Movie Theatres Closing, Can They Survive COVID-19?

The enticing smell of buttery, yellow popcorn is one of the many things we’ve had to give up due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Synonymous with movie theatres, the buttery smell is not the only thing that we may not see again.

Hollywood was already expecting a bad box office year before the coronavirus hit, due to studios packing 2019 schedules with conclusions to major franchises. According to Time Magazine, Industry prognosticators expected to see last year’s box office record followed by a large drop in ticket sales in 2020. The article, published in March 2020 and entitled “Streaming Was Already Up 13% Last Weekend. Can Movie Theaters Survive COVID-19?” suggested Another threat to ticket sales, even before COVID-19. Namely, online streaming services that had begun to supplant the moviegoing experience for millions of people nationwide. According to the article, The box office was at a twenty-year low, down 60% from the prior year. For comparison, movie theatres managed better the weekend after September 11 than they are managing now.

The overwhelming response from teachers and students who commented was that they have not been to the movies since covid hit. Chorus teacher Kimberly Dawson was the one brave teacher who has indulged in a movie out, but the experience was not optimal.

“It felt a little risky,” she said. “Also, it was uncomfortable wearing the mask the whole time. I didn’t drink my soda very much. I immediately put my clothes in the laundry and took a shower when I got home.”

All that said, Ms. Dawson and her family enjoyed being out of the house and seeing a movie on a large screen. It’s that family bonding and shared experience that is missing for people who watch at home.

“I kind of feel bad for people who do go to the movie theater often because those are special places you can bond and connect with people,” said Livia N., a 7th grader. Livia didn’t go to the movies much before the break but did so occasionally on holidays.

According to industry experts, movie theatre usage was already waning. “This was going to be the worst year in movie theater history before the coronavirus hit,” says Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed partners in the Time article. “This is like pouring lighter fluid on the fire.”

Many respondents said that watching at home was not a significant change for them.

“I prefer online platforms for many reasons, they are more affordable, I can pause the movies, there are fewer interruptions from other movie viewers, and I can wear my PJs and eat my favorite snacks at a cheaper price,” said science teacher Shelby Hill

As a whole, though, the Time article reported that Nielsen found a 6% increase in television viewing across America in March, and a 13% increase in the use of streaming devices. “That firm’s research has found that during times when people are forced to stay in their homes — say, waiting for a hurricane to pass — they increase the amount of content they watch on TV or streaming by as much as 60%,” read the article.

“I believe theatres will be back in business once it is safe to do so,” said Computers in art teacher Kevin VanHall.

However, according to Greenfield, people could get into the habit of watching Netflix, and it may never go back to the level it once was.

Many people were definitely sad to see movie theaters closing and would love to go back to them, Mr. VanHall being one of those people. Cinema is something that he really enjoys, and the theater experience is a part of that. Like he says, “There is nothing spectacular or cinematic about my living room.”

Social studies teacher Jane Layton Agrees. “I prefer the theater – there is something about the big screen, the surround sound, and the experience of just getting out of the house to go there that makes it special. I appreciate the ability to watch movies online or through cable and enjoy that too, but I don’t want to lose the option to visit a theater once a month with my family either.”