“Will movie theaters die?” is the wrong question.
Instead of maintaining equilibrium let’s cannonball into the next possibility.
We should be asking—“What do movie theaters have to give to our morphing cinematic culture?”
Our Cinematic Culture
I’m a big fan of movie theaters. Those nostalgic velvet curtains and thin-framed red seats transport me to the past. My mind swirls about the decades of cinematic history. Even the mouths of crunching popcorn and the slight fear of getting lice from the seat back well-up some sentiment—I’m not alone. Though I’m sitting in a crowd of strangers, for a small blip on life’s timeline it kind-of feels like we’re family. But, the more those ticket prices rocket the less likely I’ll be there. Video-on-demand platforms are offering more options and to tell you the truth I’m getting more into series over feature length.
My story is not uncommon. A flood of people, probably including yourself, are regularly accessing VOD. And, in the same breath, they are trickling out of theaters. Those at-arms-length films are cheap and abundant. But the cheap and plentiful film selections is not the major reason that viewing has shifted. According to Tim Bevan, Working Title co-chairman, the popular appetite has drifted to long-form narratives, series. Series like The Crown, which Working Title produces, requires budgets close to that of feature-length films. That money’s got to come from somewhere. Overall, it seems that people are more interested in VOD, because they are more interested in long-form narratives.
What About Theaters?
The moment start trying to “keep theaters alive” is the moment we fail as artists. Maintenance isn’t art. . . I mean, it’s not even business.
Music, theater, dance, painting, literature—they all explore. The arts push forward. They look for something new, swoop into unknown territory, ask forgotten questions, and seek untold stories. When we degrade to mere maintenance, we indulge in more singular and conceded sentimentality.
This tension between VOD and theaters has destabilized the filmmaking industry. But, cinema isn’t the first art form to go through massive shifts in funding, production and viewing. It’s just that film is young. This is a major shift, but tension is the place for creativity. It’s the place for collaboration.
We shouldn’t ask if theaters will die, but instead what is their potential. What do theaters have to give? In what way could they partner with VOD services? How would it work to screen a series? The community, the sound, the giant screen, the night on the town, the experience. I’m convinced movie theaters have a lot to offer long-form narratives and their VOD platforms. Theaters must start collaborating with VODs, and when they do—for better or worse—they’ll transform.