[OT] Let’s Go to the Movies

Just curious… What’s everybody’s thoughts about the post-pandemic future of movie theatres? Will the local multiplex just pick up where it left off in early March (or whenever things shut down where you live)?

(Oh, and this question comes with its own soundtrack, because why not?)

40 Comments

  1. 12-18 months from now when we have a vaccine or have determined how to live safely with this thing, I think the concept of movie theaters will return but not as we knew it. I’m not certain that the major chains, let alone the indies, will be around by then. I think they will be reinvented as “art house” and “special event” film houses. Streaming is here to stay. Even with a massive home theater a lot more films are going to have to depend on story to carry a movie. Who is going to come out on top of the streaming market? That will need to sort itself out. How are the current barns going to be repurposed? Read more William Gibson.

  2. I think probably in a couple of months theaters can open up with fairly limited capacity. It’s going to be much, much longer before they can pack people in the way they used to.

    In Texas, the governor has said that movie theaters can reopen now if they want. But it turns out very few of them want to (article).

  3. Well, our only movie theater (four screens, first run movies generally show up a week after everyone else) has already announced they have shut down for good. There is an old movie house on the west side that occasionally showed second or third run movies on weekends. They’ll probably survive, since that’s not their primary mission. That leaves the nearest theater (once they reopen) 150 miles away over open ocean, so I guess there is a lot of streaming in my future.

  4. One of the movie places here said they wouldn’t be opening under the “10 people” rules. He said that’s a max of 8 paying customers, so it’s not worth turning on the air-conditioning.

  5. Blinky, a new drive-in just opened up in South Jersey, and other towns in the state are looking into it.

    There’s even talk of using a wall of the local high school and, of course, the school’s parking lot.

    It’s really not a hard thing to set up, and there aren’t many downsides.

  6. One of our local Drive-Ins (Wisconsin has about seven statewide) was supposed to open for the season tonight. Once the lockdown went into effect, that date was changed to early/mid June. Now it’s looking like whenever we get the ‘All Clear’. I remain hopeful…

    In the meantime, I happen to work for an indoor theater, and we’ve been shut down since early March. When we reopen (and we *will* reopen) will be at least partly dependent on when the studio system feels that the country has sufficiently opened back up to release movies for us to show.

    (In the meantime, Universal has decided to try and do an ‘end run’ around theaters, and the theaters are having none of it.)

    Theaters have survived television, VHS/Beta/rentals, DVD/Blu-Ray, home theater setups, and streaming. We’ll survive this…

  7. Support your local theater, and support your local Drive-In even more (They can only have one show a night, and are at the mercy of the weather…)

  8. One of the things people are forgetting is: while having existing organizations fail is bad (quite apart from money considerations, it destroys knowledge, traditions, community structure, …) and it would be better if they didn’t, after this is over nothing’s stopping people from starting new ones, and that includes movie theaters. I don’t think there’s any reason to think people will suddenly and en masse decide they aren’t interested in watching content-free action movies on a big screen. If that were in the cards, it would have happened in the 80s.

    Also, unlike say airlines or restaurants, there’s nothing much substantive about movie theaters that will be hard to reconstruct as needed, even if every single extant movie theater goes under in the next six months and this destroys/disperses all the working operating knowledge and experience.

  9. If all the _studios_ went under that would be more serious, but I don’t see that happening, and even if it did we might in the long run be better off for it, given all the things Hollywood’s been justifiably under fire for in recent years. Not to mention the provincial attitude towards movies made elsewhere that it exports everywhere it can.

  10. I’m sure some people are thinking that drive-ins are fine during lockdown because there’s no near contact. But that ignores the snack bar, where they make most of their money. It also ignores the restrooms, where people can infect each other.

  11. Since, you asked, I’ll weigh in.

    I’m an avowed cinephile. I love movies. This includes the fancy foreign stuff and great Hollywood action films and a whole lot more. I have volunteered many times at film festivals. I think the cinema can be a magical place. I’ve thought a lot about what is happening to the business of showing movies well before this.

    That said, I think this crisis is going to accelerate trends that were already happening.

    When I moved into my new home a few years ago, I was excited that it’s within walking distance of a cinema. Not one of the super-high end ones with IMAX and everything in 3D, but a place with half a dozen screens where I could catch a flick. Even better, it offers discount tickets on Tuesday. I went fairly regularly. When I started working from home, I tried to arrange my day so I could sometimes see a couple of flicks on a Tuesday. It’s not fancy, but the staff are friendly and it’s seeing a movie on a “large” screen, in the dark.

    Then, about 10 months ago, I was in a good place financially and finally splurged on a simple home-theatre set-up. A 55″ TV, a 5.1 surround set up, 4K Blu-ray player, a new region-free DVD player (for our DVDs of non-North American origin). Assorted accessories (speaker stands, the remote box, etc.). Nothing was extravagantly priced, but I did go for good quality within my budget. I already had Amazon Prime before, so I had that for streaming. I got Netflix. Best of all, for a cinephile, The Criterion Channel (14 day free trial available in USA and Canada). I also have Hoopla and Kanopy services from my library and the CBC has some cools stuff on streaming as well. Once this was all set up, my trips to the cinema dropped off substantially.

    I still love my local place, but I don’t have to worry if something is worth my time and money when I stream it. I can start it and, if I don’t like it, stop it and replace it with something else. It runs on my schedule. No obnoxious people disrupting the experience. And no pants required. And I can always find something to watch. Not like some weeks, when the six films playing within walking distance were of no interest.

    The small art house movie theatres will, if they can survive this, come back, because they provide the experience of seeing special films that don’t screen often and that are often difficult to find on streaming. You also get to do it in a crowd of other movie geeks. So they’ll be as good as they were before if they survive.

    The giant “fun-zones” that have a half-dozen fast food counters in a food court and arcade machines and a rock-climbing wall and 4DFX auditoriums and adult-only rooms with booze and Mega 3D and SoundSmasheXAudiYO! will do fine too. These are not so much cinemas as entertainment destinations where you go to see big, over-the-top movies and see them in such a way as to have all your senses blasted. You’re not going to see the latest superhero or giant robot movie. You’re going to experience it, like a roller coaster (and, depending on where you went, your seat might actually move). This is what Martin Scorsese meant. Those films really aren’t cinema. They ARE theme parks. To get the full experience, you have to be there, in one of these purpose-built amuseoplexes. Which is fine. Though the whole experience isn’t really needed to watch “My Dinner with André.” To justify the cost of the experience and keep the seats filled, expect more of these “theme park” movies.

    Now, small, local places, with a few screens that don’t offer much more than showing you a film in a comfy chair (they put power recliners into my local about a year ago) in the dark with sound so loud your neighbours would complain will struggle and keep sliding toward insolvency. I have to keep the volume down so as not to annoy the neighbours, but the experience of a rom-com, drama, or foreign film is still quite nice on my set up. If my local opens up again I’ll try to get in every now and then, but I don’t expect it’ll be more than a half-dozen times per year.

    TL;DR: Art houses will do okay if they survive the shutdown. Big gigaplex entertainment destinations will be okay. Small, simple movie theatres are going to keep on dying, but maybe faster now.

  12. I was holding off on my own opinion, but SBill beat me to it: small art houses will survive, the huge theatres showing Avengers 15 and Fathom Events will survive (probably with larger screens), but we’ll stream everything else. The virus is training us to accept that as the new normal.

    Even Broadway theatre is likely to take a hit, especially with ticket prices currently out of control.

  13. @George: “12-18 months from now when we have a vaccine or have determined how to live safely with this thing,”

    There’s no reason to think a vaccine will (or won’t) ever exist. Immunity to coronaviruses seems to be temporary, fading within months of infection. A vaccine you have to get quarterly might be impractical. Now treatments, those will very probably be real.

  14. Some comments have led me to think that the only movies that are shown in the theaters are the action/pow!/blow everything up blockbusters. Is that right? I haven’t been to the theater to see a movie in more than 20 years.

  15. Oh, okay. When I hear about a movie I think is interesting, I usually just wait for it to be available at the library.

  16. Chak, there are quite a lot of non-action movies at the theaters, but the ones that are marketed most are action movies. Also, I think there are a lot of people that will go see the latest Marvel movie a bunch of times, which isn’t generally the case with other movies.

    I saw Jojo Rabbit and Knives Out this year in theaters and liked both of them (although Bill hated the latter one).

    As for what keeps movie theaters solvent, that may well change, post-pandemic. I wouldn’t necessarily look at how things work now to decide if movie theaters can keep functioning. If the economy is still functioning, people will still have some disposable income, and some will want to go out with friends to see a movie, even with higher prices. Maybe we’ll have half as many movie theaters, they’ll make their money off of ticket sales instead of concessions, and the ticket prices will be twice as high.

  17. I was going to say that a TL;DR should go at the start of the post, but I see that there is quite a bit of disagreement on relevant forums regarding the issue. So I won’t bring it up 🙂

  18. TL;DR: Pfffft

    Well, you wouldn’t know if it’s too long your your tastes until you get to to the bottom of it, whether by reading or scrolling.

  19. CIDU Bill, I took a trial membership at BroadwayHD.com, as both my wife an I do like live theatre. The selection was quite limited, with some of it being old videos one would have seen on PBS. The real insult, though, was that I wan’t able to watch it on my phone, my tablet, or stream it to my TV. It would only sometimes work on my computer. If it worked better, like medici.tv (available through my library at no additonal cost for streaming), I’d like to have it. But you can’t charge US$8.99 a month for a service that doesn’t work properly (and they made excuses about why that’s no big deal, rather than apologizing).

    Chak: “Event” films or “blockbusters” or whatever one calls them are important in the movie business. While it is possible to have a drama or comedy do well and make some money (though every movie ever made failed to turn a profit; Google “Hollywood accounting”), they don’t attract as many repeat viewings. Big action flicks with lots of explosions and frenetic action and simple stories, like Transformers or Avengers, will attract youngsters who are looking for a night out with their friends. If it was spectacular enough they’ll watch it multiple times–sometimes because one of their friends hasn’t seen it yet, sometimes because there is nothing else they want to see playing, and sometimes just because it’s “awesome”. And, unlike us geezers who don’t go to the movies a lot and only see a movie one time, the youngsters are also probably more likely to spend $20 to $40 bucks at the concession counter, since their bodies can tolerate all that garbage food. That money doesn’t get counted toward the box office returns of a film, but that is the money that keeps the movie theatres in business.

  20. On the lo-cal news, they had a story on a drive-in theater in a nearby county that will be reopening. They will be enforcing 10-ft separation between cars and concessions will be ordered online and delivered by employees wearing masks and gloves. No mention of the restrooms, presumably just shut.

  21. We didn’t have any technical difficulties with BroadwayHD, but I can’t imagine keeping it for longer than a month. And we’re huge theatre fans.

  22. Brian, supermarkets are keeping their restrooms open, so I imagine the drive-ins will as well.

    Their biggest moneymaker is the 64oz soda, after all.

  23. Here’s something about the AMC/Universal feud. https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/05/02/movie-theaters-need-film-studios-more-than-the-stu.aspx

    All the talk right now is about how “Trolls World Tour” made some big money when Universal released it as a premium streaming title. I think people are jumping to conclusions on this, though, when they say cinemas are irrelevant. This movie, which just on the face of it sounds terrible and is of no interest to me as an adult without children, benefited from very special circumstances. With a bunch of kids at home that they are desperate to have shut up and sit down, even if just for a couple of hours, paying $20 or whatever to stream this for a couple of kids probably looked pretty good. And most of the kids are at home, because only an idiot would think it was safe have activities that depend on having a lot of people get into the same room. After restrictions loosen, all the kids won’t all be available to watch a film in one very short time and not all parents are going to be willing to pay the premium. Plus, I think it negates one of the benefits of taking the kids to the movies: one parent can do it and the other parent gets 4 hours at home to themselves.

  24. Brian, supermarkets are keeping their restrooms open, so I imagine the drive-ins will as well.

    There are significant differences. If you close the drive-in restrooms, that encourages people to stay completely in their designated area. In the store, people are mixing anyway.

  25. But Brian, if it’s a double feature, people are going to have to go. Especially if you want to make money on refreshments.

  26. Perhaps that’s the case. I couldn’t find anything definitive either way.

  27. If you open the place and not the bathrooms what you’ll get is people voiding bladders and bowels in other places. Maybe near the cars, perhaps in the playground, maybe along the wall of the concession stand. And as soon as word gets out that there are no toilets available, attendance will drop off.

  28. A short while back there was an item in the German news about a rash of new applications for radio frequencies to be used to set up drive-in theaters. They may still be working on solutions for the refreshment and bathroom issues, but at least they won’t have to settle for silent movies.

  29. I just read a notice from a company planning to open a chain of small drive-ins throughout New Jersey, and they were very specific about providing clean porto-potties.

  30. Winter Wallaby – We saw “Knives Out” – what bothered me is that I figured who did it, before the person did it.

  31. Our first date was a midnight movie at the Mini-Cinema in Uniondale, NY – we both were working retail and went out Friday night after work.

    As two people who by religion, politics (at the time), differences in how our families thought of the roles of women and men in the world and an assortment of other background difference should not be together on paper – what drew Robert and I together was a shared loved of movies, especially old movies. Since then unless there is something is unusual going on or nothing we care to see, we go to the movies every Saturday night. Some weeks we have gone once in the week to different movies. Our record was a midweek Robert Altman festival – 9 movies in 3 nights and then a Saturday night movie.

    We had been going to a local independent multiple screen theater. We go to the “late” show – that used to be 10:30, 11 pm at other theaters, here – 9:30, 10 pm. Many nights were the only ones at the late show and generally if there was more than 8 other people it was a lot. Perfect large screen theater and it either was or almost was – a private showing.

    I have tried hard on various other sites I am on to explain the difference between watching a MOVIE in a theater and watching a movie on TV – as Robert Klein said about movies in the theater in his monologue “where every hair on your a$$ is the size of tree”.

    For awhile after he quit his job, Robert and I would go to a dollar movie at 1 pm on Mondays of “Classic Movies” some were much more classic than others. I saw movies at this program that I had hated on TV – when I saw them full size, in the dark, with nothing else to take my attention I understood the reputation of the movie. (popcorn and soda included in the price and we were the youngest people there except a disabled woman and her caretaker)

    I really hope that movie theaters come back after all this. Sitting in the kitchen watching something on Saturday night is not the same thing.

    Buffet restaurants though will be more problematic – they will need to have servers I guess.

  32. @MerylA: in five years or so this virus will be a vivid memory. One way or another, it will either be vaccinated against or will have burned out by then, very likel.

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