Even Filmmakers Don’t Want to Go to the Movies Anymore
Attendance at theaters has hit a 25-year low and for very good reason — will things get worse or better?
Summer attendance at the box office has hit a 25-year low. This year’s total gross numbers have fallen by over 6 percent from last year, and this past Labor Day weekend had the worst box office numbers in 17 years.
Movie-theater chains are watching their stock values drop. Everybody in the industry is sweating and asking, “Why aren’t people seeing our movies?”
Aside from a few surprise box office hits such as “Wonder Woman,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “Wind River,” “Dunkirk,” and a handful of others, Hollywood’s earnings this year portend a pretty dim future for the movie industry as a whole.
People are seeing films in actual movie theaters less and less — and for a variety of reasons.
"There are no new stories," Taylor Berryman, a Tennessee resident, told LifeZette, noting that even the films he's seen or plans on catching this year ("Spiderman: Homecoming," "Stars Wars: The Last Jedi") are simply retellings or continuations of old and familiar tales.
He added, "Everything is going to TV" — and specifically called out such recent shows as "Twin Peaks," which have trended on social media and been a part of people's cultural conversations far more than any new releases in theaters.
Barry Norman, the owner and operator of the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick, Maine, has seen this dip in attendance firsthand.
"The tentpole films –– sequels, superhero films, etc. –– did not do anything close as expected. So one can and should blame lack of original content," he told LifeZette about this summer's crop of new releases, which included high-profile flops like "Alien: Covenant," "The Mummy," and "Transformers: The Last Knight."
Norman said the change in attendance also has a lot to do with the changing preferences of younger generations. "Millennials and many people 40 and under watch content at home or even on their phones," he said. "The edgy TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, etc. have really taken the place of lots of movie programming."
He also believes movies have shorter lifespans today. "People used to see a film multiple times if they really liked it," he said. "Now, even a great film like 'Dunkirk' can have a huge opening weekend — and then the drop-off after that is enormous. In the past, people would continue to go see the film multiple times, so the film would have a long stretch where it was grossing well."
Plenty of other factors are driving attendance down, too. Prices at movie theaters have been on the rise for quite some time. The average cost of a theater ticket in America is currently $8.95, according a report from the National Association of Theater Owners released in the second quarter of this year. That price has risen almost a full dollar from 2012, when it was $7.96.
Add to that ticket cost the price of oversized food and drinks, parking, etc., and you've got a night out that quickly becomes increasingly difficult for many people to justify. Meanwhile, subscriptions to video-streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix only run $10 a month.
"The production costs of movies are only going up. Consequently, the production companies have gone out of their minds in the way they are charging percentages to movie theaters," Ry Russell, former operator of the Saco Drive-In theater in Maine, told LifeZette about the modern moviegoing experience and the reason for increased pricing. "Movie theaters are making less and less on ticket sales and therefore need to increase their prices on tickets and their concessions to stay alive. The average American can no longer justify spending $50 or more for a night at the movies."
"Movie theaters are making less and less on ticket sales — and need to increase their prices."
Russell believes the short windows between a film's time in theaters and its release onto digital platforms and home video are also hurting attendance. He added, "The only way to combat this massive decline in theater revenue would be for the production companies to reduce the percentages they charge theaters, and for theaters themselves to find ways to increase the overall utility and experience for the moviegoer. At the drive-in, we offered many activities for families, in addition to a low-cost food menu, so that they could actually afford to get an entire night out for a reasonable cost — and we thrived."
Brett Murray, a producer on the upcoming film "Shooting Clerks," said even filmmakers find it difficult to go to the theater today. "Even as a filmmaker, I find myself too busy to commit to a full trip to the cinema –– it's just easier to sit at home and watch stuff on Netflix. A lot of people view the time and money that it takes to see a flick in theaters as having much less of a payoff than VOD services," he told LifeZette.
"Even as a filmmaker, I'm too busy to commit to a full trip to the cinema."
He added, "Netflix and Hulu let you pause whatever you're watching –– you can't do that at a cinema. That would make a trip to the movies suck even more. Your kid needs a diaper change, your grandparents call you, you have to stay late at the office –– VOD is pretty omnipresent, and its appeal is starting to usurp both TV and the box office in a way we hadn't seen in previous years."
Some have pointed to the low gross of 2017 as a sign Hollywood is on its last legs, or the fact that people have given the cold shoulder to an industry that has grown increasingly political and more franchise-driven and sanitized. But people's desire for art and original content has not decreased.
Television shows such as HBO's "Game of Thrones" have broken viewership records in their latest seasons, and the streaming services Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others are doing more original productions. An increasingly negative attitude toward the industry has no doubt had an impact, but the demand for content has not disappeared.
Consumer interest is changing, and traditional movie studios are struggling to keep up. While they are staying afloat thanks to a handful of sizable hits every quarter, a few more years like this and major Hollywood studios will have no choice but to adapt to what consumers want — just to survive.