It pains me to say it, but movie theaters are doomed.
Within five years, I predict 80% of them worldwide will be closed. And the streaming services are going to be standing over their dead bodies. Cinemas have survived so many threats in the past—the move from silent films to talkies, the invention of television and the rise of the video recorder… but nothing lasts forever.
The pandemic hastened the end as people got used to staying home and streaming movies there, often on big, flat screen TVs offering the kind of stunning visuals once only offered by movie theaters. Now that more and more movies are premiering on streaming services, there just aren’t enough new releases to pack the cinemas.
Cineworld, one of the biggest movie theater operators, is filing for bankruptcy blaming the lack of new titles. Disney, the box office champ for years, is a leading culprit having shifted many of its films to premiere on its own streaming channel, Disney Plus. Other giant media companies have prioritized their streamers over cinemas and movie theaters are closing in huge numbers as the business model seems unsustainable. AMC—the biggest movie chain operator—is in a perilous financial state.
But there are other factors at play in the impending death of the moviegoing experience. The communal feeling of watching a film with strangers in the dark isn’t what it used to be. Cinemagoers have largely forgotten how to behave with consideration and decency for each other and with so much texting and talking during the film, it’s often a better experience to watch a new movie at home. It may not be as immersive but it’s less irritating. Home viewing is also cheaper with no overpriced parking and popcorn to pay for, not to mention those high priced admission tickets.
The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Ticket sales have been steadily declining over the last 20 years. But cinema owners must also take a large slice of the blame for not pivoting to get better use out of their venues. The movie theaters could easily be used to screen live sporting events, esports tournaments, and even new episodes of big event TV shows like House of the Dragon. Instead, they just keep on scheduling only films and the audiences stay away.
For over a century, going to the movies has been part of social lives across the planet. But now cinemas are just another platform and an increasingly endangered one.
As with anything, the audiences will decide what ultimately happens. And the young audiences most coveted by movie distributors appear to want new releases on their devices, which is no wonder as they are growing up in an era where web-based media consumption dominates and are not tied to the long tradition of cinema-going.
Where I live in Los Angeles, the world capital of movies, huge multiplexes like the Arclight and the Landmark have closed down recently. But the only new cinema to open is The Bay which is now operated by, of all companies, Netflix, as a theater in which to showcase its highest profile films, like Blonde and The Grey Man. A similar thing happened in New York where Netflix has acquired the iconic Paris Theater to show its Netflix Originals. That’s as ironic as when Amazon, largely blamed for killing off many bookshops, opened its own Amazon bookstores.
The streamers are winning, and cinemas are going the way of the dodo and Myspace. That’s the big picture—and it’s not a pretty one.