Going to the Movies this Weekend?


How quaint. Sez here that ever fewer people are doing that sort of thing. "For 13 weekends in a row, box-office receipts have been down compared with a year ago, despite the blockbuster opening of the final 'Star Wars' movie. And movie executives are unsure whether the trend will end over the important Memorial Day weekend that officially begins the summer season."

But you knew that. Maybe you also knew that, "Last year Americans spent an average of 78 hours watching videos and DVD's, a 53 percent increase since 2000," and that "DVD sales and rentals soared 676.5 percent during the same period . . ." Internet time and video-game time are also way up.

Exhibitors insist that the movie biz is cyclical, and that there's no need to panic. That's true, but it's also true that movie attendance has been sliding for years, if you factor out the increasingly rare runaway blockbuster.

Given the alternative, exhibitors are actually hoping that their movies have been bad. "It is much more chilling if there is a cultural shift in people staying away from movies," says a guy in the exhibition biz. "Quality is a fixable problem."


NEXT: A Nuke in Every Garage, a Chicken in Every Pot

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ah, the realities of the changing marketplace. I honestly think that it’s DVD and home theatre technology that’s driving these changes. Even with my modest setup at home I find myself saying “I’ll wait until it’s out on DVD.” Add in rental services like Netflix, and I rarely have a reason to go to the theatre any more.

    Especially when a matinee costs $7.

  2. Does it count as “going to the movies” if you only go to the theatre to steal the reel of the hottest new flick and use it to make bootleg copies which you sell on a blanket in Times Square?

    Because if it does, that means I am an avid “movie watcher”.

  3. “DVD sales and rentals soared 676.5 percent during the same period . . .” Internet time and video-game time are also way up.

    What are you smoking? Plummiting ticket sales are cearly the result of piracy. Why do you hate America?

    [This post close-captioned for the sarcasm impared]

    50″ Projection LCD, comfy chairs, full bar, TiVo, Netflix. Why would I want to go to a crowded theater and spend $20 when I can just wait a couple months and NetFlix it? Or Blockbuster, if I’m impatient?

    The only exceptions are big effects films, e.g. Hitchiker’s Guide. And ROS, one of these days …

  4. Theater movies will probably stay around because of the social value (dates and getting out) and the larger-than-life experience, though big-screen tvs may erode that aspect. But the downward trend is likely permanent for the reasons CPF givers.

  5. One might get the impression that the movie business model might be in need of some minor tweaking after all these decades, who woulda thunk? Well, I’ve got to run and meet some friends on the way to the drive-in.

  6. If their business keeps falling, movie theater owners might have to make drastic changes such as sending ushers through the theater every now and then to shut up all the idiots and not showing 15 minutes of commercials before the movie starts. Those are the reasons I prefer DVDs to going out to the movies.

  7. Don’t you just love it when you’re standing in line outside the theater waiting to see the culmination of the 30-year-long Star Wars saga when a mini-van pulls up and disgorges about 10 pre-teens who have nothing to do but stand in your line and scream at each other?

    For the price of movie ticket, a coke and a popcorn in the theater I can go to Circuit City and BUY a DVD to watch at home where there are no lines, the showing is never sold out, the sound quality is better, the floors aren’t (as) sticky, I’m not subjected to endless top 40 garbage before the movie starts, there are no girls on cell phones or adults arguing or kids kicking my seat or grandmothers asking, “What did he just say?” The movie starts when I want it to start, and it actually STARTS instead of 15 minutes of trailers for other movies I won’t want to see. I get two arm rests all to myself. I can drink all the beer I want, and I can press pause if I need to pee. I can smoke a damn cigarette. And after the movie is over, there are no flyers for weight loss or pizza on my car. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone goes to a movie theater unless it’s neutral ground for a date or you’re just so impatient to see the film that you can’t wait for it to come out on disc.

  8. Isn’t it obvious that the reason behind the decline in movie ticket sales is the plethora of terrible films that are foisted upon us? Come on, what should have been the most dramatic scene in Rise of the Sith was about as convincing as the Peterson defense. For fuck’s sake, Hollywood has been foisting a never-ending stream of crap movies on us for nearly a decade. Shark Tale was so bad that I saw 4 year-olds drag their parents out of the theatre.

  9. I enjoyed Layer Cake, which is playing in a theater somewhere near you. No, it’s not the best British gangster film ever made, but it is thouroughly enjoyable.

    …and if you missed Sin City, and you can still find it playing, I highly recommend it.

  10. I guess movie makers may have to make better movies.

  11. I went out and finally caught SW:EIII-RotS* last night at a local theatre. The ticket was $8.00. Instead of sitting in a cramped fold-down theatre seat in the middle of the row, I was seated at a table, in a wide swivel chair. A waiter brought me a basket of shrimp, and micro-brewed beer. Folks sitting next to me got a bottle from the wine list, and some teenagers two tables over were chomping on pizza. There’s a full bar in the lobby. I could have had a cocktail, if I’d felt like it. The place was packed, and even though strangers were sharing tables, everyone got along just fine. Nobody’s cellphone went off. When the movie was over, I dawlded in the bar, watching the home team’s closer nail down the shutout in the ninth inning. I didn’t spend any more on “dinner at the movies” than I would have for “dinner and a movie”, so it was a nice time.

    This same theatre kept opening and closing under different management until they borrowed the “dinner theatre” concept, and I’m sure the liquor license helps. Exhibitors have to innovate in order to keep the crowds from staying home in their increasingly wired cocoons. When TV started penetrating a majority of homes in the 50s, the movies fought back with better color, blockbusters, wide-screen formats, more and better color, and, post-Hayes code, sex and violence. Now your TV can handle wide-screen formats and Dolby stereo, and PPV, VCRs and DVRs can help you skip commercials. For some genres (porn, frex) home viewing is much to be preferred, unless you kink a certain way. πŸ™‚

    The movies can still bring people in if they supply enough amenities, but they’ve got to have a killer app. That could be content, or format, or some combination, but I predict that, for the near future, TV and film will engage in an arms race of sorts, trying to provide an experience the other medium doesn’t.


    **+ 1/2*. Probably the third-best SW flick. Remind me to rent Team America: World Police, so I can compare woodenness.

  12. It’s not that I mind sitting in a comfy chair and watching a movie in a comfy chair, that’s all cool – and I even pay extra to see the movie on a bigger screen than normal with a better sound system.

    The fact is though, I don’t like people walking between me and the screen – and I enjoy people making any array of noises during the movie even less.

    At the last movie I saw (Revenge of the Sith) I witnessed a whole new form of distraction, a chorus of complaint when one person was unfortunate enough to have forgotten to turn off their phone AND to recieve a phone call during the film that highlighted the gaffe. Yes, the phone was annoying, but the patrons were bitching long after the phone was silenced.

    The most irritating behavior happens when a film makes a dramatic pause and goes quiet for a moment (the movie Contact begins this way). The “dead air” serves as a canvas for stupid people to loudly ponder “Why is it so quiet? Is the movie broken?” and for juveniles to make fart sounds.

    So it’s not the movies that bug me. They’re entertaining. It’s the fact that I have to watch them with folks who have terrible moviegoing manners – something I can avoid if I rent the DVD.

    The MPAA should focus on a pleasant consumer experience and find effective ways of dealing with patrons that are distracting.

    Maybe we need some theatres with skyboxes. πŸ˜› I shouldn’t have to pay extra to get an unobstructed uninterrupted view of the show, but I probably would.

  13. There are too many “disposable” movies out there. I define a “disposable” movie as something totally formulatic that has no real asperations other than to make back more money than it cost (which is usually little to begin with), and is quick forgotten about. Anyone remember “My Boss’ Daughter” from last year” Or “Two Weeks Notice” from two years ago? Or even “A Lot like Love” from just a month or so back? Anyone? Is there an echo in here? True with horror and action films, too: remember “Alone in the Dark”? No?

    I think things will improve in the next few months with the summer all-star flicks and the “quality” films late in the year. The only movie I’ve bothered to see in the theater so far this year is “The Interpretor,” and I wasn’t exactly bowled over. Less genre, more originality. Its that simple, Hollywood.

  14. Re: Neb Okla’s comments.

    Some of those annoying spectators at the theatre don’t remember the pre-home video era. They never learned movie theatre etiquette, never been “shushed” by an usher or – and I can barely remember this – a matron. They treat a movie house like it was their living room.

    I find a head interposed between myself and the screen easier to take when the person it is attached to is bringing me a New Glarus Spotted Cow. πŸ™‚ When I don’t have that option I look for a house with stadium seating. One row of seats is high enough above the next that you can see over even tall people in front of you. Again, an example of tweaking the standard experience to make it more enjoyable.


  15. Movie theaters will always have two advantages over home viewing: expertise and gathering.

    A movie-geek level of knowledge regarding the movies that are out there that are good, an excellent taste in films (not necessarily related), and a place for regular showings of good movies are a valued commodity. Right now mainstream theaters get it easy: they show what’s new, and because they’re new (and because of the way our distribution works), they’re the only ones as gots ’em. This may not always be true, and as “new” ceases to be as valued an item, good takes over.

    Secondly, value as a social spot. People like to associate with others who have similar interests. Kevrob referred to our homes as “cocoons” – and while it’s nice to have more available to us in our homes, it means that where we associate we are there because we choose to associate. Theaters that have a social or community aspect could see more money – and while you can set up a movie club at home, you have to know the people first.

    Oh, and I’d like to add that part of the value will be in going outside the “movie geek” realm with the social aspect and the expert aspect.

    We may eventually have $10 widescreen displays and $20 THX soundsystems, but as the number of movies you could see goes up, the more valued a place that can arrange for great movies will be.

    Anyways, just an idea.

    (You know, movie theaters may disappear completely, replaced as a component of places that rent out areas for local clubs and other organizations)

  16. Pointless overanalysis of a statistical blip.

  17. I confess, I have no taste in film. None. Zip. Zilch. It’s amazing the crap I see. I also work for myself, from home, and every now and again have a day or two worth of down time (after the dog’s already had her hour-long walk and will be napping now, thanks, and the significant other won’t be home from her job for six hours.) I deeply enjoy movie popcorn. Further, I live within walking distance of one of them newfangled, stadium-seating, top-notch sound, all-the-bulbs-running-in-the-projector type theaters.

    I’ve been to see exactly two movies this year: Sith and Sin City. We were just walking past the movie theater, and what’s the big Memorial Day feature? Some animated crap about Madagascar, starring the voice of David Schwimmer. That’s on three screens, (ROS is on four), and David f-ing Schwimmer. Even the Jet Li pic looks stupid (and I own all his Wong Fei Hung movies).

    Screw it. Time to look for something Japanese.

  18. I’m waiting for Gaius to show up and explain how the death of our beloved institutions is causing the lack of civility in theatres. It’s that pesky individualism, damnit!

    I haven’t been to a movie in months. When I do go, it’s to the new style theatres with stadium seating and large screens. Even then, the crowds can be irritating.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pop in Team America.

  19. I actually liked “Unleashed.” As a friend pointed out, what’s more sympathetic than Morgan Freeman as a mentor? A BLIND Morgan Freeman!!! Seriously, tho formulaic in patches, “Unleashed” was pretty darn good.

  20. …Is there an echo in here? True with horror and action films, too: remember “Alone in the Dark”? No?…

    Comment by: panurge at May 28, 2005 07:51 PM

    Apparently the few people who saw it remembered it. They really, really, REALLY hated it.

    Hastings has thirty copies of it available for rent.

  21. Regarding the comment about movie theatres as social oasises, I never saw the point of going to the movies with a bunch of friends (not Girlfriends or Boyfriends – I can kind of see a point in that case).

    I’d just rather spend an evening chatting with my friends than sitting in a darkened room watching what amounts to a big TV.

    Yeah, it gives you something to talk about afterward, but my friends will tell you this is never a danger around me. πŸ˜›

    Anyway, I think theatres are going to have to get off the fence. Either let me watch the movie without interruption (and compete with DVD’s at home) or turn it into a social event (and do a better job than the local theatre/pub hole).

    Maybe the world is ready for a restaurant next to a DVD rental place with semi private soundproofed booths, flat-panel LCD’s, and waitstaff to bring you food and beverages.

    Might replace the theatre as a makeout spot.

  22. My wife and I went to nearly 50 movies last year, sometimes two a weekend. This year? 6 so far. The reason? Too much crap. There aren’t even many decent films playing at the arthouse theaters. The Wall Street Journal Movie reviewer is usually a pretty decent picker for us, (Other than his unholy love for foreign language films) And he hasn’t even bothered to review half the slop that Hollywood is passing off as “major motion pictures” this year. So I would say if they think “Quality is a fixable problem”, then they need to get busy.

  23. Kevin,
    great point about the dinner theatre. early 90’s I was in Prague seeing movies and was amazed: assigned seating, bar and real food (affordable too). I also lived in Oakland for 6 years (moved back to LA last year) and they had a wonderful theater/beer hall/pizza joint the you could watch movies on the big screen while sitting on couches. They ran mostly cult films etc… but in the 6 years I was never able to see a flick because I always showed up 30 minutes before show time and it was always sold out.

    My wife and usually hit the theaters once or twice a year tops. LOTR, Harry Potter, Almodovar and Star Wars (this evening) are all have been getting our money. I was amazed walking through the lobby of the multiplex this evening at the movies that being released: War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (they sucked the first time so why not remake them?), Bad News Bears, Dukes of Hazard, Bewitched, The Longest Yard (obviously needing a new airing on the big screen). When was the last time hollywood actually made something NEW rather than a retread or a sequel. And they wonder why ticket sales are down.

    P.S. I have a netflix membership that gets much usage.

  24. The big grosser for mid-Feb to mid-May last year was Passion of the Christ. That’s the entire difference there.

    Other Spring 2004 big grossers — Scooby Doo 2, Starsky and Hutch, 50 First Dates, Walking Tall, 13 Going on 30, Hellboy, Van Helsing, Troy. Is this the “quality” we’re missing this year?

  25. There may another at least partial explanation the slow but long-term decline in theatre attendance. The deterioration of theatre etiquette now makes it certain your movie experience will be marred by constant talking and or crying infants. The movie experience is ruined by the poor environment. The rise of home theatres in even modestly priced homes is another manifestation of this problem.

  26. The 13-week trend may be a “statistical blip,” but the multi-year decline in ticket revenues certainly isn’t. The distributors and theater operators may cry “cyclicity” all they want, but the fact is that the market has once again fundamentally changed, and Hollywood business practices will need to change with it.

    The explosive rise in home movie sales and rentals is the most radical challenge to movie marketing since TV in the 1950’s, and we can already see studios scambling to adapt. My guess is that within 5 years, 80 – 90% of the small-budget ($25 million or less) movies will be direct-to-video, with no theatrical showings whatsoever. Full theatrical releases will be limited to big-screen blockbusters expected to generate massive first- and second-week revenues and “filler” pictures designed mainly to keep the theaters running between blockbusters and hopefully return a modest profit.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see any immediate improvement in theater ediquette. People used to watching most movies at home bring their at-home manners with them, and theater managements are too worried about driving customers away to try to enforce more courteous behavior. It doesn’t help any that theater economics are encouraging more and more multiplexes, since each mini-theater sounds and feels like an oversized living room anyway.

  27. Attention theater owners:
    * Most movies suck
    * I just paid $10 to walk in the door, now you want $6 for $.25 worth of popcorn?
    * If I wanted to watch more goddamned commercials, I could have stayed home and watched free TV.
    * Your seat/row config cramps my 6’2″ frame

    I think that about covers it. After I see Sith, don’t expect me back for another 3-4 months.

  28. If its already been mentioned, my apologies.

    My digi projector expands to 500 inches diagonally and my home theatre system cranks out 3000 watts over 9 speakers. My remote control gives me pause, fast forward and rewind. I have direct control over those who talk while I am trying to watch a movie. A double or even a triple feature costs me less than $20 a month, multiple times a month. I can watch my movie naked if I so choose. I can light a doobie and open a beer before, during, and after the flick. Why are movie theaters still around, again?

  29. Josh,
    War of the Worlds did, in fact, suck. I don’t know if it will be worth watching this time around but I doubt it.

    Willy Wonka was awesome. Now remaking a great classic is something I would have said was always a bad idea. However, Charlie is a Tim Burton project so there’s a good chance it will actually succeed in remaking and updating without offending the original.

    Dukes of Hazard looks like it will get the Starsky and Hutch treatment, and will probably produce the same result.

    Bewitched looks like they are taking it too seriously, I predict a resentment backlash.

    As for Longest Yard and Bad News Bears, IMO everyone associated with these desecrations should be shipwrecked on a desert island and never heard from again. (Except for Billy Bob Thornton, who should be hung. Better safe than sorry.)

  30. Billy Bob did “Bad Santa,” which should get him a commutation. Just keep him away from anybody ever associated with SNL, and we’ll be fine.

    In fact, ban Canadians from entertainment.

  31. “Quality is a fixable problem.”

    Kind of a strange notion for an industry that rewards the production of crap all out of proportion to the production of quality movies. Do they think good moviemakers just grow on trees & sit around in cold storage until Hollywood needs them in a clutch?

  32. Billy Bob did “Bad Santa,” which should get him a commutation. – Sandy

    His character did Lauren Graham’s, so no mercy for him. If he ever gets near Dana Delaney, schedule some torture for him.


  33. One of the problems with movie theaters is that they tend to be painfully, ear-damagaingly loud these days.

  34. I doubt anybody’s still here, but hey, I was gone all weekend and gotta throw in my 2 cents. Basically, I only go to a theater is for a movie with a viscerally visual impact. The usual LOTR, Star Wars, etc., also the super hero movies and oddball stuff like Sky Captain. But community can be fun too, seeing movies like Beavis and Butthead, South Park, Team America and shows like that are fun if you get a nice raucous crowd. It’s also fun to have a crowd that gets into the previews, cheering or booing. So I wouldn’t write off theater-going altogether, because people will always want to go out and experience something with other people. But yeah, the quality/price ratio is way out of wack, and I doubt it’s going to improve to the point where I’m going to see more than a few movies in a whole year.
    I did see the new Star Wars just last night, and wow, what a yawner.

  35. Oh, and blahblah, I totally agree. I never go to a theater without earplugs anymore.

  36. Hollywood has been foisting a never-ending stream of crap movies on us for nearly a decade…

    But people still rent the crap on DVD, so “crap” isn’t a valid reason for falling attendance.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.