• James Stranahan

Will the Old-Fashioned Movie Theater Ever Disappear?

I drove past a movie theater a few days ago, which still hadn’t reopened since it was first shut down last year because of COVID. As I always did, I felt a wave of sadness hit me as I wondered when the lights would be turned on and audiences would return to see the latest blockbuster. The world is changing fast, and the film industry is working hard to keep up. Netflix is bigger than ever, and it represents an awesome way for people to stay connected to films and for actors to play some pretty incredible parts. I am glad about all of that, but what about movie theaters? Will this new world have a place for them, too?

I don’t have a memory like an elephant, so I can’t claim to remember the first time I stepped into a theater. Was it to see Jurassic Park? One of the Batman movies? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that when I was a kid, going to the movies meant I was in for one heck of a great time. Going to the theater was special. I was going to watch a film I had carefully picked out and saved my money to see, and I couldn’t wait to walk in the doors. I was always met by a bored teenager who tore my ticket stub, so that wasn’t that big of a deal. What was great, though, was the smell of buttered popcorn. I had saved some extra money so that I could get some, and so I stood in the long line, waiting for my turn.

Once I had all the snacks I could afford, it was time to find my movie. Who doesn’t enjoy searching for their title on the signs, full of anticipation because they are about to see something great? It was almost like a treasure hunt, and when at last I found Twister, It, or Goodwill Hunting, all that remained was finding the premium seat: right at the back in the middle seat. Wherever it was that you liked to sit, you know how satisfied you felt when you sat down. You got comfortable, put all your snacks and drinks exactly where you wanted them to be, and got ready for two hours of fun.

What will any of us do if movie theaters go the way of the dodo? Films themselves will always be with us, of course, but is seeing them on your computer really the same as watching them on screens as tall as 30 feet amongst an audience of excited viewers? I remember catching a showing of The Shawshank Redemption, and when Andy broke out of the prison, finally free after decades of abuse, the entire theater burst out cheering. You don’t get that kind of experience when you watch the movie on your laptop.

It’s the same thing with horror movies. There was a collective energy that ran through the entire theater when I sat with 200 other people to watch Scream. We all knew what was going to happen - we all knew that the slasher was right behind Sydney. Why, then, did half of the audience jump out of their seats when he attacked her? We were all hyping each other up, and that just made the film that much more fun to watch.

So, I hope our movie theaters will all make a big comeback. I like Netflix as much as anyone does, but in my view, it will always be fun to head out for a matinee of the latest big movie. I wouldn’t want it any other way, would you?

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