Movie theaters are doing boffo business

posted by HowardBHaas on April 17, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Turning back the clock, an article claims the moviegoing trends of today point towards a solid year for cinema not too unlike those of the Depression.

During the Great Depression, Americans flocked to ornate movie houses to forget about their troubles. Now, they are turning to impersonal multiplexes for relief.

Movie admissions are up about 10 percent year-to-date, according to the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), a trade association. Box Office Mojo estimates that box office receipts are up more than 14 percent. Five movies this year have grossed more than $100 million. This is great news for movie exhibitors.

Read the full story in Daily Finance.

Comments (20)

Scott on April 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I thought the myth that movie theatre attendance spiked during the “great depression” had been dispelled. Overall, attendance dropped during the depression, which is why many theatres closed, at least temporarily.

KenLayton on April 17, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Around my area business is down…..way down.

ceasar on April 17, 2009 at 7:31 pm

That’s true I’ve learned are recession proof. But what about cinemas? Case in point last weekend ever cinema opened with Hannah Montana the movie. All 5 cinema chains in Jackson have it and it didn’t open in Vicksburg at all. I see this as a slight against Monatana fans. Wilcox Theatres is struggling. None of the Cinema operators here never learned the lessons of the past. But not to open with a major Disney family film like Hannah is a slap in the face.

moviebuff82 on April 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Here in Rockaway, tickets are not selling well because the prices are higher than that of Clearview, plus the fact that the theater is near a mall that is struggling with weak retail sales.

Ziggy on April 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Scott’s comment (above) is right on. Ticket sales for movies were down by a whopping 50% in the first years of the depression.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 18, 2009 at 12:32 am

Scott, Ziggy, that is not totally accurate.

Moviegoing suffered less than most other industries during the depression. Part of the drop in ticket sales was the result of deflation, theatre closures, and studio bankruptcies, which had little to do with people’s desire to attend. Demand was actually up but theatres that had not converted to sound and those studios without deep pockets went under since financing was not available. Small town operators with finite audiences hurt even more than the big cities since they operated with tighter margins and were therefore more reluctant to discount prices. In the bigger cities the unemployed found extra leisure time for cheap entertainment and still had many theatre choices. As a result the remaining theatres boomed.

If you close the only theatre in town, attendance will have to drop.

Robert Allen
Robert Allen on April 18, 2009 at 3:09 am

Scott & Ziggy:

I was born in 1932 at the beginning of the Great Depression. My father was a projectionist and was never unemployed during the great depression making a whopping $20 a week. He told me the exhibition business was great as people held on to that dime to escape the problems they were experiencing.

Ziggy on April 18, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I’m not arguing with anyone, and I certainly don’t have personal experience to go by. But the histories I’ve read do say that in the first years of the depression movie theatres were scrambling for income. That’s why bargain seats and double features and other tricks were tried to get people to get out and buy a ticket. If I’m wrong it’s because I only know what others have told me. I know that even the huge theatres in NYC (such as the Roxy and the Paramount) hand to tighten their belts. Jesse Crawford resigned from the Paramount over a dispute involving a salary cut.

My grandfather was employed by Kodak, and he kept his job through the depression too. But all that means is that the budget axe never fell in his direction.

My grandfather was a custodian during the depression, and he was never out of work either, but that doesn’t mean the company he worked for (Kodak) wasn’t suffering.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on April 19, 2009 at 12:58 am

I actually went to the movies last weekend for the first time in many months. It was a Saturday night showing of the new Vin Deisl (SP?) movie, and the theatre was dead.

Giles on April 19, 2009 at 1:20 am

at the six dollar matinee of ‘Observe and Report’ at Tysons (10am) there were a total of 4 people, me included…

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 19, 2009 at 1:45 am

That Vin Diesel movie just had the biggest opening so far this year and has grossed over 122 million in two weeks. Those are summer blockbuster results for a B action movie. “Hannah Montana” did 41 million last weekend. Not bad for an extended TV show.

The numbers are very healthy, although apparently not in all markets.

moviebuff82 on April 19, 2009 at 2:36 am

Just wait until summer starts…that’s when the real action heats up.

markp on April 19, 2009 at 5:54 am

Oh yeah, Summer, when the action heats up. The season of one week, maybe 2, and done. Some action.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on April 19, 2009 at 6:18 am

Sometimes when i read this I want to shoot my self in the head…I know some may like that…Bsns is booming ….SORRY TO SAY..As some of you people just love to be negative all the time. Summer will be the best in years…..

moviebuff82 on April 20, 2009 at 1:29 am

This past weekend was down compared to last week, but it was up a lot from last year. This weekend will be a down week before the summer box office heats up with Wolverine.

markp on April 20, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Don’t get me wrong longislandmovies, I hope the summer will be big as well, since I work for an independant theatre owner. All I’m saying is that in the 70’s when I started, movies would run ALL summer, now they come out, and for the most part one, two weeks and it off to the next flavor of the month. I just don’t care for todays movie business, that’s all. Give me the old days.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm

movie 534, a major reason movies ran all summer in the ‘70s was that we had a serious product shortage and we often had nothing to replace them with. Distributor contracts dictated minimum play weeks so that box office stinkers like “A BRIDGE TOO FAR” stuck around for months to unwarranted hold-overs. The best one could do is put a wall down the middle of the auditorium and double your chances of getting the occasional hit.

The “old” days you are referring to caused awkward twinning and therefore the destruction of many movie palaces.

Scott on April 21, 2009 at 3:50 am

Mr. Alvarez, during the peak years of the depression, 1930-1934, attendance fell dramatically (at least 30-40 percent nationally). You claim that “Part of the drop in ticket sales was the result of deflation, theatre closures, and studio bankruptcies, which had little to do with people’s desire to attend.” Really? What do you think caused deflation, theatre closures, and studio bankruptcies? I suppose it was the hordes of people willing to attend movie theatres. It’s true that there was less product available for exhibitors than in the boom years of the 1920s, but again, that was caused by the steep decline in national income and reduced demand, and the resulting decline in revenue to theatres/studios. This can be easily researched if you make the effort.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 21, 2009 at 5:50 am

Scott, just because bars close and liquor companies failed does not mean that drinking did not blossom among those stores that remained in the business. You could only get movies in one place.

Deflation came from the need to discount. Where people went out to dinner less, they went to movies more as they were good value for money. Theatres that discounted or added value boomed in attendance. Although restaurants failed to draw at lower prices, movie attendance went up when lower prices were introduced as people saw them as better value for money than eating out, dancing, plays and other leisure activities.

Most theatre closings came from financially marginal locations that were unable to discount in order to allow their cash strapped audiences to grow. Those theatres without sound equipment failed almost immediately as people would not risk valuable cash on an inferior night out. This affected many small town locations in particular that had never bothered to upgrade.

Studio bankrupcies were caused by their failures to get loans. Those studios that self-financed their movies made a killing at the box office especially if they had stars like Chaplin, The Marx Bros. or Mae West in their stables and could churn out the product into their own theatres.

You will find that the general drop in attendance and revenue came from small town and under capitalized venues shutting down and leaving people with no where to go or ill-advised over-blown venues that should never have been built. If you operated in a town with 500 people, discounting could not grow your audience and you were doomed.

Although no business operates in a vacuum, movie revenues were hurt more by simple credit failures than any audience reluctance.

In the big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles they barely hurt at all and were breaking all-time records by the end of 1933.

ceasar on March 15, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Another way a small town cinema can close is this. In the letter to the editors of the local paper complaints emerge about rudeness of kids and cellphones going off. But small town struggling operators like Wilcox I now suspect are losing thier audience. Several Walt Disney films didn’t open at the latter part of year. Also holding movies over for several months at a time can hurt your bottom line. By the mantinee ticket price is now 5.00. But what’s the point in going when a film is held over too long? Now Alice in Wonderland didn’t open at all at the Wilcox. Also it doesn’t have the digital project tech to support 3d.

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