Boy, do I miss going out to the movies — “out” being the operative word here.
Of course I enjoy all the streaming offerings at home from Netflix and the like. But nothing takes the place of going to my local Landmark theater on a Saturday night and running into friends milling about in the lobby before and after a movie plays. Even though I don’t often indulge in a large box of popcorn, the mere aroma is weirdly satisfying to me.
Last week brought encouraging news: that depressed movie theater stocks rallied on an optimistic report from Pfizer that a coronavirus vaccine could be available by early spring. The exhibition sector has been battered by the pandemic and is struggling to survive after theaters across America were forced to shut their doors and furlough employees in the wake of the health crisis. After surveying its members, the National Assn. of Theatre Owners found that as many as 70% of cinemas in small and midsize towns face bankruptcy or permanent closure by early next year without more federal aid. As NATO chief John Fithian told me, “If the vaccine is on track, that’s very exciting and is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel and many of our companies are barely breaking air in terms of their liquidity right now.”
Clearly, the economic impact is enormous.
But so is the potentially devastating cultural impact. Sitting in a theater with dozens of people being fully engaged for an uninterrupted two hours is a collective experience that is simply not replicable at home. I asked Fithian if he’s worried that audiences won’t ever return en masse because viewing habits have shifted so dramatically.
“I think people are sick of watching content in their homes,” he said. “What they’ve learned is what they miss, and what they miss is the chance to get out of their homes and go to cinemas. That’s why you saw drive-ins thrive, and that’s why you saw people put movies up on the side of warehouses and barns and families running outside projection systems — it’s to bring that shared experience back.”
I, for one, can’t wait!