Imagine walking into a crowded movie theater, squeezing between rows of elderly couples and rowdy middle-schoolers and finding the only decent seat between two families with unruly children. “Avengers: Endgame” begins to play on the wide screen, and you spend the rest of your afternoon sitting in a velvety seat, bumping elbows with your neighbor and excitedly munching on popcorn.
After months of self-quarantine, intense health lessons and extreme awareness of our proximity to others, this movie-going scene is very foreign to me. Just the very thought of sitting in a crowded room with strangers for hours on end makes me want to sanitize my hands and start a Netflix movie on my laptop, alone in my room.
However, as college campuses, bars and restaurants are opening up, so are movie theaters. On Aug. 20, AMC Theaters, the largest movie theater chain, once again opened its doors to adoring movie-goers, promising diligent sanitation and proper social distancing. These movie theaters require masks until someone is seated and ready to enjoy their movie snacks, using reserved seating to ensure that people are properly distanced. With lowered ticket prices and discounted concessions, movie theaters hope to entice audiences to once again fill their many seats.
As theaters aim to attract audiences once again, they are also fighting an already declining movie-going interest. Even before we felt the waves of COVID-19 in the United States, ticket sales were already projected to fall during 2020. With less anticipated blockbusters for the year, box offices did not have high expectations for 2020 releases. In lieu of these expectations and the world-shaking pandemic, will movie theaters ever be restored to their former glory? Will theaters forever feel the effects of coronavirus?
After months living under shelter-in-place orders and self-quarantine, we have acclimated to the at-home movie experience, especially reflected in Netflix’s data, revealing that they gained 16 million new subscribers during their first quarter. We have gotten used to the accessibility, comfort and ease of watching movies in our living rooms. We have had the world at our fingertips, skipping long ticket lines, avoiding exorbitant concession prices and always being guaranteed the “best seat in the house.”
On the other hand, the benefits of online streaming come with some drawbacks. Despite the comforts of streaming and the at-home movie experience, some still yearn for that sense of camaraderie, sitting in a theater full of enthusiastic cinephiles, excitement permeating the room. Some still miss that sense of occasion that comes from awaiting new releases, watching a film in theaters and gathering with friends. Can that same experience be replicated at home? Can anything ever replace the encapsulating feeling of theaters with its surround sound and 30 foot screens? Only time will tell.
All I know is that I will not be cozying up with a bucket of $12 popcorn for the next action movie blockbuster anytime soon. I am content choosing from an endless list of movies from the comfort of my room, maintaining control of my experience and environment. There may come a time when I desire that communal excitement of movie theaters, but I personally cannot justify those few hours in public theaters when I have access to a myriad of films at home. Well, at least for now.