} cost so much at {public venue}? I always answer 'because the person in front of you in line paid it.'" It's usually when some economic ignoramus tries to blame high hot dog prices on talent costs in sports but it applies here as well. If we're finally getting to a point where the person in front of you WON'T pay it, then concession prices should rationally come down. And when theaters need to make money off the actual movies, they will demand to pay less for the movies. And when studios know they can't make as much per theater, they will demand that costs come down. We'll see how many of Hollywood's elite will go all John Galt on us because they can only make $5 million per movie instead of $20 million.
  • b real
    wow- that article really bummed me out.
  • Alfredo
    I'm still in awe at how many people still go to the concession stands to buy the ridiculously overpriced food. Take your children to Mickey D's before hitting the theater, you'll save a crapload. Regardless, I don't understand how theaters have become reliant on their concession stand to keep the industry going. That's like a fast food restaurant relying on their coin-restrooms to survive. Ridiculous. Nevertheless, the idea of small privately-operated movie-houses showing artsy/local/indie/foreign movies sounds pretty cool. If they became more popular, replacing the big dinosaurs, then the movie-making industry might become more streamlined, marking the end of stupid popcorn movies. In all, I think a shakeup is necessary for all those large, stubborn American companies that dread change... and I guess that's what this economic slump is doing.
  • OCP
    The wife and I just went to see Bond at this new theater called http://www.goldclasscinemas.com. The tickets were $35 each but the experience was well worth it. Not only was it a full dinner menu and drinks, and the food was incredible, but the seating was awesome. Only 24 seats in per theater, all of the seating are recliners. We save the theaters for only the top movies and now that we found this one, it makes it feel like its wroth it more then ever.
  • Richard
    Wow 8 I thought you were kidna crazy until I saw that tour, now I wanna go to one of those haha. I wish there was one closer to me, and since I dont travel much I dont know when I'll get the chance. Does that $35 each include dinner or something? Or just the movie?
  • dave13
    hmm, gold class huh? i might have enjoyed QoS that way. :P
  • WERDNAFAZ
    I only go to cinema for really good pics now mainly action and sci fi maybee the odd comedy but thats it anything else i will watch at home #8 yeah gold class is pure class lol thats the only way to go i cant always afford it but deffinatly QOS and upcoming Star Trek next year will be Gold Class.
  • http://killsmedead.com Liz
    My understanding of the way theatres work (and I could be completely wrong on this, so please correct me if I am) is that the significantly high concession prices are what cover the cost of running the theatre; the theatres only keep a small portion of the ticket revenue (because the rest goes back to the studios) and rely on the concession sales to actually keep the place afloat. If I'm going to give my money to the theatre, though, I'd rather do it by spending lots on tickets and increasing their share of ticket revenue than by spending less on tickets but more on concessions. I'd rather support the films themselves than the support system that has developed around them because people are not going to the movies as often. I also think that in the grand scheme of the types of entertainment out there, movies are still amongst the cheapest things you can do. My cinema chain charges $12.50 (Canadian) per ticket and if I were to go out for drinks with friends I'd probably spend at least twice that if not more, so I still have a hard time swallowing the idea that ticket prices are "expensive" when I compare them to other things I could be doing for the same length of time (sporting events, live theatre, opera, etc.).
  • scott
    While many have been predicting the end of movie theaters for some time now, I'll raise my hand to concur that we are in an evolutionary shift and a lot of the 12 to 20 screen theaters will go away over the next 10 years. A lot of things in society are either getting bigger (TV screens, IMAX, fridges) or smaller (cars, music players, phones), and movie theaters have no reason to be the exception to the rule. If you don't count our IMAX Dark Knight experience, my wife and I haven't been to a theater since Wall-E...you can chalk it up to the $19.50 it costs for two of us to go...or the lack of worthwhile movies...or the convenience and price of getting a film at RedBox a few months later...or the library's $1 DVDs...or Netflix. Whatever. In any case, we haven't bought concessions in like five years. Apparently a lot of people during the Great Depression escaped by going to the movies. Ironic that this depress/recess -ion may speed up the theaters' death.
  • chuck
    with the more use of 3d tech and the success of Avatar 3d small operators like Wilcox Theaters here in Vicksburg ms either are going to have to adapt or close thier cinemas. Why? More of the local audinece is going to the cinemas in Madison such as the Malco 17 which has 3d tech and the teen market is way ahead of the local cinema here. Already the some local independent operators are struggling but the 3d tech can shut them down. Just give it time.

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