Is Corona Killing Movie Theaters? Yes, and No


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An AMC Theater in Times Square is closed for business on Friday, March 2020 in New York, NY. The city officially announced the closure of all non-essential businesses and implemented a lockdown last week. Photo by Erin Lefevre for Nur Photo. (Photo by Erin Lefevre/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Abigail Quinn, Contributor

It’s no wonder really that movie theaters are on the cusp of their inevitable doom. Social distancing and COVID-19 have put so many businesses down for the count, so what’s new? Social distancing may have put some gas on the trash fire that is the Theater system, but the whole mountain it is built on is beginning to crumble and tumble down. AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the world, is on the cusp of filing bankruptcy, and other theaters are going down with it.

The average movie ticket price in the United States is $9.11. Movie theater ticket sales hit a 25-year low in 2017 despite having several big money movies releasing throughout the year, such as Wonder Woman, Spiderman Homecoming, Gardens of the Galaxy vol. II, and the Beauty and the Beast remake. Additionally, movie ticket prices are 109% higher than they were in 1995 according to The National Association of Theater Owners. The higher prices make movie goers more particular of what movies they are willing to see in theaters and what they will wait a few months to watch in the comfort of their own homes. Higher prices subsequently lead to fewer sales and fewer sales lead to higher prices to make up for lost revenue.

Another issue is when people go to see movies in the theater. Thrillist says that “Studios get around 90% of the revenue from a movie in its first week of release, which diminishes over subsequent weeks with more money going to the theaters.” So theoretically, if all people go see a movie in its opening week and it turns out to be a flop, people will not come to see it any of the following weeks and theaters just lost most of their revenue. Social media puts more emphasis on seeing a movie when it comes out so it is easier to avoid spoilers and jump into the social conversation right after the movie.

Theaters can’t rely on big picture movies to make big money either as big companies are becoming fewer and releasing less films. Business insider puts it best saying, “The number of wide releases by the six major studios– Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, and Universal–[has been] on a downward trend since 2006.”

One final issue is the shrinking of what is known as the theatrical window. The theatrical window is the time between a movies theatrical release and when it is available on DVD, video, and online streaming. If you thought that the theatrical window has been getting smaller over the years, then you’d be absolutely correct. Around 1980, the window was a five to six month period. In 2019? A mere 3 months. In fact, the new Disney movie Onward was ready to stream for free on Disney Plus less than a month after its official release in theaters.

The future of movie theaters is a bleak and unpredictable to say the least, but there are two things we know for sure:

  1. There will always be people who hold value to the experience of seeing a movie in a theater and will be willing to pay the price for that experience.
  2. There will always be people who flock to the cheapest option.