In olden times, a night at the movies was special – whether we were in an actual movie theater or we just pulled up in our car. Actors brought us closer to faraway places. There were heroes and heroines telling us of heroic people and magical stories. In those days, we were more innocent. Less jaded. While it is certainly tempting to wish for a return of the days when cinema had a unique hold on us and the culture, there are a multitude of reasons why yearning for a repeat of the halcyon days is to ask for love to be unrequited.
Tales of the economics of movie attendance are well-worn. For the uninitiated, the majority of a ticket price for a movie (anywhere from 60% to 90%, depending on a number of factors) goes directly back to the movie studio – to pay for marketing, the actors/actresses (and other workers), the movie’s distribution, among other things. This leaves the movie theater with a very thin profit margin with which they must pay their employees, buy the popcorn, and keep the lights on (for a little while, at least). Quarters in the arcades aren’t going to make much of a difference.
Enter the very conspicuous concession stand, where markup is the name of the game. The same bottle of water that went for just over $1 in the convenience store down the street now costs $4, Sodas and popcorn are notoriously cheap to produce. As a result, it could easily cost $100 for a family to take in yet another nondescript superhero movie.
Rather than balk at the prices and have nothing while there, or try to fit snacks into pockets and purses, a third option would just be to wait to watch the movie once it leaves the theater.
Loss of Decorum
Back when a night at the movies was special, it was thought of as special. It is no longer so. Combine this the gradual loss of dignity being replaced by rampant narcissism, and it means that behavior in the movie theater has really taken a hit. The people who put their feet on airplane tray tables, drop chewing gum in random places on the sidewalk or hold cellphone conversations in libraries won’t suddenly be on their best behavior in front of a silver screen. Be ready for loud talking (or in one recent case, telling what happens next because they had seen the movie before), cellphones being used to make a bootleg copy of the movie or to just present a distracting glare. It is inarguable that the experience of “a night at the movies” is no longer what it was.
Over and above this, a semi-recent spate of active shooter situations in the gun-free zones of movie theaters has scared off a number of people who will not return.
Thanks For the Heads-Up!
Back when watching movies was a special event, the latest flick by the star of the day was literally appointment viewing. There was much talk about who could be a leading man or leading lady or who could carry a film. Coincidentally, reviews of the movies themselves came at a snail’s pace as compared to now.
These days a movie can have social proof almost instantly via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more. Or the opposite. Also, upon theatrical release, sites like Rotten Tomatoes can alert you whether or not the latest offering by Robert DeNiro is flaming hot garbage without you having to sit in front of it to find out.
Papa, Don’t Preach
Americans are nothing if not savagely independent. America is the land of the bootstrap. The home of the side hustle and the startup. We chart our own course, hoe our own row, plot our own path, and fight our own fight. In such an environment, the fact that someone would ascend a pedestal, and then use it as a podium to talk down to the people who largely fund their careers about what they should think, feel and believe is not a good look.
In olden times, entertainers knew better. They seemed to have been enchanted by their luck in the whole thing. But current actors and actresses are far too precious for that. They are important. They matter. You must know what they think. But yet they have forgotten that the only reason anyone knows who they are is that they are really good at being people who don’t exist. Moreover, the rapidity with which casting couches became a ubiquitous part of the cultural lexicon is proof positive that acting must not take great skill. “Big deal! I’ve been acting like I like my mother-in-law for years!”
At least a small part of the decline in movie theater attendance can be directly traced to resentment of condescension of actors and actresses when they’re not acting, and the willingness to boycott it.
Long Live the Cathode Ray?
Lastly and most simply, the options for home entertainment have gotten exponentially better over the years – so much so that many homes these days can provide a comparable experience to the local movie theater. There are 4K flat screen televisions, upgraded sound systems, and better seating – and the capability has always existed to darken a room. Not to mention, when movies are watched in private, not only does the risk of crowds disappear, but now there is the ability to pause the action to use the restroom and get a refill of (better?) popcorn and fresher soda.
It is most likely that our romance with the big screen is largely gone by the wayside. Rather than bathe in nostalgia, we can just realize that that is why we have Turner Classic Movies.