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Is the movie theater obsolete? For many people, the entire reason for going to movies was that there was nowhere else to see them. Then, when VHS became a big deal, people still went to theaters because it was the thing to do. Now we have a system where things have changed, and maybe for the better.

The Rise of Streaming

There’s no question that for the past few years, people have gravitated away from the traditional movie theater. Where once there were ten movies to choose from, now there are tens of thousands of tv shows and films on countless platforms. The top platforms (at the moment) include:

  • Amazon Prime

  • Disney+

  • Hulu

  • HBO Max

  • Netflix

  • AppleTV

These are only the top streaming services. In fact, there are over 200 around the globe. This massive catalog now includes nearly every film put into the digital record. There are even certain (expensive) services that allow you to watch current in-theater films in your own home theater.

One of the largest factors that sent a ripple - or rather a tsunami - through the industry was Covid-19. The sheer number of people desperate for escapism turned to the one thing that held any promise: TV. People were toying with streaming, trying out new services, adding bundles, and generally taking the time to feel what was being touted as the post-Netflix world. To say it had an effect would be an understatement.

Gaming Culture

Gaming has been on the rise ever since Pong blooped and bleeped its way into the world. Now, gaming is an enormous industry that sees people playing online, in tournaments, and watching others play their favorites. With the massive rise in the gaming industry, people have turned to immersive storytelling and gameplay that they cannot get through traditional cinema.

Covid-19 brought this to the forefront as MMORPGs brought people together where other media could not. Friends were made, people found new ways of communicating, and the industry saw a surge in usage. This trend did not end when the world reopened. In fact, the industry continues to grow, with new technology promising even more immersive experiences. A world once considered the realm of the nerd is now home to all kinds of people who wear the name with pride. Gaming is the new forefront of entertainment and, much like streaming, traditional studios never saw it coming.

But What About Cinemas?

Movie Theaters have been drowning for years. They have tried to make up for this by drastically raising prices on tickets and concessions, attempting to bring out used gimmicks like 3D glasses, and even co-opted IMAX, the technology of science museums around the world. Instead of being immersed in the caldera of a volcano, we now stare into the abyss of Pandora. Same tech, fake world.

Theaters have also added amenities. Reclining chairs, ample leg room, assigned seating, full meals brought to your seat. However, all these additions are much like an ex bringing flowers after a breakup. We asked for them before and it's too late.

Twenty years ago, theaters had the best tech which made them the best game in town. Immersive surround sound, crisp digital images, and enormous screens.

Guess what every living room in America has now?

It is nearly impossible to purchase a low-def television that isn’t at least 65 inches with surround sound built in. The starting line has shifted though the goal remains the same. A huge screen with beautiful colors and sounds. Not to mention that most homes have comfortable chairs and very cheap popcorn. Plus, the kitchen and bar are always open. So what can a theater offer these days?

An Industry Begging For Help

Studios are nervous that their movies won’t make as much money on streaming as they do in the cinemas. This is partially true. However, with their inability to fully embrace streaming they are losing out on some of the best ways to do what they always do: co-opt an existing industry. They’ve done it with music and television. Take control of an industry and burden the system until it needs you but hates you.

The big question is why studios are not releasing big-budget movies on their own streaming services for the price of a regular ticket. Why Disney+ doesn’t have Ant-Man 3 as a premium payment view that will eventually become just another part of the streaming membership. The reason is fairly simple. If everyone can watch at once, the tickets disappear. Where three people would pay for three tickets, a family of four can now watch for one price. It seems frightening. It seems scary. Studios won’t be able to make the blockbuster we want anymore!

Why not? Because actors won’t take less than millions of dollars for their roles? Because people won’t see a movie that doesn’t have crazy special effects?

Give us a break. If every studio came together and agreed on salary caps, the actors have no place to go. And that might sound scary but consider that most actors aren’t pulling the hundreds of millions that the big names are pulling. Not to mention the fact that sponsors don’t care what a ticket costs as long as people are seeing the Pepsi logo. Not to also mention that it is getting easier and cheaper to create special effects.

And that leaves the cinemas. A conglomerate of buildings with big flat walls and giant fancy flashlights. Plus they have lots of seats! And where else can you get salty popcorn and rolling hotdogs under a heat lamp? These theaters think they have a stranglehold on all of us, including the studios.

The fact is that there are plenty of ways for studios to take our money without needing middlemen to pass it out. We go to blockbusters because they call them blockbusters and we rave about medium-quality movies because they make them physically larger. If people took the money they spent for a family of four to have a theater-going experience twice a month for a year, they could purchase a damn good home-entertainment system and bypass the entire process.

Studios need to sever ties with these outdated monstrosities and allow people to decide which movies are more important on their own. We need to stop following how much movies make and act as if that matters to us. None of us are industry insiders. It doesn’t matter if James Cameron made a billion dollars with Avatar. Even the people who saw it cannot name five characters today. That’s a money-maker, not a memorable experience. Leave the money to the accountants and enjoy the movies you want from the comfort of wherever you feel the most comfortable. Don’t let the media tell you you’re wrong for enjoying your own space. Covid-19 taught us that sometimes the best theater is a ratty couch and a big screen.


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