Last weekend, our family went to see a movie in a movie theatre for the first time in 2011. It also happened to be the weekend fewer people went to see a movie than had done so in the two weeks after 9/11.
So how did we get to this situation? I love entertainment, and it wasn’t all that long ago that I spent the summer of 2005 trying to take my kids out to a movie each week, only to find that there weren’t enough G and PG movies for each week of the summer! That may be part of the problem, but I could still see edgier movies on my own, and I did.
The article I linked to says “Hollywood always has insisted it offers inexpensive entertainment compared to concerts, sports events and other costlier options” but that’s no longer as much the case as it used to be.
For instance, this year, instead of going to movies, I took my son to see plays. Yes, live plays, instead of movies! Many of them were Shakespeare plays: three of them were free, with only the cost of getting there early enough to get a seat, and for two others, the ticket prices were less than movie tickets cost. We’re also blessed in this area with having a lot of small theatres that take advantage of the talent in the area. Typically, $40 will buy tickets for both me and Neil to see a 2- to 3- hour performance. This includes seeing the imaginative way the set designer and director use the space and the set, watching the actors cleverly deal with wardrobe problems and flubbed lines if they happen, and being able to talk to the actors after the show. One year, at the Pear Slices performance, I sat near the playwright for one of the sketches, who let me in on the meaning of an acronym in his speech, and the mother of one of the actors, who could give me a personal run-down of her professional career. You don’t get all that with a movie, even if you paid extra to watch it in 3D.
The same rule applies to concerts and sports events: there’s a lot of concerts and sports events that price out under the $10 movie ticket price. The summer is often full of free concerts, and you can often find free tickets for our minor league baseball team, the San Jose Giants, and if you can’t, the tickets are only $9 each.
But more than anything, what’s killing the movie theatre is the quality of home video. We have a Blu-Ray Disc player, and, frankly, most of the movies I’m interested in going to are gone from the theatres before I can find the time to see them, especially since I know I can watch them at home. If I want to watch an R-rated movie with my husband, we don’t need to hire a babysitter: we can just wait until the kids go to bed and pop it in. And last year, Peter splurged on getting us a TV with 3D, and we could all watch Despicable Me in 3D in our own home, with our own popcorn and drinks. We’d watched it before in 2D in the movie theatre, and the accumulated tickets for all of us cost us more than the DVD set of the movie, which we can now watch in 2- or 3D whenever we want.
I don’t know if movie theatres will become extinct. We did like the sense of occasion in formally going out and see the movie (the most excellent The Muppets, BTW). And the movie theatre where we saw it, Camera Cinema 12, is a fun movie theatre to go to. The manager often dresses up like one of the characters in a currently-showing film, and as I was getting more popcorn, I glimpsed him dressed up as Sherlock Holmes. If you go past the theatre on the opening night for a movie that’s gotten a lot of buzz, you may also find cosplayers dressed up as movie characters. And if you buy your tickets in bulk, it’s only $6 for a seat (but still extra for 3D). But it’s hard to beat having a much wider movie selection (any disc on hand) with the comfort of staying home; and the going-out alternatives have stayed steady in their prices, as movie tickets have gotten costlier, making the latter less of an entertainment deal.