Speaking at the London Film Festival on Friday, Oct. 9, renowned director Christopher Nolan joined the ranks of consumers dissatisfied by the movie going experience, reports The Guardian.
“For some reason, it has become acceptable to say [to audiences] we are providing this empty room with a TV in it and just watch a film. That has to change and if it doesn’t change … people stop going.”
Nolan, director of big-screen successes Interstellar and The Batman trilogy, may have a point. 2014 bolstered the worst movie attendance figures in two decades, and while 2015 was eventually salvaged by the record-setting success of Jurrassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, it left in its wake a trail of box office disappointments like Pixels, Tommorowland and Fantastic Four.
Poor movie attendance may come as no surprise. With a growing number of ways to watch movies from the comfort of our own homes, the decline of box office sales may sound inevitable.
However, this is overly simplistic. In truth, cinema is more than just “an empty room with a TV in it.” A night out at the movies cannot be reproduced at home. The towering big screen and the immersive sound wraps up viewers in the drama of a film in a manner that even the 72” HDTVs of today cannot emulate.
Perhaps more importantly, home entertainment centers don’t demand that we leave the confines of our, well, homes. This is fantastically convenient, but also fantastically boring. Sometimes people want that excuse to leave the house and hit the town. “Netflix and chill” will never replace the movie date.
It isn’t that we don’t have any reason to go to the movies — it’s that we have a reason not to go to the movies. That reason is familiar to us all: the price. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, the average U.S. ticket price in 2014 was $8.17. Throw in a $5 bag of popcorn and a $4 soda and all of a sudden you’re paying nearly $20 for a mere two hours of entertainment.
In a 2014 survey from the consulting firm PwC, 53 percent of respondents claimed that the climbing price of movie outings was among the main reasons that they didn’t go. If movie theaters want to attract more customers, the way to do so is obvious: lower the costs. Any possibility of improving the overall movie theater experience is secondary to making that experience more affordable.
Unfortunately for the movie theater industry, Hollywood seems to be changing faster than it can. Over the last decade, Hollywood film budgets have either ballooned or imploded, with mid-budget movies becoming more and more of a rarity. As Matthew Weiner, creator of the wildly successful TV series Mad Men, said in a 2010 interview with the New York Times, “Something happened that nobody can make a movie between $500,000 and $80 million.” As the American middle class falls, so, too, does the Hollywood film middle class.
This is a blow to theaters, because overall they will have fewer films available to screen. Those that are available will generally fall into two camps: the artistic, low budget indie film, and the mass-appeal, mass-budget blockbuster. Movies of the first variety are unlikely to attract enough customers to be lucrative for theaters, whereas movies of the latter variety will cost theaters an arm and a leg in order to screen. In either case, revenue streams are not optimal, especially in light of the shrinking volume of films that are being released. Profits stand to become few and far between. If they want to act, they need to do so now.
The movie theater industry definitely needs a change, and the question is whether or not it can actually undergo one. But with major tech companies swallowing up virtual reality firms left and right, and home entertainment services Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go producing much of their own content, the industry seems to be running out of options — and fast. By lowering ticket prices, the movie theater industry stands to save not only itself, but also an iconic cultural experience.