The Future of Movie Theaters Won’t Fade to Black


Here we go again. We’re about to relaunch the movie experience.

Didn’t we try this before, somewhere in this endless morass of Covid that has upended every normalcy of our existence?

Studios are releasing long-held-back movies, today the new Matt Damon “Stillwater” finally hitting the silver screen, and Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” and an Arthurian knight redo called “The Green Knight.” The question is how many people will fill the seats, this weekend and in the years to come?

The movie experience is in flux, transitioning in a digital world from the common group experience of going to the movies to a more intimate experience people have with the film they select from a wide variety to watch. Left in the wings to watch is AMC, Regal, Cinemax, Alamo Draft House and other chains, wondering if they will still have a role to play in the public’s choices going forward.

Houston film critic Joshua Starnes, now writing for a Houston entertainment website called VitalThrills.com, is on the edge of his seat waiting to see what happens next. “Regal Cinema is experimenting with their VIP section: higher dollar prices in exchange for better seating, private concession stands,” he highlights. Alamo and City Centre Studio Movie Grille will feed you a fine meal with your movie. Discovering a new workable model for out-of-the-home entertainment is going to involve experimentation as studios find ways to exploit the burgeoning market for streaming movies without losing the movie magic that made them rich.

What was, in the movie experience, probably will not be again. “It’s not going to go away, but it’s not going to be what it was before the pandemic, either,” Starnes speculates. “Everyone is chasing that Netflix dollar, and so far, only Disney has been able to approximate that. The other studios are trying but haven’t had as much success.” Disney’s financial heff gave them the power to buy the Star Wars franchise, and the Marvel Comics franchise, and that will likely continue to serve them well as those big blockbuster-type movies will still be able to attract large crowds, while they also enjoy the Disney Plus platform, which is racing to catch up with Netflix and Hulu.

The entire film industry has changed drastically in the past 18 months – and we’re only halfway through the movie so we can only guess at how the story will end. There has been speculation that as Amazon transitions to brick and mortar, buying theater chains may be an appealing way to launch into neighborhoods with good existing locations. Possibly Walmart and Target. And while we’re at it – maybe Olive Garden or Texas Roadhouse could expand their footprint by offering movie fare along with a meal.

Even if the Delta variant forces an intermission as we try to get back into major motion picture releases, the movie experience will surely find a new equilibrium, and the industry will find ways to bring people back into darkened theaters for chills and thrills. But keep an open mind. The next time you sit down to watch a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie, you may have a ribeye with your popcorn.

photo: Getty Images


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