Behind the Curtain – The End of Modern Cinema?

How the mighty have fallen. What was once a night of silver screen magic and awe, has turned into $20 bags of popcorn and general disinterest. Mixed with Hollywood’s abandonment of American crowds for the foreign market, even if it makes them hypocrites, the traditional theater release model’s days are numbered.

The rise of the internet has left a wave of mutilation in its wake since the mid-2000s. It’s the nature of the beast, and it was only a short time before that included film and TV. Around 22% of Americans have a subscription to Netflix. That’s not even counting the other 4 sharing the account.

Your local rental store went extinct during the advent of the streaming revolution, as late fees and debauchery reigned down upon customers. They had their shot as the middle man, and as soon as a replacement stepped in, customers were more than happy to dispose of them. While a lone rental chain exists in America, Family Video, they keep themselves afloat through real estate rather than rentals. The last Blockbuster still stands in Bend, Oregon. It’s used as little more than a photo-op for those who remember the good times we had together.

Movie theaters have found themselves as the new quasi-middleman, the broker between Hollywood and the masses.

Well… they did. The times are changing

 Death of the Movie Theater


A sign showing comic relief during the covid-19 pandemic at the last blockbuster store in the united states.

You could make the argument that the recent CoVID-19 Pandemic is to blame. If anything, it was surely the final catalyst. The industry has been in decline in recent years, and CoVID was the last nail in the coffin. The majority of growth for the entertainment industry in the past 3 years has been from digital services (electronic sell-through, VOD, subscription streaming for movies and TV), with theatrical making a slow burn, and DVD/Blu-Ray sales dropping off the map. Trolls World Tour made nearly $100 million from digital sales alone in the past month.

Hollywood has been having an apathetic effort as of late. Remake after remake, treated as if it were a superior take over the original. Shameless lowest common denominator garbage patented, packaged and sold as if it were remarkable and worth your time, and not a fast, sleazy way to get you in the seats. Prominent studios come off as used car salesmen, incorporating clever trailer making and big names to convince you they tried. The sleight of hand doesn’t hit you ‘til the credits roll.

Now, not all of Hollywood. Plenty of diamonds in the rough are being made. It’s just that no one is going to see them, or even aware of their existence until they release on streaming platforms. Intelligent films that take risks don’t pay the bills in 2020. If they did, we wouldn’t be stuck in this giant loop where dollar signs trump creativity. American audiences don’t even go to see the Best Picture award winners, with the last film reaching blockbuster levels domestically being Return of the King in 2003.

Hollywood has treated moviegoers as cash cows, instead of a diverse group of well…. humans. Netflix has been ridiculed in recent years for churning out turd after turd, with the only pitch you need for them to make your film/series is to show up with a pulse. The proof is in the pudding, however; 50 movies to choose from at home for $12 a month beats 10 movies for $50 plus each. 50 options that have a story for every type out there. Better to have 50 terrible options cheap than an expensive individual 10.

The elephant in the room is the viability of the theater experience. As we’ve seen in recent months, a major studio film can still turn a profit through release via streaming. Not to mention, the popcorn costs 50 cents a bag, and you can enjoy it from your couch in your underwear. I’m no business expert, but the studios have to be saving money in distribution costs from this model. We know cash is the only thing in mind from their actions, so why go back?

The future of movie theaters will be that of broadway plays and musicals. Upscale theaters that offer a robust refreshment and seating style, with films old and new as the main event. The future of film may be streaming, but for theaters it’s experience. Not to say that seeing the next Marvel film in IMAX isn’t an experience, but I’m arguing First Class vs. Economy. It’s like Spotify and vinyl. They just hit differently.

I miss the days of being pumped for upcoming films. I’ve endured the release of three Star Wars movies that make Jar-Jar Binks seem tolerable. I’ve seen remake after remake with creative bankruptcy, followed by lazy excuses to explain why a film failed (mostly, blame the audience.) Every new film I’ve watched and enjoyed has been stumbled upon, with no recollection of it getting a theatrical release. Quality is few and far between in our data-driven, appeal-to-all era.

Maybe it’s not that theaters and studios don’t care anymore.

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