The Decline of Cinema

When's the last time you wanted to see a movie in a theater? It seems more than a few people nowadays can't recall.


Why pay to eat popcorn in a crowded theater when you can microwave it for free at home?

We’re living in strange times when it comes to technology. Cardboard is sold as an application for virtual reality, money seems to find its way into the arms of people mouthing the words of popular songs on social media, and offensive things celebrities say in their twenties get them blacklisted from events in their forties. This is a time where much of what happens could never have been predicted in previous decades.

A perfect example of this is the decline of traditional movie theaters, which is becoming more and more evident as less people than ever visit cinemas. A 2015 CBS News poll found 84% of American respondents watched more movies at home than at theaters, a significant increase from just two years prior. First, let’s delve into what exactly is making movie theaters not as profitable as they once were. From there, we can examine the once-booming entertainment medium’s top competition in regards to what they offer consumers and how that affects the appeal they garner.

Genre-Defining Margins

It’s important to remember that the movie business is not the same as the theater business. Money-wise, movies as a whole aren’t suffering, breaking box office records regularly. But upon examination of the most successful films of this decade, it’s hard to deny that the appeal of genres plays a larger role in profitability than the theaters themselves.

Worldwide, the 2018 Marvel superhero films Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War made $1.3 billion and $2.1 billion respectively. These numbers can be reasonably attributed to the insane hype surrounding the genre of superheroes. When was the last time, say, a horror movie managed to surpass $800 million in the last ten years? 2017’s It achieved a worldwide box office total of $700 million, the highest of any horror film ever. When compared to crowd-pandering schlock like Despicable Me 3 ($1.0 billion) and franchise epics like Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($1.3 billion), it’s clear audiences are more invested in particular genres than in theaters. In other words, if horror films were exclusively released in theaters while superhero films were exclusive to Netflix, the latter would prosper and the former would crumble, because Netflix has what audiences want.

This is purely hypothetical, but it serves to illustrate theaters rely on profitable genres to ensure people buy tickets, when thirty-or-so years ago, the idea of going to a movie theater (3-D, special effects, huge screen, etc.) was enough to hook consumers.

Remote vs. Ticket

With that dissected, it’s time to address the elephant in the living room: streaming. Companies are acknowledging the market potential of this entertainment-viewing method more than ever nowadays. This is because at-home movie-viewing is far more appealing to consumers than sitting in theaters.

The idea of renting a movie online in the comfort of one’s home, without the inconveniences of buying snacks, finding seats, tuning out fellow movie-goers, and sitting through repetitive commercials, among other annoyances, is certainly enticing. It also helps that, unlike with theaters, there is no scheduling for when you can watch a movie on streaming and/or rental sites. Once a movie is out of theaters, you don’t have to wait around for showings and attend on time to watch it on Amazon. The ability to stream is right there at the consumers’ fingertips. Viewers at home can pause, rewind, turn on subtitles, and go to the restroom without fear of missing scenes. The advantages of at-home viewing as opposed to those of theaters are veritable bullet points for why cinema’s future is anything but promising.

The Future of Cinema

Of 52 Heritage students polled, 43 respondents claimed they watch more movies at home than in theaters. It’s not difficult to understand why that number is so high, given all of the medium’s outdated inconveniences. What makes its future even more bleak is the reliance on genres rather than gimmicks in order to attract consumers, something you couldn’t say about cinemas twenty years ago. Are movie theaters doomed to be the next Blockbuster Video on a wider scale, or can they adopt new methods of proving their worth against online streaming?