Movie Attendance in Decline: Why?

Roger Ebert, well-known movie critic:

Why are you not going to the movie theater?

Box office revenue at movie theaters “lagged far behind 2010,” an article by the AP’s David Germain reports. Partly that was because the year lacked an “Avatar.” Partly because a solid summer slate fell off in the autumn. Germain talks to several Hollywood insiders who tried to account for the general decline of ticket sales; 2011 had “smallest movie audience since 1995.” I have some theories of my own, fueled by what people tell me.

[He gives six reasons: absence of a must-see movie, ticket prices, theater experiences, refreshment prices, competition with other forms of delivering a movie — like Netflix, lack of choice…]

The message I get is that Americans love the movies as much as ever. It’s the theaters that are losing their charm. Proof: theaters thrive that police their audiences, show a variety of titles and emphasize value-added features. The rest of the industry can’t depend forever on blockbusters to bail it out.

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  • Prices. Followed by not a lot of good movies I want to pay to see in the first place. I’ll wait for Red Box.

  • Brandon

    2012 is going to be worse. Several movies are being re-released in 3D. I’m not interested in re-watching Disney movies at the same price I can buy the DVD.

  • Michael Fox

    Tom Cruise. Period.

  • Brad

    There is more to it.

    1. Lack of originality: Hollywood has run low on ideas and is terrified of taking risks. The sequels are endless and even movies that are not sequels are just mashes of other movies that have made money. That is why every other movie right now is a Vampire movie of some kind.

    2. Hollywood is Monolithic And Guilty of Group Think: Most of Hollywood is made up of the same culture beliefs and values and therefore so are most of their stories. They have become a tad stale and isolated from how other large sections of the country think. There was a great article written a number of years ago about all the Middle East War movies Hollywood has produced over the last eight years and how all of them were slanted to be against the wars. My purpose isn’t to get into the matter of if these wars are right, but to highlight that many in America felt they were and believed in them. Hollywood though could never see that and muster up a movie story from that angle. Which leads me to my last point.

    3. Hollywood Has Become Foreign To Many of The People It Seeks To Sell To: It has reached a point in polarization that many people on the coasts refer to the rest of the country with the derogatory term “fly over country.” The antipathy that Hollywood has for the majority of the country being pro-life and against gay-marriage seeps through many of the movies today. The movies have become more preachy and removed from the values and experiences of many Americans.

    Stories are so powerful for a community or culture because they people can relate and resonate with them. Yet when do you see movies that are even close to what American life looks like for so many? Suburbs, kids, church, family vacations, lack of casual sex and hook-ups? If you were to just watch Hollywood movies you would think the normative values of our nation are drastically different than what they functionally are.

    This is why there has been such an economic success for movies like “Courageous” “Fireproof” and Tyler Perry movie. While I have seen none of these nor do I want to, I know they touch a nerve with many people and inspire them. They watch what Hollywood makes now and they can’t say the same.

  • Rob Dunbar

    Why haven’t I gone to a movie this year? First, there’s no theater in my town of 15,000. It got priced out of existence and couldn’t keep up with the 6-screen building 10 miles down the road. Second, that 6-screen 3-D surround-sound palace charges at least $8.50/ticket for non-3-D films at the (inconveniently) early show, and there’s really nothing I’m dying to see that I can’t wait for on my 42″ high-def TV and (Netflix-connected) Blu-Ray player. With my family of 4, a movie and snacks will come to about $50…for something I can get for $3 as a new rental. Besides, though it is much maligned, Netflix is still a bargain at $8/month with content I enjoy (“Doctor Who,” anyone? “Lost”?). So, yes, I think those six reasons Germain gives pretty well sum things up for me.

  • Rob Dunbar

    Umm…actually, it should be “why didn’t I go to a movie last year?” (#4). Oh, well.

  • Brandon

    Can’t waste decent money on a movie that is partially OK. Thank you Rotten Tomatoes (reviews have, a lot of times, been decisive in my not attending certain movies or just not going to the movies that this or that weekend because there was not a good offering out there). I paid a one time fee of $20 at and now watch movies on my tab at home or while I’m at work (on my down times). I use to go to the movies once or twice a month. Now I only go once or twice a year.

  • James

    Priced out of their market, and a public that’s finally waking up and realizing they don’t *have* to pay such rediculous prices to enjoy a movie.

    That, and the crash of big TV flat-panel prices. When people have a 40″ HDTV, the threater’s bang for buck declines.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I’ve actually been to more movies last year than I have in several years. For one, my son is finally at an age where we can take him to kids films and he can enjoy them — so we (or I) have taken him to things like Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Muppets and Cars 2. Second, I actually like superhero movies — especially Marvel ones because I grew up on comics and still have 3 large boxes filled with them. So I went to see Thor and X-men. I also managed to get out with some friends to see movies my wife wouldn’t be interested in like Mission Impossible and Super 8.

    Honestly, if I had more time and money there were several others I want to catch in the theater: Moneyball, 50/50, Hugo, Tin Tin, etc.

    I don’t know why everyone else skipped 2011, but I know why I didn’t. Timing. A son old enough to go and enjoy kid/family friendly movies with us and other friends willing to go to movies with me that my wife would rather skip. I still love seeing movies in the theater, but prices and sometimes just finding the time to go can both get in the way.

  • Steve Burdan

    For me, it’s the way groups of people can act in public spaces nowadays. It can happen in church also. Distractive or inappropriate behavior. The high-end movie venues are certainly fun for a change. There will always be plenty of good movies out there to watch. Maybe there is a common point we are heading to where good quality home theaters are less expensive to set up and rapid access to new movies and TV shows is available. Of course there will always be a “market” for communal activities…

  • With the birth of my son, timing was a big issue for me this year.

    That said, if we hadn’t had a child, we probably would have seen Puss in Boots, The Muppets, and Super 8.

    I think @Brad #3 makes great points as well. There are some great, original movies still being made, but most fall into some sort of rehash.

    Rehash was my biggest disappointment with Horrible Bosses. Can a movie about bosses take place primarily at work? Noooooooo… It has to be some sort of slapstick murder plot.

  • I have to say, though… I am REALLY looking forward to seeing The Hobbit on the big screen, holding a $10 bag of popcorn with a $7 soda!

    Peace, Brian

  • AHH

    The theater experience is in many ways less pleasant than it used to be. And I don’t think that is entirely my cranky middle age romanticizing my youth.

    Seats are generally comfier. But you have to sit through 20 minutes of commercials and previews (when I was a kid it was more like 5 minutes of previews), at ear-splitting volume, before the real movie starts. And then you have rude people with cell phones or loud conversations or who arrive late and are stumbling their way to a seat. Last movie I saw in a theater was Moneyball and there was an adult behind me who couldn’t seem to avoid kicking the back of my seat like a little kid on an airplane.

  • I agree with the point about theaters not policing their audiences. In Austin we have a chain of theaters which became famous over the summer after they threw out a woman who was texting during a movie. They have a very serious no talking and no texting policy and I love it that they actually enforce it. They also don’t allow children under 3 in at all, nor do they allow children under 6 into any movies that aren’t for children. Tickets prices are the same, and you can order food and drinks. I love it! After sitting in a Regal theater with people talking and children crying to watch Tintin with my girls (9 & 6) last week I don’t think we’ll make that mistake again.

    Here’s the No Talking PSA that went viral:

  • Tim

    The Hobbit will be the next movie I really want to see.

    Here’s why I don’t go:

    Easier to see films at home
    Lack of films I really want to see

  • When you add the math of the average price of a movie ticket being $10+ and a family of four, that is just more than we often have or want to spend. The exceptions to springing for expensive movie tickets is when a movie has great special effects (i.e., James Cameron’s “Sanctum”).

  • D. Foster

    1) Hollywood isn’t making movies that are worth the prices they’re charging.

    2) Watching flicks at home is easier, quicker, and more enjoyable than ever before.


  • DRT

    No beer.

    Well, that is part of it.

    – I don’t have a girlfriend to hide away with,
    – I don’t need to go to get large screen and sound system (though my front projection screen is on the blink and I am making do with regular LCD TV’s)
    – I now have to get up during movies and they don’t let me pause
    – Did I say no beer?

  • In addition to many of the points above about price and theaters, my main reason for not going very often is the lack of quality for my buck. And when there are quality movies, they all come on AT THE SAME TIME: Memorial Day weekend and the lead-up to Christmas. I am not going to go more than a couple of times a month to a theater and if all the good movies are on at the same time, I don’t go.

    Then we have to endure the following the other 10 months:

    1. Endless sequels of good movies
    2. Formula movies
    3. CG events that try to mask weak plots.

  • TJJ

    1. Ticket Prices
    2. Not alot of good films to go see that are worth #1
    3. Theare experience not what it used to be. People talking, or texting/surfing on their phones, little kids crying, etc.
    4. Concession prices are really outlandish and the quality bad.
    5. Experience watching movies at home has never been easier, better, with more choices.

    Really, the only movies I go to the theatre to watch anymore are those films that really need to be seen on a really big theatre screen to get the whole impact of the cinematography and do the movie justice.

  • Ted

    I took my family of 6 to a matinee of “Tin Tin.” Tickets were $45 and concessions was $42. Bottom line, can’t afford the experience but once or twice a year.

  • You can’t get around the fact that tens of millions of dollars in special effects cannot compensate for bad stories with uninspiring characters. I would take a gamble on a movie when it was $5 but if I am to go see a movie nowadays it better have some really good reviews as well as being something that is benefited by being seen on a large screen. Unfortunately there just aren’t many out there that fit this criteria. I will be in line early for the Hobbit though!

  • Nick

    I’m surprised that Ebert isn’t saying the obvious, theaters have always been in decline since the fall of the big studio system. There are always new factors that will add to this effect, but ticket sails going down is nothing new. That’s why I always find it a little misleading that we judge success not by tickets sold, but by money made. The highest grossing films come no where near ticket sales in the 1940s.

    The thing is, studios don’t care to save the theaters. They don’t care about the ideal movie watching experience. They care about making money. The studios don’t care that people watch movies on cell phones, despite the fact that it is terrible for cinema; they love that you can watch on cell phones, because it’s another avenue to make money.

    The theaters will die. The people who need to change are the consumers. We can’t let corporations tell us how to watch movies. We willingly subject our selves to laptops and iphones, sacrificing quality cinema. If we want theaters to stay alive then we have to want good cinema enough. But we don’t. We want ease and convenience, which is fine if that’s what we want. So good movie watching will die.

  • Dave

    Here is my movie criteria:

    (1) A movie worth the price of theater tickets for the big screen experience.
    (2) A movie that will be good entertainment at lower cost for home viewing.
    (3) A movie that I might watch when shown a few years later on television.
    (4) A movie that I wouldn’t watch even if it was free.

  • EricW

    Between Netflix at $8/month and Blu-Rays costing the price of 2 tickets the week they go on sale and costing the price of 1 ticket when on sale a year later, there is every reason to wait to either watch it on Netflix or buy the Blu-Ray – or I guess Redbox it (I’ve not yet done that). Plus, you can apparently stream first-run movies for $5.99 (again something I’ve not yet done), which is less than the cost of 1 ticket for as many people as you can fit into your widescreen TV room.

  • EricW

    On the other hand, our local 12-screen theater (now with 1 IMAX/IMAX 3D screen) 1.5 miles away has $6 shows every day before noon ($8 before 6 pm); add $4 for 3D, $5 for IMAX, $6 for IMAX 3D – so for some shows it can be worth going to occasionally. Will probably save up the money to see The Hobbit in IMAX 3D. Or maybe not, unless it’s the early show. $12 per ticket even for IMAX 3D is mucho moolah.

  • “[T]he U.S. film industry, in the midst of the worst box-office slump in 20 years, looks for possible explanations as to why Americans are not flocking to movie theaters. In a totally unrelated development, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl opens nationwide, to be followed in coming months by The Dukes of Hazzard and Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo.” – Dave Barry

  • Kenny Johnson

    I think the argument that there are no good movies is bogus. Were movies 20 years ago (1991) really that much better. Or are movies now that much worse? Personally, I don’t think so.