The deathly downfall of movie theaters

Sitting down to watch a movie, a man finds himself in an empty viewing room, only accompanied by a few people. Sophomore Thalea Afentoullis prefers streaming services to the collapsing movie theater industry. “If I [watch a movie] at home, I have more flexibility. Movie theaters are really strict. You can’t go on your phone, you can’t talk,” Afentoullis said. Photo used under Creative Commons Licenses.

Photo by Beatrice Murch, Wikimedia Commons

Sitting down to watch a movie, a man finds himself in an empty viewing room, only accompanied by a few people. Sophomore Thalea Afentoullis prefers streaming services to the collapsing movie theater industry. “If I [watch a movie] at home, I have more flexibility. Movie theaters are really strict. You can’t go on your phone, you can’t talk,” Afentoullis said. Photo used under Creative Commons Licenses.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a movie theater. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw, sitting in those big red chairs, facing the big screen. I’ll always fondly reminisce on some of my childhood movie-watching experiences in the theater, but as the COVID-19 pandemic shattered the world, it seems as if one of its most overlooked casualties may have been movie theaters.

COVID-19 forced people away from public settings. This, of course, included movie theaters. With their eradication, people have had to shy away from what seems extravagant now, at least compared to the simple convenience of watching the newest movie while laying on your couch in pajamas. 

Watching movies from home brings a comfort that you just can’t get at a movie theater. I appreciate being able to lay down, put your feet up, and cover yourself with a thousand blankets (or at least a few more blankets than you can sneak into the theater). The ability to lounge in pajamas and cocoon yourself with quilts aside, 65% of students polled on the Pathfinder’s Instagram agree that watching movies from home is better than in a theater. 

While movie theater’s strict rules have always been somewhat disliked, COVID-19 made these annoyances somewhat more pronounced. Since the coronavirus and its subsequent lockdown, myself and many others have welcomed the return of comfort and control. People want to be able to choose for themselves how they do things, even if it’s just choosing how to watch a movie. 

That brings us to the rise of streaming media services. Netflix and Hulu, for example, were popular before the coronavirus, but their newfound power over cinema has become more and more apparent. 

In fact, according to BBC, from January to March of 2020, Netflix saw 16 million new users—almost double the amount of new accounts from the last few months of 2019.

Streaming services include more than just Netflix and Hulu, though. Sites like HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Peacock are some of the biggest of their competitors, with countless other streaming services available to us. They offer an abundant selection of anything and everything ranging from documentaries to nostalgic comedies to thrillers (and a fair dose of cringey original movies just for good measure). I often find myself hopping from one to another simply because I have so much content to choose from. I’m able to discover so many movies just by browsing through them, something I’ve been so thankful for, especially since quarantine. 

In fact, these movies and streaming services brought a lot of people comfort and enjoyment during a stressful time. So even as theaters begin to fully reopen, myself and others have noticed their lack of options, at least compared to what we can watch at home.  

Theaters typically only offer new movies, but even these have transitioned from only being available in theaters to being available both in theaters and on a streaming service. Disney+ is most likely the biggest example of this. Many of their movies release exclusively in the theaters for 45 days, then are also released on Disney+. Prior to COVID-19, these movies got 90 days of only showing in the theater. On top of that, you can also watch classic Disney movies that will most likely never return to theaters. 

As a person who is privileged to have multiple streaming platforms, I can’t help but think of the money saved by not going to a movie theater. Hulu is $6.99 a month at minimum and Netflix is $8.99, for example. So with these already fairly pricey services, it would be very illogical to pay $12 for a movie that’s already included in a subscription. 

Renting-wise, most movies come to about $3 to $5 dollars, still notably less than $12. That’s not even including one of my biggest qualms with going to the movie theater: the price of the concessions. At AMC Theaters a medium popcorn is 7-8 dollars. But at Target? You can get a Pop Secret microwave popcorn pack for $3.59. 

But back to already owned streaming services. Scrolling through my TikTok For You page or browsing my Instagram feed, I constantly see people talking about, and ads promoting, a new streaming original. And although they sometimes may be talking about it because of its slight cringe factor, that doesn’t stop people from flocking to view it. Just look at “He’s All That,” which was watched across 55 million plus households in its first month. There are many Netflix films that generate a lot of clout, and many that are certainly deserving of that, receiving more viewership than movies that came out in theaters.

Even in 2019, before movie theaters were really even on their last leg, one of Netflix’s most watched movies was “Murder Mystery” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. It had 73 million households watch it within the first four weeks of its premiere. Even though movies that came out in the theater that year had more viewership, 73 million views is substantial. There are an exponential amount of other original movies, including international movies that have an unimaginable amount of views on various streaming services.

To put it simply, movie theaters are just something that I have grown out of. And thanks to COVID-19, it hasn’t been hard to adjust to their downfall. In fact, going to a theater may be something I only do a handful of times again, simply for the aesthetic of it. We’ve been introduced to the new reality of movie-watching, and movie theaters fail to live up to our new standards.