OPINION: The future of movie theaters

For as long as I can remember, going to the movie theaters has always been an exciting event for me.

From buying the infamous buttery popcorn to watching upcoming movie trailers before the film starts, there is nothing that can replicate that one-of-a-kind experience. Even the feeling of walking out of a movie theater is something I can never forget despite not having gone to one in over two years.

While the pandemic may have halted just about every aspect of normalcy, movie theaters have been taking hits in attendance far before Covid-19 shut in-person businesses down. Due to rising ticket prices and streaming services taking off, people are finding cheaper, more convenient alternatives to watching new films.

Even so, streaming films can never recreate the experiences or memories a movie theater so effortlessly produces. Yes, it may be cheaper and, with Covid-19, more people may be accustomed to streaming from home, but there’s more distractions that come with this alternative.

“Streaming — like many media technologies before it, like television and home recording — has definitely eaten into the audience for movies,” said Paul Booth, DePaul’s Graduate Director for Digital Communication and Media Arts. “Many people prefer to stay home and watch movies rather than go to the theater.”

While a majority of people may want to stay home and watch a movie on Netflix or HBO Max, there is still an audience that prefers the experience of a movie theater to streaming any day.

“I think it’s the most enjoyable way to watch any movie,” said Fiona Warren, a DePaul senior majoring in Film and Television. “Even if I see a bad film in theaters, I won’t realize it was bad until weeks after solely because of the experience.”

Everything from a completely dark room with cozy, reclining chairs to a screen that stretches from wall to wall makes me feel like it’s an escape from the world — even if it only lasts for 90 minutes.

“The movie theater experience is often expensive or can be more expensive than staying home to watch a movie on streaming,” Booth said. “However, there are many people who want to spend the money or effort to see a movie at the theater because of the experience of the big screen, the popcorn and watching a movie with other people.”

This past Halloween weekend, the Music Box Theatre held its annual three-day showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where over 1800 people attended the special screening.

“We reopened our doors in July and it was rough, we were very uncertain,” said Ally Berry, the general manager of the Music Box Theatre. “But it’s evened out so well and this Halloween screening was just as busy as the screening prior to the pandemic.”

The Music Box Theatre is best known for its showings of cult classics, foreign and independent films. However, they mix up the movie theater scene with their special screening events throughout the year, something that draws significant numbers of people and sells out the box office.

“Individual theaters can do special screenings, rent out theaters to groups or have events,” Booth said.

Though the Music Box Theatre may experience slow periods after the holidays, according to Berry, their unique offers are catching the eye of past and new audiences, which is something more theaters can start doing as Covid-19 regulations relax.

Not only are the special screenings a hit among audiences, but it isn’t all competition between the Music Box and streaming services like Amazon and Hulu. Some movie theaters work with streaming services to premiere films before releasing them online.

“We do occasionally get partnered up with Amazon,” Berry said. “And they will premiere their movies here before putting them online. Sometimes it’s a game with streaming services, but there have been great opportunities with them too.”

Maybe it isn’t all competition with streaming services, at least for right now. Some films are meant to be seen in a theater, while others may not need the all-encompassing experience.

“There are movies you want to watch at home and then there are movies you want the big screen, sound experience for,” Berry said. “I think it has balanced out more, and there is more of editing films with intent for certain ones to have that movie theater experience.”

Focusing on films that induce these unique, one-of-a-kind memories, ones explicitly made for the big screen, may be one way to garner more audiences.

“The change has to come from the industry — more movies that are geared towards a cinematic experience would draw more audiences in,” Booth said.

Perhaps there is a happy medium between movie theaters and streaming services, but the theater experience can never be beaten. While movie theaters may not be as popular as they once were, the Music Box Theatre is a perfect example of adapting to the changes and transitions of digital media and doing so with success.