There has been much speculation as to the downward spiral of movie ticket sales in last few years, and the accusatory finger tends to point to piracy. Which makes sense, in a way.
But the evidence suggests otherwise: Wasn't this past President's Day the highest ever in box office revenue? Haven't December, January and February been quite profitable, especially compared to other years? Haven't female-oriented films ("chick-flicks" as they are labeled, in a somewhat derogatory fashion) made more money than average?
And during the current economic crisis, no less. I'd think that if people really wanted to save money, they'd just resort to piracy. I know plenty of people who are so cheap and lazy they download movies that are still in theaters-- which means they don't give a hoot if the film looks good or not, because most of the pirated copies of current releases are camcorded during a screening. Sound, lighting, focus-- everything is terrible, and they include audience participation, even (pirated copies of DVD releases is fodder for a different entry).
I think, if we ask around, that people who truly love watching movies, they'll go to the theater, no problem. It's just such a hassle.
Problem: It's not cheap. Cheaper than the theater, and a club, and a lot of other things, for sure. But dinner and a movie for two can add up; even skipping dinner and sticking to popcorn and soda results in a less-than-friendly attack on the personal expense bill. And the loyalty programs designed to keep audiences returning to a particular chain are not exactly easy to grasp, and their rewards are pitiful.
Potential solution: Cinema chains in Mexico, where an average ticket costs about US$4 for a pretty damn decent theater (and $9 for a VIP theater with large, individual recliners and sushi-serving waiters) have devised a simple way to acquire repeat business: an all-you-can-watch card. Pay about $10 bucks a month, watch everything you want, no matter the schedule, the location, with no limit on movies per day or restrictions. It's like cash. Pre-paid movie cash. Kinda like Netflix, if you will, but you don't spend on popcorn every time you get a DVD in the mail. And that's the trick: audiences don't feel like they're spending if they purchase goodies at the concession stand because they're not shelling out for
the ticket on the spot. It doesn't feel like spending.
Problem: Movies aren't good enough to warrant a trip to the theater. Especially for the coveted male teenage population, who tend to watch a movie they like more than once, and who cherish the vacuous explosion or nifty FX. Why would the average American kid bother with an international film like Slumdog Milionaire or a three-hour romantic drama like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
Potential solution: Make better movies. And that's easy to say, I know, but the two films mentioned above have actually been quite successful, without the teenagers carrying the box office weight. Instead, it proves that if the movie is of at least a certain quality, odds are it's gonna find its audience. Of course that's hard to predict. Figuring out exactly what will please the audience is pretty much a loser's game within the entertainment industry, so executives tend to prefer remakes, rip-offs, sequels or prequels, because they guarantee business. It makes sense. I can't entirely blame them. But, you know, originality doesn't kill, and risks tend to be rewarded.
Problem: Other people in the movie theater are idiots. There's the guy who repeats obvious plot points to his neighbor. The teenagers who talk too loud. The woman who doesn't turn her cellphone to off or at least vibrate (and then there's those who even answer!). The text messagers. The noisy eaters. The backseat kickers. Those who didn't find a nanny and those who figured their kids could handle a rated R gorefest.
Potential solution: Education. And this is not just the audience learning to be more considerate, respectful, quiet. The ArcLight in Los Angeles does its part by having an employee walk into the theater, personally welcome the audience, and request, at that very moment, that they silence their phones, explaining that it ruins the experience for the rest of the viewers. Other theaters kick people who answer their phone. In the dark, people tend to be bold, but shine a light in their face and guilt overcomes them. I've understood why movie theaters are not allowed to block cellphone signals (for emergencies), but when they claim that it infringes upon the service they provide, it seems logical to counter that phone calls do the same by interrupting the audience's enjoyment of a film. It may not be the same, but an another level, it is.
-If you're expecting an important call, don't go to the movies. Except if you're a surgeon. I can understand. But I'm guessing surgeons don't like cellphones ringing during surgery, so they're probably among the respectful types who put their phones on vibrate.
-If you're going to the movies and don't plan on using the phone, turn it off, or at least to vibrate.
-If you forget to turn it off, try to have it on hand so you can shut it the moment it rings, instead of having to shuffle through your purse in the dark.
-Don't answer. Don't. If it's really that important because you're vital to the survival of the universe, step outside. Say "hold on a second," leave, and then continue your conversation. Don't walk and talk.
-Text messaging is highly distracting. The light on your phone is very bright in the dark. Is it really that important? I sincerely doubt it, but step outside if it is.
-Whisper. Seriously. We're all watching the same movie, so we don't need a play-by-play account. And if you figured out some plot twist before it happens, keep it to yourself. We're all trying to enjoy the movie.
-If you're not talking about something regarding the movie, why are you here? If you're going to chat, go to a restaurant.
-Try to open that wrapper during the loud scenes.
-If you kick the seat in front, apologize. Try to avoid it. It's uncomfortable for the person in front.
It basically boils down to being considerate. People forget that it's courtesy to treat others the way they'd like to be treated. And they don't know how to apologize-- I've gotten into many an argument with people who instead of silencing their phone, defend their right to ruin the movie experience for others. And it sucks that I have to miss five minutes of a movie by stepping outside to get an employee who will kick out the offending party.
Yes, I will get you kicked out. Either way, the film's experience is ruined, but at least I don't have to deal with you anymore.
In the end, if producers and exhibitors put their heads together they'll find a way to keep audiences in the theater. It's not that they don't want to go see the available movies, it's just that the experience should be an enjoyable one.