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Do You Go To The Movies?

I came across a very interesting radio interview on NPR with Edward Jay Epstein author of the new book The Hollywood Economist.  He made the interesting observation that movie going has changed since the 1940’s.

“In the 1940s, [going to the movies] was the national pastime. Approximately 67 percent of the American public — every week, on the average — went to a movie. And they didn’t just see movies — they saw newsreels, they saw cartoons, animation, shorts, a second feature — but it was their weekly pastime. Today, less than 10 percent of the public, on the average, go to the movies in a week.”

I don’t have to go back as far as the 40’s.  I can take a trip down memory lane to the late 80’swhen I spent an afternoon in a movie theater around the corner from my apartment on West 71st in NYC and sat through a double bill of Lina Wertmüller ‘s – Swept Away and Seven Beauties. (If you’re familiar with Ms. Wertmüller ‘s work, you’ll understand when I say I needed oxygen and a trip to a relaxing spa when the credits rolled.)  Regardless of my emotional state – I loved the fact that I could spend an entire afternoon in a movie theater.  It was normal to go to the movies at least once a week.

So, what happened?  Why is it that only 10 percent of the population goes to the movies now?  Is it the price of the ticket?  Perhaps it’s the fact that I can download a film on Netflix soon after its release.  Or could it be there’s a dearth of good films being made?  I can recall going to the movies a few months ago and watching the trailers for upcoming films.  My comments ranged from “Oh, that’s definitely a rental,” to, “I wouldn’t see that film even if I was locked in the bathroom on a cross Atlantic flight and it was playing on a screen in front of me.”

So the question is – Do you go to the movies?  How often? And why do you think there is such a dramatic decline in movie going?

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Adam Rauscher

    When I was in my early 20s, going to the movies was basically a weekly thing. Once in a while, I missed a week, but there would be weeks where I would see 2 or 3 movies to balance it out. These days, I see maybe 10 movies in the theaters each year.

    There are reasons. The first is the breakup of my friend group. We were people whose lives revolved around movies. Now my friends want to go to a bar or have a dinner party.

    Age may have something to do with it indirectly. I have more adult things to spend my money on, so plopping down $10 each seems like a waste. Also, work takes up a lot more of my time.

    There are three reasons to go to a movie in the theater: To be a part of the group experience; To see it before anybody else; to see it in dazzling display.

    Without my friends, the group experience loses some of its appeal. Nobody I hang out with now judges you on whether you’ve seen a movie yet. In fact, even though I’m a year behind the curve, I’m still ahead of my friends and family. Lastly, it’s unfortunate to say, but the more a movie HAS to be seen on a big screen, the less likely it is a movie that HAS to be seen at all (Avatar being a recent exception).

    I do miss it a great deal. Maybe it’s something I should try to work back into my life.

  2. Julie Keck

    Before Jessica and I started writing and producing our own movies, our weekends were devoted to seeing the movies of others. Now we spend our weekends (and all other free time) planning, writing, networking, and researching.

    As for the general trend away from seeing movies in the theater, I think people are simply swimming in other options, including Netflix, VOD, good cable content, etc.

    Additionally, I think the internet has stolen some of the mystery from movies. Trailers, teasers, pictures, reviews, interviews…when I feel like I know too much, I’m way less likely to go see the movie in the theater.

  3. Phil Holbrook

    I am a movie junkie. I still love the theater atmosphere. It one of those magic places. To this day, I still get the goose bumps and the rush of excitement when I step into the theater. I go to the movies at least 1-2 times a month, sometimes more, depending on what’s playing.

    I think the decline might have something to do with the world being a lot smaller these days. People have so many more options. Not just in ways to watch films either; more options of things to do in general… if they go out. However, you don’t even need to “go out” anymore to experience (in limited ways) what is out there in the world.

  4. Marisa

    I only speak for myself, but I think I don’t go to the movies for 3 reasons:
    1. The expense. By the time you pay for the ticket and then get popcorn, twizzlers and coke (an absolute must), you’re talking $25. YIKES. I can get cheap tickets at TKTS for about the same price to see a Broadway Show.

    2. There has been approximately 2 or 3 movies a year I want to spend $25 on.

    3. I can go to the red box in my neighborhood and get a movie for a $1 and buy the popcorn, twizzlers and coke and the Walmart for about $4 – and then invite some friends over and watch the movie on my beautiful HiDef TV.

    So unless it’s a must see that I can’t wait 2 or 3 months for, I’m not going to do it.

    I did some research for a TV show and was looking at back issues of the NY Times from 1966 and there were ads for the movie ‘The Sound of Music’ – the ad announced – “now in it’s 8 straight month!” Decades ago a movie came out and stayed out for a year. When movies started becoming popular on Video – you still had to wait almost 2 years from the time they were released to rent it. Now it takes about 2 months – maybe 3 on the outside.

  5. Julie Keck

    We want to come and have a movie night Maria and Marissa. We’ll being the Twizzlers and Phil.

    Phil, I still get excited when I go to the movies, too. I miss the days of going to see 2 or more movies in a row on a Saturday. I used to watch anything in the theater (Unlawful Entry w/ Ray Liotta, anyone?) AND I loved getting free refills on my soda and popcorn. Heaven (+ stomach ache.)

    But I agree with Marissa that the expense is prohibitive and the wait…well, we don’t have to wait that long for movies to come on DVD/VOD anymore. We’re spoiled and not in a good way. Takes away a bit of the excitement.

    I saw this article today entitled “What Was The Last Movie You Saw Without Knowing Anything About It” ( Speaks to my earlier point about how the mystery of movies has been marred by the interweb.

  6. david baker

    I LIVED in the movie theatres when I lived in London. Multiplexes, and especially London’s indie theatre circuit.

    I watched all night Carpenter, Scorsesse sort of flicks. I loved the indie theatres best, because even at 3am in the morning with an audience of drunks, you still had serious “movie fans” there.

    If someone got too loud, the crowd would throw them out.I saw a drunk couple getting dragged out by a group of Tarantino fans 20 mins into Jackie Brown! That was fun! If it was around the Kill Bill period, they might have been chopped up!

    Today, I NEVER go to the multiplexes. Maybe once a year if even that. In my view, the vast majority of people that go to multiplexes are not REAL movie lovers.

    I cant remember the last time I actually watched a movie in a multiplex where I could hear it probably from beginning to end. I like to 100% escape in a theatre, so all the chatting, phones, rustling, keeps me right there in that theatre, so defeats the purpose.

    We obviously have so many ways to view content now, so can easily see why the decline. Some people say, “You get a more “communal experience” when you go to a theatre.

    If wanting to stick a phone up someone’s ass, or to plug their mouth up with cotton candy is communal, then its not for me. Maybe I am just becoming an old fart! Probably partly true!

    I feel you get more of a communal experience online with social media, or possibly gamers playing xbox live feel that way. I dont get that feeling in movie theatres anymore.

    However, I still do have hope for small indie theatres as true movie fans usually go there to “watch” movies. Or diy screenings

    I wish I was sad about the decline. But I am not, as theatres don’;t really represent the type of movies I like anyway. I really think you have to have a VERY cinematic movie to justify having it in a movie theatre today.

    And damm, its expensive! My dream is to have my own movie theatre one day in my home. As I do love the big screen. I just seem to feel better when people are not around! Yes, becoming an old fart!

    I like the feeling that watching a movie is a treat. I stood in the que for Star Wars for 11 hours as a kid, and 5 hours of Superman because I knew I couldnt get to see it otherwise.

    Its such a different world from then, so I am really surprised that movie theatres even exist. I do beleive they won’t exist any longer than 10 years. Max. Probably wrong, but I do think lots of people will have home cinema by then.

    So if they are only going for the “communal experience”, and to be ripped off, then I dont see that as a mainstream draw. I think it will drop to 1% Then its obviously Game over!

    As always, great post Maria.



  7. Maria Lokken

    David – you are so not an old fart! I couldn’t agree with you more. And as always, your commentary is illuminating and spot on. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot playing these days that makes me want to spend the money either.

    When you do have your own movie theater I’ll be sure to book a flight to Scotland and come to a showing – and I’m hoping it will be one of your films I’ll see.

  8. david baker

    Thanks Maria,

    You got a deal there! Definately want to bring roadshow type diy screenings across the US too. Thats more fun!


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