The End of Theatrical Moviegoing?

posted by Ross Melnick on August 14, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Blogger and industry executive Mark Lipsky is speaking out against the future of theatrical moviegoing — and in favor of the coming digital options — in a series of posts that have spurred a lot of angry debate at Here’s a sampling from his original post:

There are currently about 6,000 theaters in the U.S. containing nearly 40,000 screens. In 10 years there will be under 1,000 and in 15, under 100. And we won’t miss them.

… and from his follow up piece after getting a number of angry responses:

I realize that moviegoers of a certain age (let’s call it 30+ to be generous) have romantic and/or nostalgic notion about theater-going. Not so for younger folks or anyone born today and forever after. Instead, those folks will embrace the coming sea-change with abandon. They’ll barely have a thought that movie theaters even existed outside the few that remain…

Comments (29)

bobc007 on August 14, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I disagree. In the 1950s TV was going to kill movie theatres. In the 70’s HBO and premium programming was going to doom theatres. In the 80’s, home video was the culprit threatening theatres. Now it’s “portable movies” that will kill theatres. Over the coming years, the number of screen may decrease, but exhibitors in some cases are already preparing for that by closing under-performing houses and consolidating many screens into fewer locations.

People will still want to get out of the house and go to a movie just like they’ll go to sporting events even though they can watch many events at home, free of charge. Back in the 1970s, someone said “Every house has a kitchen, but good restaurants still do business”. Good movie theatres will always do business, too. I can’t imagine taking a girl on a date huddled over a a cell phone or iPod to watch the latest in motion picture entertainment. Have we seen the development of large wide screens, digital projection and 6 track digital sound only to settle for a 4 inch screen and ear pods?

Also, I do not believe that content producers can can fund the caliber of productions at today’s costs from pay per view or downloads. Hollywood big wigs and big money stars need the box office revenue to fund their lifestyles. I do not believe they’ll get it from “portable content” and pay per view.

JohnMessick on August 14, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Bobc007…I do not think Mark Lipsky took that into account when he wrote his blog piece. People never follow the money trail from the time the movie hits the screen to the time it airs on network tv and all points in between..all made to generate income. Take away one of those points, and the studio loses money. As we know the studios never want to lose a buck.

DonSolosan on August 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Also, we’re seeing a move toward providing customers with a better experience. In LA, the Arclight and El Capitan probably have the highest prices, but they are doing booming business because of the quality of their presentations.

Personally, I had a home theater, and I ended up selling it. One of the main reasons: no communal experience. I love the energy that a crowd makes when they’re really into a movie.

CTCrouch on August 15, 2010 at 2:38 am

Don S hit the nail on the head when he mentioned, “Personally, I had a home theater, and I ended up selling it. One of the main reasons: no communal experience. I love the energy that a crowd makes when they’re really into a movie.”

The industry critics and those fortelling “the end is near” have always failed to consider the communal aspect of movie going. While there are certainly a host of desirable viewing options available, none can truly replace the experience of watching a film with a large audience. While one might enjoy watching a film in the comfort and privacy of their own home (as we all do), there remains a different experience to be had through going to a cinema. Just as people continue to go to live concerts, sporting events, etc., they will continue to go to the movies. Attendance and habits might fluctuate, the industry will unquestionably change, but, as long as humans remain a social creature, there will be a desire to share experiences with others.

As for his 30+ age observation. Every day, I see those 30+ year olds taking their families to the movies. Thus, introducing a new generation to the magic of movie theatres.

Vito on August 15, 2010 at 3:29 am

I found that story ridicules, for one thing, as mentioned here, their have been many threats to our industry from TV to pay for view bla bla bla. The bottom line is people need to get out of the house they will always go to theaters and not sit at home especially our biggest demographic of younger folks.
Film may be all but dead but movie theatres…never.

John Fink
John Fink on August 15, 2010 at 6:30 am

I fully agree, however I think that movie going will be further consolidated. There are some theaters where I’ll show up on a weekday night and be the only one in the theater – I don’t know how they make ends meet (even if I buy a medium popcorn and soda). That seems inevitable, but then again there are multiplexes which sell out, even on weekday nights.

Theaters that provide a poor experience, that don’t care about presentation quality are the antichrist, they push people to home theaters. I personally don’t think the experience will die, I like sitting in the dark with strangers which is cinema’s advantage. I personally think putting bars and restaurants in theaters is a good thing for the future of cinema, those passionate about cinema want to talk and share ideas about it (not during the show). Perhaps what we really need is a theater chain to distill the experience of a good film festival and I think AMC is trying that with their facebook page, which isn’t a bad thing.

Theaters need to work on aiding that emotional connection to the cinema, seeing a film on a bigger screen than you’ll ever be able to build in your house. Premium upcharges for me don’t do that (especially for those non-legacy IMAX and digital large screen theaters that prove D-IMAX was a horrible idea). 3-D isn’t going to save exhibition. Exhibition has to save exhibition, those that do it well will be rewarded, those that don’t will be consolidated unless they adapt.

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on August 15, 2010 at 6:55 am

I agree with the above comments. The theatrical business will evolve, but I very much doubt that it will disappear. Give the public a real show: a Cineramic experience, curtains, theatrical lighting, reserved seating for special performances, etc. Make it an event. Does anybody remember the thrill of attending the old giant screen roadshows? Unless the movie was a real dog, that night out was always a night to remember and watching those same films at home, even on a high definition monitor, simply doesn’t compare.

moviebuff82 on August 15, 2010 at 7:35 am

Even radio didn’t kill the movies, they advertised the movie and told news about the movie. Very few radio dramas still exist on radio airwaves.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on August 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

Is Chicken Little at it again? Did he lot learn anything from when he posted nearly the exact same rant a year ago?

scorpio1949 on August 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I am a big time movie buff and I have really lost interest in going to see the movies these studios are putting out. We have a restored movie theater in our town that I love but I don’t want to spend money on stuff that is not of interest to me. Used to be there was at least one movie a month I wanted to see…now I am lucky is there are one or two a year. (Even Michael Moore said that recently in an interview). I have had to look to the independents for quality films as the studios just produce “safe” boring stories which they run with till they are beat to death. I also dislike the way that the industry has minimalized the theater experience starting with the horrible box multiplexes, horrible presentation, and so forth. I always got a thrill going when they done all the fun stuff….curtains that opened, beautiful movie palaces, etc.. That pretty much is gone. I would say wake up major studios, wake up movie chains, make it an event…bring back the big, big screens and exciting presentation!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I can’t add anymore to Burris’s fine comment and i really don’t think anyone else can.

scorpio1949 on August 16, 2010 at 1:20 am

Thanks Mike it saddens me the way things are going these days…

dfc on August 16, 2010 at 7:10 am

Movie theaters may never totally disappear but may end up like “legitimate” theaters with locations only in the large cities. I live in Staten Island, NY. Basically a middle-income community. The population here is about 500,000. We are down to three movie theaters and one of those will probably be closing soon. I just think that people’s preferences have changed over the years and that movie-going is losing out to HDTV home theaters. That seems to be the trend all over the country.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on August 16, 2010 at 7:49 am

Except that movie attendance has been at a steady level for the past several years, despite the addition of all the new HDTV equipment. Unless one are a Ted Kaczynski-level recluse, most humans need to get out of the house from time to time, and movies are regularly one of the best and most cost-effective ways of doing so.

When I started working in movie theatres, as a teenager in 1986, there were about 1.05 billion movie tickets sold. VCRs still weren’t as prevalent as they’d become a few years later (hell, Sony was still making and selling Beta machines), laserdiscs were a niche market and televisions were still 4:3. We were just about to be introduced to a new gaming system called Sega, and we were a decade away from DVDs being introduced or from the internet finding mass acceptance. Mobile phones, if you could even afford one, were large and only made phone calls for another 15 years. Widescreen HDTVs were twentysomething years from becoming a must-have for even the most ardent early adopter. Yet, here we are, a generation later, with all this technology available to us, with all these different ways to watch movies in the comfort of our homes, or even on the road on our smart phones or DVD-equipped SUVs, and 1.4 billion movie tickets were sold in 2009.

The end of movie theatres has been predicted for… well, almost as long as there has been movie theatres. From the days of the nickelodeon to today, some nutjob has been screaming doom and gloom about exhibition. And yes, movie attendance has fallen by 2/3 since the days when 75m people went to the movies in the 1920s and 1930s, but we humans still continue go to the movies, in boxes of all shapes and sizes, no matter what the size of our HDTV screen is, what our internet connection speed is, or what entertainment boxes we might have connected to the internet and our HDTV screens.

KMac39 on August 16, 2010 at 10:20 am

I believe people will go to the movies as long as we provide the public a quality product, and have a good presentation. Mr. Burris’s comment was exactly right. Make it a big event, and people will come to see the product. Bring back the showmanship, make good movies that tell a story(special effects can only cover for so much bad plots, acting, etc…) and they will come. My fondest memories of going to the movies as a kid was winning tickets to see the premire of Star Wars ar the original Cini Capri in Phoenix.I was in awe of those huge gold curtains, sitting with 800+ people watching the action on that HUGE screen! One thing I have been noticing is that the single screen movie house is rapidly dissapearing, along with the drive-ins. Sad situation. But movie exibition will live on.

Scott Neff
Scott Neff on August 16, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I haven’t read everybody else’s comments in detail, but I find that the writer was writing more out of irritation that exhibitors make it difficult for the “content providers” to make as much money as possible. There was a clear underlying tone of bitterness about how the exhibitors won’t pay the agreed upon rental terms etc. etc. and he didn’t seem to take into account that the theatres shouldn’t be required to pay 90% of a crap gross for a crap film just because the “content provider” thought it was the best movie ever made.

While I do agree that as the new generation comes into themselves fewer of them will be interested in going to the movies as regularly as we are currently used to. However I think that there always existed a group of people that just don’t go to the movies and I don’t think that this group will increase in size enough to really hurt the industry.

What I do see is that people already try to avoid the typical theatre environment with teenagers kicking the seats, crying babies, cell phone users etc. In the process of avoiding this environment people are going to the niche theatres with smaller crowds that allow more personal interaction with your own group. What I don’t understand is why on Earth somebody would want to interact DURING the movie? Personally if I had a device that allowed people to talk to me from across the country while we watched a movie together, I’d gouge my ears out.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on August 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Life is NOT that important to have your cell phone “on” for a 90-minute flick… TURN IT OFF and record a simple message “Hi, I’m at the movies, so call me back in 2 hours.” If it’s not that important, the caller will do as requested.
I get right in these stupid teeny-bopper-offenders face and growl at them about having them ejected from the nearest door… and they actually comply!

DonSolosan on August 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm

“There was a clear underlying tone of bitterness about how the exhibitors won’t pay the agreed upon rental terms etc. etc. and he didn’t seem to take into account that the theatres shouldn’t be required to pay 90% of a crap gross for a crap film just because the "content provider” thought it was the best movie ever made."

Scott, my understanding is that the studios have gone back to a roughly 50-50 split of the gross (not 90%). Also, it doesn’t matter what a “content provider” thinks of their film, if the theater chain doesn’t like it, they can decline to book it.

The movie glasses idea is pretty stupid.

DonSolosan on August 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Interestingly, while the author is being all “visionary” about the changes his magic glasses will cause, he doesn’t see their full potential. As well as bringing about the demise of movie theaters, they will also replace live theater, concerts, churches and political rallies. In fact, any experience where people congregate will become a function of magic glasses. Who needs schools when you can educate directly through this simple, low cost device?

The TV manufacturing industry will fall as people turn to magic glasses to provide visual news and entertainment, along with DVD and Blu-Ray manufacturers—giving Hollywood another big hit to the pocketbook. Magic glasses will also put the final nail in the coffin of print media, but not only that — ereaders will be rendered obsolete as well. And iPods and iPhones watch out!—all your functions will be usurped by this might newcomer!

Throw away your video game console(s)! All gaming will be ported over to magic glasses, probably connected to magic gloves. Throw away your porn collection! Sex with magic glasses will be better than the real thing, with zero chance of disease or emotional transmission. (Accu-jac connector sold separately.)

The eyeglass/contact lens/Lazik industry will likewise be gutted. The glasses will be adjustable to take the light hitting their lens elements and deliver it to your eyes, correcting it for your individual vision problems. Manufacturers of sunglasses will also be wiped out by the introduction of this revolutionary and evolutionary product. Magic glasses will automatically adjust to conditions, delivering just the right amount of light to your eyes. Military night vision goggles are also a thing of the past, with their bulky size and enormous price tags.

The travel business will be the next to crumble, as people opt out of dangerous, expensive trips and rely on magic glasses to experience the wonders of the world.

Hey, this guy isn’t an idiot—he’s probably ironing out the bugs in this technology and getting ready to spring it on the world! In ten years time, he’ll own everything!

Scott Neff
Scott Neff on August 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm

“Scott, my understanding is that the studios have gone back to a roughly 50-50 split of the gross (not 90%). Also, it doesn’t matter what a "content provider” thinks of their film, if the theater chain doesn’t like it, they can decline to book it."

Sadly I don’t think either part of this is entirely true. Perhaps if a theatre were to hold a film long enough it might average out closer to 50% rental, I think the 3-6 week run most films get nowadays probably leaves things closer to 60-65%.

While a theatre chain can decline to book a film, often studios will use their next big film as leverage for chains to book the crappier films. ie. if you play this one you really don’t want, we’ll go easier on terms with the next big one. In my experience, theatres with nearby competition can’t afford to cherry pick the best films either because the studio usually plays the “play this crap or else you won’t play the good picture” card. While most of my experience with film booking comes from the mid-late 90’s… I don’t imagine much has changed except for those booking zones with multiple mega-plexes that just day & date each other.

DonSolosan on August 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The actual numbers I heard, Scott, were 58-42%

MPol on August 24, 2010 at 3:04 am

I’m in total agreement with those who say that home theatres, no matter how fantastic some people claim they are, just don’t beat the experience of seeing a really great movie in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a whole crowd of other people, whether one is with close friends/family or not. Also, in a movie theatre, there is at least a temporary community of people all sharing the same movie experience, which is all a part of the moviegoing experience. I believe that theatres that show better-quality films have far fewer problems with cell-phone use, talking out of turn, and other forms of rudeness than the large cineplexes that presently dot the nation’s byways and highways.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on September 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Yes, I can see it far as I am concerned the real theatre business of showmanship and presentation by professionals on the floor and in the booth,sadly ended about 1980.When I got out in 1983,even then I could see it coming to an end.The only way to save it is stop these monster 20 plexes and more and go back to nice large theatres and maybe a large twin theatre.But that will never happen.

px1 on October 14, 2010 at 11:36 am

People “go out”. It’s a need they have, especially young people.
So where will they “go out” to in the future—ballroom dancing, bowling, miniature golf, trampoline parks?
My guess is movies.
Not only will they go out to movies in the future, but theaters will be able to carry concerts and sporting events on very large screens.

MPol on October 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I believe that there’ll always be people of all ages who want to keep going out to the theatres to see movies, and that culture will be preserved. Bringing back restored versions of the great, older classic films will help do the trick, I think. It’s starting already, because most people (myself included), are fed up with the crap coming out nowadays in the way of movies.

Moviemac on June 2, 2011 at 10:28 am

I completely agree with you MPol. I am a movie buff, and I have the home theater, flat screen t.v. etc…but something was missing. I also have a small business doing outdoor movies with an inflatable screen, too.(I love the Drive-in too). Yet, despite all my equipment, my family loves going to the movies for our family entertainment. It’s a nice affordable , pleasant way to spend an evening with the family, especially during the summer months. We go to a nice older family friendly discount theater where the kids actually don’t run around like wild packs, and when the movies start, People actually put their cell phones away and enjoy the show. I also know from my business, that there is an audience for the old classic movies, if done right. I love the classics, and I haven’t been thrilled with most of the stuff coming out of hollywood lately. The movie going experience is adapting, but it won’t die.

MPol on June 2, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Thank you, Moviemac. It’s good to see that there are other people who advocate going to a real movie theatre and seeing movies as they’re really meant to be viewed, with a large audience, and on a great big, wide screen, with the lights down low. The only problem, however, is that nowadays, movies go on DVD and Blu-Ray about six to nine months after they’ve had a run in the movie theatres, which seem to be used as a form of advertising for the industry to push the American and world population into DVD and Blu-Ray.

Since I live alone and don’t have a family to tie me down, I go to movies quite a bit and hold memberships to the two independent movie theatres left in our area.

Moviemac, it sounds like you’ve got a great idea when you and your friends/family go to a good, affordable old theatre where the kids don’t run around in packs and rudely interrupt people with their cellphone use, talking, etc. More and more theatres these days, however, are advocate no cellphone use. The great old classics are a real treasure, and I wish more of them would be restored. Most of what hollywood is putting out nowadays isn’t great, so I hang onto wonderful old classics.

With many adults with families working long hours, it’s more convenient for them to stick a movie in their DVD or Blu-Ray player and have the whole family, with or without friends and/or relatives watch a movie at home. Not as intimate or exciting for them as a movie theatre, but for many people, it passes.

DavidDynamic on July 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Could the fact that there is just so little expendable money in the pockets of the American family have anything to do with the sorry state of affairs at the present. Since many of you are reminiscing about the good old days here goes my part: when I was under 12 y.o.a. my movie ticket was 14 cents which left a penny for a handful of candy from one of the three vending machines. Grownups worked for a dollar an hr. on average. Usury laws prevented “robber banks” from charging excessive interest. There were no big box stores to siphon profits out of the community. Almost everyone worked at something—yes, even the aged, the disabled, and CHILDREN (believe it or not). There was less of a social financial burden because more people were assisting in carrying the load and the governments had not created such a large dependent class. It was often hard to earn money but the dollars received were hard dollars rather than script currency based on illusion and speculation. The hometown/neighborhood theater was often owned by a citizen of the community—he had a stake in the community and the audience had a stake in the success of his business.

Switching gears, it appears that the new technology should open movie-making to a much wider field of producers, actors, technicians, etc. if the current power structure does not succeed in freezing out these new independents. This technology will eventually reduce the cost of making the product and will expose much new talent instead of the megabucks Hollywood stars. Still, the obstacles that are currently keeping people from the cinema will have to be overcome. The experts are declaring that today’s youth have become social isolates and are losing the ability to communicate through traditional means.

MPol on December 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm

The last four sentences in your post say it all, in a nutshell, DavidDyamic! That’s especially true of the last sentence in your post! Thanks for making some points that’re well taken.

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