The experience is the same as it ever was. Same as when your grandparents and your parents sat in the dark, gazing at a big screen.
And yet ...
Going to a movie at a theater ranks as an act of cultural defiance in 2019.
When you watch a movie at home, you control the experience. When you make the superior choice to go to a theater, the experience controls you.
Moviegoing runs counter to today’s vibe, where we control our media experiences. At home, you can pause a streaming device and return to watch in five minutes, or five weeks.
The blissful experience of watching a movie with a crowd, removed from the refrigerator and hassles and barking dog, is under threat. Netflix and Amazon lead a wave of streaming services that provide a convenient means to imitate the moviegoing experience in your home, and there’s talk of soon releasing, for $50 or so, major movies immediately for home consumption. This development is frightening for those of us who enjoy getting away from it all for a few hours in a big, dark room.
But the movie experience has been under threat for decades, dating back to the invasion of televisions into nearly every American living room in the 1950s. Streaming is different from the traditional TV experience, but not radically different. We’ve been able to watch a movie on a dramatically smaller home screen for decades.
The chance to escape the house, instead of remaining stuck in the house, fuels the survival of movie theaters. When you see a movie immersed in the experience at the theater, you’re more likely to cry or laugh or feel deep terror.
Kimball Bayles has owned and operated the Peak Theater in downtown Colorado Springs for 25 years. As a child growing up in the Springs, he was a regular at the theater. He saw “Shot in the Dark,” the first of the Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” series, from the balcony of the Peak so many times he memorized nearly all the lines.
He adores the experience of sitting in a dark room, away from home.
But he knows the threats to the experience are real. Bayles recently was shopping for a new home and nearly every one of the candidates for purchase included a large, comfortable screening room for movies. Luring people from their homes is a serious challenge.
“It’s a select audience that likes to go out to movies,” Bayles says. “They like the shared experience, they like a date night, they like to get out of the house.”
Still, there’s reason for optimism.
More than 1.3 billion movie tickets were sold in North America in 2018, a 5.25 percent jump from 2017’s 1.23 billion. Not all numbers are encouraging. The Top 10 movies of 2018 accounted for 36 percent of box office receipts. In 2002, 1.575 billion tickets were sold in 2002 at the dawn of the superhero craze.
Superhero flicks will fail to sustain moviegoing forever. I wonder what will happen to theaters when American audiences grow weary of watching some super creature in a strange outfit save the world — the entire world — from evil. That plot has become a yawner. “Spider-Man” No. 7 was released to big crowds in July. I don’t think he’ll make it to Spidey No. 21. To survive, Hollywood must show more imagination and vigor.
We dwell in a superb time for moviegoing. Screens are big. Ticket prices, especially in Colorado Springs, are reasonable. In 1978, the average movie ticket was $2.34, which adjusted for inflation translates to about $9.50. In 2019, the average movie ticket is $9.11. If you’re flexible, it’s not difficult for a Springs moviegoer to snag a ticket for less than the national average. You can, for instance, see a matinee at the Peak for $8 or a showing at AMC Chapel Hills from 4-to-6 p.m. for $6.
Will we, in 20 years, still be escaping our homes to sit in dark rooms to watch a big screen?
Please, let the answer be yes.