The Movie Experience

Who decided that going to the movies needed to be an “experience?”

Image provided by Wikimedia

It seems that one theater after another is being transformed so that you don’t just “go to the movies.” You have “a movie experience.” That means big, reclining seats, for sure. Possibly waitstaff bringing high end snacks to you. You can’t just go into a theater and pick a seat on the spot; you have to choose it beforehand. And of course, you can’t have an experience without a higher price tag.

Yes, movie theaters have faced decreasing attendance in recent years. With the advances in home theater technology and more rapid delivery of movie titles to the home-viewing market, many movie fans lost the sense of urgency to rush out to theaters to see new films. Many theaters apparently have decided to make going to the movies more like sitting in your family room.

To some extent, the cushy seats and in-theater service seem to be working for theaters. Many theaters have as few as a third the number of seats as before. With the “experience” premium jacking up prices, that means theaters only need to sell a smaller number of tickets to make up revenues. Leather recliners are all it took, apparently.

But something about this new approach just seems to rob going to the movies of its simple charm. It was a lower cost alternative to things like going to a concert, a play or a sporting event. It didn’t take a lot of planning. You didn’t need to buy tickets and pick seats online or risk missing out. For the most part, you could say “Hey, let’s go to a movie,” consult the listings, head to a theater, buy your ticket and then walk in, pick a seat and you were ready to go.

It had a certain spontaneity to it. It wasn’t a major life commitment.

Now seeing a movie is a more complex, expensive proposition. It has to be an “experience.” It can’t just be about sitting in a theater to see a movie.

Those of us who are more old school fans can only scoff at these developments. If chicken wings and recliners are the real draw, why even bother spending the $20 to get a seat? Just order take-out and stay home.

The real point of going to a theater, seeing the movie, seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Maybe the time of the movie theater is coming to a close. Digital distribution of movies is picking up steam. Lots of smaller titles are bypassing theaters and headed for iTunes, streaming services and other digital formats.

Image provided by imdb/ Kevin Mazur/ WireImage.com

Adam Sandler struck a deal to make several of his upcoming films exclusive to Netflix. That might seem like an aging star looking for a way to stave off box office irrelevance. And to some extent that’s true. But Sandler is only an early adopter. Other big stars will begin popping up in significant digital releases that bypass the traditional theater system. It’s a natural for low budget passion projects. When the economics make sense, big budget movies will go that route, too.

So turning “going to the movies” into an “experience” just might be the canary in the coal mine. A last hurrah for an institution headed for irrelevance.

Which is too bad. The magic of seeing movies in a theater is irrational, yes, but also undeniable. It will be a shame to lose that.

But the rise of the “experience” is already hastening that inevitable end.


Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on August 18, 2015.

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