The demise of local movie theaters in the United States is being accelerated by COVID-19.
“Tenet” was the most anticipated movie of the year upon its release. Even during a COVID-free lineup of movies, “Tenet” would’ve been the must-see. It was supposed to carry the industry into the fall when it could release more movies and have fuller theaters.
The movie was delayed multiple times but when it finally released, it didn’t perform as expected.
After Labor Day, “Tenet” made $20 million dollars at the U.S, box office for its opening weekend. Warner Bros later revealed the number included screenings a few days before and after the weekend. The true figure was about half what was originally reported.
A few weeks before “Tenet’s” release, AMC announced their “Safe and Clean” initiative. Their goal was to make their theaters as contactless as possible. They upgraded their air filters and use disinfectant on the seats before each show time. The two problems with this initiative are their mask and social-distancing policies.
Back in June, AMC CEO Adam Aron said masks wouldn’t be required. He soon changed his mind after backlash. Now masks are required at all times with the exception of consuming food and beverage.
The problem is a guest could legitimately make the case they’re eating or drinking throughout the entire duration of the movie.
To adhere to social-distancing, AMC is limiting capacity and is assigning seats. However, they encourage guests to change seats if they feel uncomfortable. A lack of strict guidelines could be dangerous for the community and people know it.
Steve Havens is a Stillwater resident. He said he loves the movie theater, but he won’t be going back until 2021 at the earliest.
“There’s too much risk.” Havens said. “Limiting capacity is nice but [AMC 10 in Stillwater] isn’t blocking off seats in case people want to move. I think I’d get distracted and feel uneasy if someone sat too close to me.”
As previously mentioned, COVID-19 is fast-forwarding the fall of local cinemas in America. In 2014 the National Association of Theater Owners announced 1.26 billion movie tickets were sold in the year. The figure sounds high, but it was the lowest in 20 years.
2019 was saved by Avengers Endgame, which became the highest-grossing film ever. Despite this, theater attendance dropped by 4.6% from 2018. Movie theaters were trending down even without a global pandemic.
The obvious alternative to movie theaters is video-on-demand on streaming services such as iTunes, Netflix or Disney Plus. There are several benefits to watching new releases on demand.
The first is the cost effectiveness. A movie ticket’s current price at AMC is $10.50 per person. When “Trolls World Tour” released in April it cost $20. Disney Plus released “Mulan” at the beginning of the month for $30.
These prices are higher than a movie ticket but they aren’t per person but per household. The chart below illustrates the cost effectiveness of watching these movies at the theater versus at home.
The other major reason movie theaters are on the decline is they’re a less than desirable experience for some. Most theaters in rural communities such as the one in Stillwater are of low quality.
Once the movie finally starts, people talk to each other or turn their phones on with the brightness all the way up, distracting people who are trying to pay attention.
Don’t be surprised if movie theaters are obsolete within the decade and become the Blockbuster of this generation.