movie theater magic opinion column cartoon graphic

For as long as I can remember, my family and I would go to the movies at least once a month, if not more. Since the coronavirus pandemic forced movie theaters to close mid-March, I have been eagerly awaiting the day they reopen. There is something about walking into the aroma of popcorn and sitting in a chilly theater for two hours to watch a film on the big screen that just never seems to disappoint. Even if I do not care for the movie, it is still a great escape from reality.

Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+, have been creating some anxiety about the future of the traditional movie industry. According to Forbes, a 2019 study conducted by the company Vindicia found that 70% of American households have at least one streaming service subscription. The study also found that the average American uses at least three services, including myself.

The easy access and constant content uploads has enticed people into what some may call a subscription culture. While there are monthly subscriptions to movie theaters such as AMC Stubs A-List, Regal Unlimited and Cinemark Movie Club, not nearly as many people purchase them. For example, as of April 2020, Netflix reached 182.8 million subscribers, while AMC Stubs finally hit 900,000 members in August of 2019.

According to The New York Times, movie theater attendance totaled about 1.2 billion last year, showing a 25% decline from the 1.6 billion peak in 2002. However, I do feel as though this statistic does show that Americans have still made the movie theater business somewhat of a high priority. Especially in the age of ample streaming technology, for movie theaters to still be around and make billions is quite impressive. 

The National Association of Theater Owners said that streaming services will not pose a threat to the stable movie attendance records and growing box office.

As I have lived near NC State my whole life, some of my favorite movie theaters in the area include Regal Crossroads 20, AMC Classic Blueridge 14 and Cinemark Raleigh Grande. My other two favorites, Raleighwood Cinema Grill and Mission Valley Cinema, sadly closed in 2019.

This news hit me hard because I had consistently gone to these two theaters for years. Walking into these theaters in particular gave me such a sense of nostalgia for my childhood. Each theater has something unique to offer, whether it be the bacon cheese fries that I would order every time at Raleighwood or the funky, festive decorations Mission Valley would put up for holidays and certain movie premieres.

The other theaters I mentioned also hold a sentimental value for several reasons, as I imagine fellow enthusiastic movie goers’ favorite theaters do for them. I would hate to see more closures in a few months due to people not supporting local theaters that are uncertain of their futures.

Cinemark, Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres have all recently announced they will reopen in July. Precautions including limited seats to allow for proper social distancing, facemask requirements and more extensive cleaning procedures will be implemented.

However, initially, these three theater companies announced they would require employees to wear facemasks and only encourage customers to wear them. Due to public outrage, AMC has since updated their rules to require all guests to wear facemasks and will offer masks for $1, otherwise guests who refuse to cooperate will not be allowed inside.

This almost three month closure of movie theaters across the country has created “substantial doubt” for theater companies' future, especially AMC. With already lower attendance numbers, this lack of customers is going to make for a massive decline in revenue for this year, which will in turn put more theaters in position for possible permanent closure.

As the pandemic has taken away so many comforting, routine activities, movie theaters should be consciously thought of and supported once they reopen, as they are still in danger of diminishing. While I too am guilty of using multiple streaming services, I plan to be one of the first in line—with my mask on as I practice social distancing—to see a movie in July. Like we have seen with almost everything during quarantine, you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.