The Implosion of Cinema: A Bleak Future for the Film Industry

The first time I remember going to the movies was to see Brad Bird’s delightful animated picture The Iron Giant. I was six years old, and the weeks leading up to the film’s release were filled with as much childlike anticipation as the weeks leading up to Christmas. TV spots showing bits and pieces of the film were on almost daily, and my dad would constantly tease me with the prospect of going to the theater to see it. To me, it wasn’t just a movie; it was a spectacle which promised to transport me to a realm of fantasy and adventure. And that was exactly what it felt like when my family and I finally went to go see it. It was a lovely experience, and one that I won’t soon forget. And there have been times when I’ve felt that same rush of pure cinematic energy, like when I saw Spider-Man, The Last Samurai, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But it has come to the point where I find myself losing that appreciation for the novel nature of the movies, and have become quite content with not going to the theater to watch any given release. It’s an odd and slightly nasty feeling because I can’t help but think that I’m betraying the purpose of the movies, which is to go out with a group of people to join a larger group of people in sharing a common experience. In the end though, I have come to embrace the idea that I can enjoy any movie anywhere, and moreover, that idea seems to be one that is being embraced by more and more people.

Spielberg and Lucas both made dire predictions concerning the future of cinema.
Spielberg and Lucas both made dire predictions concerning the future of cinema.

It’d be one thing to claim that this is just one person’s theory, but what lends credence to the idea that we may be seeing the irreversible alteration of the movies is that some of Hollywood’s greatest icons are expressing concerns about the future of the film industry. Last June, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas gave a talk at USC where they echoed sentiments about the massive changes that will be occurring in the world of cinema. They addressed issues about the migration from film to TV that is currently taking place, rise in ticket prices, and the advent of streaming technologies that allow people to watch films wherever they are.

Spielberg also claimed that an implosion in the film industry was inevitable, and would be brought about by about by five or six $250 million movies tanking at the box office. What’s worth noting is that just under a month after Spielberg made this prediction, The Lone Ranger was released in theaters, and was bombarded with professional and public criticism. The $215 million movie only ended up grossing $89 million and proved to be one of the most disastrous endeavors that Disney has ever invested in. While it is tough to argue that Spielberg’s Prophecy is being fulfilled in a timely fashion, one can’t help but be a little surprised at how close these events coincided. Moreover, as people become more content with staying at home to watch a movie or TV show, there is less incentive to go to the theater. Variety reported that the theater attendance of the 18-24 year old demographic had fallen 17% in 2013. And while Chris Dodd, head of the MPAA, is optimistic of the entire situation and says that, “We can embrace technology…”, one can’t help but think that he’s trying to shrug off the whole situation in spite of the fact that fewer people are going to the movies.

There are two main reasons for this lack of theater-going, and they were already more or less expressed by Spielberg and Lucas. The first is that streaming devices have made it incredibly easy for people to access a myriad of movies from the comfort of their home. While there was a time that people had to wait for a VHS or DVD release of a particular movie, nowadays providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video often allow people to watch movies well before they are released on DVD or Blu-Ray, so now the manner in which people get to see movies is even more expedient.

One should also take into account that having an entire library of films and TV shows available at your fingertips almost nullifies the point of going to the movies. Film critics have to watch almost every release because that is their job, and hardcore cinephiles will at least do their best to try to see everything they can because it’s in their nature. The average theater-goer, however, will only be interested in perhaps one or two movies that are playing at their local cinema. But if that same theater-goer has a Netflix subscription, then they can watch any movie they want anytime they want. Moreover, the movies that are playing at the theater will eventually be available on these providers, so it becomes easier to just wait a few extra months to see the movie at home than to go out and watch it. The theater has, in essence, moved into out homes, so there is no reason to go to it when it has already come to us.

The second reason that theater attendance has been declining is more of an internal occurrence in the film industry. More and more we are seeing names that used to be placed on marquees show up at the beginning of TV credits. Names like Martin Scorsese (executive producer of Boardwalk Empire and an upcoming HBO project), Steven Soderbergh (director of Cinemax’s miniseries The Knick), and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson (True Detective). There are even shows like House of Cards which stars the likes of Kevin Spacey and is exclusive to Netflix. Just the fact that internet providers are also sources for critically lauded shows indicates that film is far from being the only source of quality cinematic entertainment. It used to be that film and TV existed completely independent of one another, and those who were involved in one didn’t often involve themselves in the other. But now, not only are we seeing more and more movie actors showing up in TV shows, we are also seeing film directors and film writers express a desire to enter the world of TV programming.

Soderbergh expressed frustration with the lack of creative control that filmmakers are given.
Soderbergh has expressed frustration with the lack of creative control that filmmakers are given.

This migration is spurred on mostly by a lack of appreciation for the artistic vision of certain directors. Steven Soderbergh has expressed a large measure of disappointment in the the film industry, saying that many directors are treated badly and have their artistic intentions supplanted by studio demands. Soderbergh even went so far as to say that, “Movies don’t matter as much any more,” and has said that he will be retiring after production wraps on The Knick. Spielberg expressed similar sentiments at the USC talk when he said that his 2012 biopic Lincoln was almost made into an HBO film because it was considered too much of a departure from the his usual projects. Basically, the only directors who have a “guarantee” that their film will be made are those who heed the advice and direction of studio executives and financiers.

This narrowing of what filmmakers are allowed to produce has given them cause to search for other means by which they can release their projects, and seeing as how premium cable networks like HBO, Showtime, and Starz are so lax with the content that filmmakers are allowed to produce, it stands to reason that they’d go to those networks in order to get their projects made. This is why we are seeing more novelty on TV rather than in the movie theater. One of the major complaints that film critics have against many modern movies is that they feel like they’re nothing more than lifeless products. Every action movie is the same action movie, every rom-com is the same rom-com, and so on and so on. This is not a complaint that you see directed at TV programming. You may see different networks showcasing similar programs (e.g. HBO has Boardwalk Empire and Starz had Magic City), but they are different enough in tone and style that most audiences are able to accept them for being their own thing. By providing audiences with a multitude of different shows, networks have sidestepped one of the biggest problems that filmmakers face: repetition. Sadly, this is a problem that has been made worse and worse as studio executives choose homogenized films over the more creative variety. Granted, not every attempt at making something original works, but at least it keeps things from getting too dull.

So, where do we go from here? Well, it’ll be up to each and every person to decide what they do when it comes to these changing cinematic paradigms. I for one think that movies are far too engrained in our culture to disappear entirely. With that in mind, I offer my humble prediction: a number of studios will survive, likely the most financially successful ones, and they’ll continue to churn out their usual stuff. The problem will be that theaters will have to increase their ticket prices so that the studios can recuperate their money from the dwindling masses. The only theaters and production companies that will be able to make movies without raising prices will be those that are more open to original content. In this sense, film societies and underground theaters will become more and more popular as they are the only ones showing different kinds of films. Hopefully, major studios will learn from this example and realize that what the audience truly wants is something fresh. Meanwhile, TV networks and internet providers will continue to flourish as they become more cinematic in scope, and the general audience will become more content with home entertainment.

It isn’t the happiest prediction, but it’s the best I got. And frankly, I’m not all that worried. Not just because the theater will (hopefully) always be around, but because the true nature of cinema will never be wiped out. At it’s core, film is all about telling a story, and storytelling is the one thing that can be appreciated at any time and in any setting. William Friedkin watched Citizen Kane for the first time in a theater. I watched it for the first time on DVD. Was his experience better than mine? I’d argue that it wasn’t. One can marvel at the beauty of Welles’s intricate camerawork and dark, brooding story on a 32″ LCD TV just as much as a screen that is 30′ x 70′. Just as studios shouldn’t narrow filmmakers’ visions, we shouldn’t limit the ways in which we can experience those visions.

I am reminded of the moment in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy is tossed into solitary confinement for a prank involving a record player. He tells his pals that at the very least he had music to accompany him during his time alone. One of them asks, “So they let you tote that record player down there, huh?” Andy shakes his head ‘no’, points to his heart and says, “It was in here.” That is where the movies exist, and in that sense they will never go away.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I’m so sick of people going calling The Loneranger a quote “Garbage movie” when it really wasn’t that bad, problematic to be sure but in no way bad. I personally thought it was a decent action/adventure, it had some pretty good characters, the plot was engagging enough, the action and effects were spectacular. However there are some criticisms I agree with, for example someone needed to sit down and cut out at least 10-20 minutes, the tone was a little to uneven, and I personally think it’s a little to violent for young kids. Over all though I really do think it’s fine action/adventure and if not that it’s centainly not the worst Disney/Bruckheimer film, that title belongs to Pirates 3. On a scale of 1 to 5 I’d give it a 3, nothing amazing but good enough to satisfy.

    • I sympathize completely, I thought it was a terrific action adventure picture that fit perfectly with Gore Verbinski’s other work for Disney. The problem is that an awful lot of people disagreed. It’s one thing if critics give reviews of films, but when the majority of the general public says that a movie it’s bad, it’s pretty much a done deal. Word of mouth is very powerful and a lot of the time is the deciding factor in whether a movie is good or not. You and I thought The Lone Ranger was fine, but for every one of us there are about a dozen who say it was a poor film (not an actual ratio of course, just thinking about it based on the box office return). Thanks for your comment Levine.

    • KendaVoss

      This is the first movie in a good long while that I’ve watched more than two times. I thought it was the best movie of the summer. And the action was spectacular. The final train chase sequence was one of my favorite action setpieces in a long time.

    • Sachiko

      I agree it wasnt a fantastic film by any means but i saw it in the cinema as a “it was the next film on” and i was plesantly surprised by it. Flawed yes and i think someone needs to kick Johnny Depp in touch again to stop the silly stuff as it was one of his weakest performances and he to me was miscast. Overall i feel the film was unfairly crapped on by critics.

  2. Skidmor

    I’m curious if we’ll ever have dead actors in movies again. Like with Tupac’s hologram, they had his voice records or something so they made him say “What the fuck is up Coachellaaaa!”. Would we be able to do the same for actors in the future, mixed with advanced CGI? And more so, would it be ethical, no, appropriate to do so? Do we even have to right to decide that?

    • That’s hard to say because in a way, actors already exist as a hologram of sorts. When you’re watching a film, you’re obviously not watching a live performance, so that person/character already exists in a medium outside of reality. I don’t mean to get philosophical about it, but in a way actors exist in a timeless realm. But I don’t think that’s what you mean; instead, are you talking about using actors that have passed away to be in movies that came after their passing? Because if that’s what you’re asking, some filmmakers have already done that. Oliver Reed, for example, died during production of Gladiator, but through CGI and voice recordings, they finished some of his scenes. Same is going for Paul Walker; the team behind The Fast and the Furious (7?8?) is using CGI to finish some of his scenes. Conversely, you also have filmmakers like Christopher Nolan who, when Heath Ledger passed away, refused to even mention him in The Dark Knight Rises. It was a bit odd that none of the characters made mention of The Joker, but the respect is admirable nonetheless. Thanks for your comment Skidmor.

  3. Netflix, 3D, 4D!! Ack… The next technology to change the way I watch movies? Going back to 2D would be awesome. Then banning cellphones and hauling people out of the theatre for talking all the way through the movie. Cinemas around here are properly miserable places to be between the hordes of screaming crying children that local families bring in to R-rated movies, all the cellphone texting and talking and the general chit-chat. It’s like most of them don’t realise they’re in a cinema.

    • Excuse my language, but you’re goddamn right. 100%. It really has gotten to the point where there’s no respect, for lack of a better word, for the cinematic experience. It used to be that no matter how many people were in the theater, you could always rely on the crowd to be quiet and enjoy the movie. But nowadays, you have lots of distracting elements that take away from the movie. I’ve even heard that theater managers are contemplating making “cell phone friendly” movie theaters where people are allowed to text during movies. We got a word for that kind of cell phone friendly theater; it’s called a house. This is in large part why I find myself going out to the theater less and less. There’s just no quiet sense of adventure to watching movies anymore, you just have to cater to people who don’t really care about going to the movies and will feel perfectly fine with texting or talking over the film. You’re totally right Wills, a lot of people don’t realize they’re in a cinema, they just think they’re in their house or something. Well, I got my rant out of the way. I appreciate the comment.

    • Hanh Blodgett

      These technologies don’t really change the way we watch movies, apart from 3D. I still plump myself down on the couch with manhattan in hand and gaze on a screen with my eyes.

      However they do change the way movies are made.

    • I think the biggest problem with digital humans are the eyes. That’s what always creeps me out because you can sort of tell that there’s nothing there.

  4. izombiheartzoey

    I grew up a couple blocks away from a theaters that had one of the largest screens in the state. When I was going through high school they mostly played second run movies. I remember watching Gladiator at a late night showing in an totally empty room. My last year of high school they renovated the movie theater and split the large room up into about 8 theater rooms. The only movie I watched during this iteration was Hallow Man. They screen ratio was squished and you could hear jack hammers going off in one of the other room where renovation was going on. By the time I got out of the Navy the theater had exchanged owners three times. Two years ago they leveled the building and turned it into an empty lot. This week they finally set out a crew of people to mow the grass. I watched a whole slew of movies in that building. I miss having a movie theater that close and the huge screen. I used to sit in the front row and would have to turn my head all over just to see the full image. The biggest problem I’ve ran into with the movie going experience is all the knuckle heads on their cellphones, and talking during the movie. I’ve noticed the previews are getting heavy duty about trying to keep people off their phones during the movie. Also, many of the theaters by me have turned up the volume on the movies so you can’t folks talking.

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    • I didn’t start going to the theater regularly until I was about seven or so. Whether I was with family or friends, I would always find cause to invite people to movies. Last year, I tried going to the movies alone a couple of times, but it just wasn’t the same. The local theater even had a re-release of Raiders of the Lost Ark which I went to see, and while it was a blast to watch, it just wasn’t the same not having some friends there to experience it. There’s an awful lot of history to the theaters we go to and the movies we watch, and I appreciate you sharing izombiheartzoey.

  5. WillSullivan

    I feel like we have seen this recent trend in cinema before. By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the studio system was crippling the film industry. The studios were pumping out generic scripts with the same few stars. The cookie cutter quality of all of these films (a quality that does not exactly escape us today) started to wane on the public and kept them at home instead of the theatre.

    The other thing that was happening right around this time was television was invading America homes for the first time. Families that used to go out to the theatre were staying home glued to their TV screens. Not to mention the sizable amount of the paycheck a TV was. After investing in a TV it became hard for middle income folks to justify still going to the theatre. There were people bemoaning the end of cinema back then as well.

    However once the industry started to freak out as they watched their profits fall, something amazing happened. We entered the New Hollywood Era. Once Americans got so tired of the same old schlock the studios finally listened. They took a new generation of filmmakers and kind of let them do whatever they wanted (filmmakers you have named in this article in fact). This ushered in a new style, voice and content, and people came back to the theatre in droves.

    I predict we will soon be entering a NEW New Hollywood era (needs a better name…) Once the franchises tired on the audience and once the blockbuster collapses under its own weight we will get new films and new ideas. The best thing about this is I feel it is already happening. After seeing largely experimental films such as “Under your Skin” and “The Act of Killing” break mainstream we can see the world is thirsty for new content. The best thing we can do to make this a reality is vote with our dollars. Studios don’t care about articles or perception they care about money. If we all make a bigger effort to go to the theater to see smaller films that are experimenting with new ideas and stay away from the blockbuster the studios will listen.

    • Amen to that. I wonder though if this NEW New Hollywood will end up existing on TV or internet providers. Although I doubt this will happen, it’d be curious to see if filmmakers will even want to go back to making movies after they’ve experienced so much creative freedom in the realm of TV programming.

  6. Only time will tell, but based on the evidences you provided in your article, it seems that your prediction will prove to be pretty accurate. While I agree with your predictions, I’m going to have to disagree with your view on the film watching experience. While the way we experience films shouldn’t be limited, and while everyone has more options of various ways to experience films, I would still argue that watching a film in a theater is a unique experience that would be impossible to recreate watching it on a DVD at home. Hence, in my opinion, making watching a film in a theater a better overall experience. While a film is about storytelling and storytelling can be appreciated anywhere, it’s the delivery of that story which makes it stand out. While you’re right that in essence the film played at the theater is the same film on the DVD, along with its artistic detail and beauty, we cannot forget why people go to the theater in the first place. It’s the atmosphere of the theater that heightens the experience of the film, at least in my opinion. It’s the smell of the popcorn, the crowd, the anticipation of the film, and not being able to leave your seat so you don’t miss a second that makes the experiencing of watching the film so exhilarating. While watching the film at home affords you other luxuries like pausing the film whenever you want to grab a snack, these luxuries make the film watching experience much different. I love watching movies at home as well, but there is something about watching a film in a theater that makes it feel more official.

    • Your right, and the one thing that I regret doing in this article was making it sound like going to the theater may not matter anymore. There is undoubtedly a novel experience in going to the movies with your friends, and sometimes the stories that you have about your time in the theater can be funner than the movie your watching. In the end, this article perhaps would’ve been better if it was more of a cautionary letter about how the movie going experience is going rather than a polemic about how staying at home and watching a movie is just as good as going out. I do retract that idea if I did present it; theater going and home entertainment are in their own way fun, but theater going is what’s truly memorable.

  7. Jane Harkness

    I definitely understand what you’re talking about here, and I think that part of the reason that the 18-24 demographic doesn’t go to the movies as frequently (at least in my experience) is because of cost and convenience. Being a college student, I’m on a fairly tight budget, and since I can watch most movies or TV shows for free online, I typically don’t want to spend the extra time and money to go to the movies unless it’s a film that I’m particularly excited about.

    • That’s a point that I never considered, probably because I am lucky enough to have a fair amount of spare time to go to the movies. But I sympathize Jane, because many of my other buddies have almost no free time whatsoever and tell me about all the movies they didn’t have the chance to see. And it’s funny too that so many of them have Netflix accounts; I wonder if there isn’t some kind of correlation between the dropping percent in the 18-24 demographic and the rise of internet providers? Either way, I appreciate the comment Jane.

  8. Great summary of the current state of things. There’s tons to comment on here, so I’ll just choose one. At the end of the piece you take the scene from Shawshank and, in relating it to the state of film, give it a positive, hopeful spin, but one might just as easily look at that example with terrific sadness. Here’s a guy, alone, with nothing but a memory (and a memory that can never be relived or confirmed because the record player is gone) — is that where where we’re headed? Are we who love film destined to watch them solitarily, unable to relinquish our nostalgia?

    While — like you — I enjoy films regardless of how they’re presented, I also am vaguely aware of the bizarre connections that are created among people when watching a film with a large audience. I think in some ways we learn to interact with our world when we learn how to watch films, and it’s worrisome to consider the possibility that future humans will learn how to interact with the world by watching films alone. “Going to the movies” is a shared experience that actually has little to do with the film being projected — it might have more to do with learning how to properly react to (or with) external stimuli, including other people.

    • I’ll take nostalgia everyday of the week just because that’s the kind of fella I am, but it is true that movie going is becoming a dated thing. Just this last week, I went to go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Godzilla; at the first movie, my pal Joe was telling my friend Chris to quiet down and watch the movie whenever he made a comment. At Godzilla, my brother Seth would constantly talk to me and text. These are two completely different experiences but they serve as a microcosm of the two different ways people watch movies; either it is deserving of all their attention or it isn’t, and I usually find myself in the former group. No matter what though, I do want to say that upon reflection it may have been better if I talked more about how going to the movies provides a memorable experience because we usually only go to see it once, while watching a movie at home isn’t necessarily as memorable. In essence, I agree that going to the movies and the shared experience it provides are great things that can’t be gained by watching a movie at home.

  9. This is a huge topic right now, and I think this article does a great job of summarizing the current state of the film industry. I think we also need to think about the fact that this “implosion” might not be a bad thing; if we’re being completely honest, a lot of the films with huge budgets are not the works of art that we used to get on the big screen. The studios have too much control over what kind of movies get made/made it to theaters. The dissipation of big budget film attendance seems like a bad thing, but streaming service has drawn a lot of people to smaller independent films they might have otherwise missed, which I think is better for film as an art anyways.

    • That’s true. If I made streaming services sound bad then I made a mistake. I didn’t intend to make them come off as dreadful things that are going to destroy theater-going. If anything, it provides people with a very affordable service that grants them access to many films. The only question I have is will it take away from the desire to go out to the theater to watch a movie? Will it come to the point where just staying at home to watch a movie is good enough? I certainly hope not, and I don’t intend to act like chicken little and say that it will happen. But there is certainly a noticeable trend in theater-going that implies that some people may have found more enjoyment at home than in the theater. But it’s always good to remain hopeful. Thanks for your comment.

  10. richardsoinski

    I personally have been going to the theater more than ever, and I think that many people I know are too. I never really thought that stuff like Netflix or any other online streaming sites have been causing people to go to the movies less, I just think it’s giving people the opportunity to watch movies more. Netflix gives me the opportunity to view work of directors I’ve wanted to get into before, thus giving me more of a reason to go to the theater and feel more confident about spending my hard earned money to see something new by that same director.

    The theater will never die because people like going places, and while a movie can be just as enjoyable at home it’s just not the same experience. For instance, sometimes my girlfriend and I are tired and just want to have some wine and watch a movie at home. Sometimes we want to get dinner and go see a movie afterwards. It’s all about how people feel at the time. With advancements of technology, almost everything has become possible to do at home – but staying home isn’t always what people want to do.

    I’m not saying that’s what you were getting at at all with your article, I’m just stating my point of view. I think it was an awesome article and have been thinking a lot about this lately. There’s three main questions I have after reading this, though:

    1. I know you talked briefly about independent film culture, but how can that be incorporated to modern theater attendance to historical theater attendance? I’ve been to a few local independent movie premieres that were set up like art exhibits with a theater as well, and it’s a whole new take on the theater experience. This is one positive effect of technological advancement. Everyone who wants to make a movie (with a realistic goal) can essentially make one and premiere it themselves.

    2. How do we incorporate film festivals? Film festivals have been increasingly popular over the years, and give independent directors the opportunity to expose audiences to something they might be missing from hollywood blockbusters. This creates a subconscious demand for quality and standard expectations that push major pictures to develop story more over spectacle, and sometimes even pushing these independent films to wide release status.

    3. How accurately over the years has attendance really been recorded? With Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, everyone has an unlimited number of statistics about the movies. Before the internet it was impossible to get the same data that we retrieve today, maybe giving us false comparisons about how popular the movies truly are to us today.

    I could be overthinking this, but it’s stuff worth thinking about. Movies are experiencing CRAZY box office success (X-Men is at, like, $90 million right now). I think the main concern of mine is not theater attendance but that of substance over spectacle. The sad truth is that spectacle sells and that substance can be a risk due to complexity.

    A perfect example of this is Godzilla, which in my opinion sucked. When I saw it about a week ago, I was struggling to find a place to sit in a packed theater (my 3D glasses didn’t help much). At the movie’s end, the entire theater burst into applause while I simultaneously burst into laughter. I was in SHOCK. Is this what America really wants to see? Am I the weird one with bad taste?

    After spending my year watching films such as Chungking Express and Persona multiple times, I watch movies with different expectations. These two films combined cost less money to make than Godzilla, but will probably (hopefully) be appreciated for a much longer period of time.

    The theater isn’t dead. The audience’s head is just in the wrong place.

    • Alright chief, you gave me a lot to work with so I’ll try to answer everything as best as I can.

      1. Technological advances are certainly a good thing in the realm of filmmaking because it does, in essence, allow anyone to make their own film. I’d recommend watching J.J. Abrams’ TED talk where he lectures on the idea that digital filmmaking is great because now anyone with the gumption to make a movie can. And people are. You need only go to YouTube or sites like That Guy With The Glasses to see that people are taking full advantage of this ability to make whatever movie whenever they can. This is a brilliant step forward. Really, the only thing that remains is distribution, because that’s where I think a lot of people’s definitions of movie-going will differ. Supposing an indie filmmaker decides to make a movie; he can either showcase it in the local theater or on the internet (I’m narrowing the possibilities obviously). One may say that it doesn’t matter because the experience will be the same, but there are likely others who would argue that it’d be better to get the full cinematic experience by showing it in a theater rather than just slapping it on the internet. Technology does afford people the ability to make movies in a much more expedient manner, but I don’t know if it has any advice on how those films should be shown.

      2. This kind of fits in with the last question. A few years ago, I saw that AFI put up several short films on their YouTube and IMDb pages. In essence, it felt like a film festival on the internet. Now, that is by no means to say that film festivals will now be shown on the net; if anything I think AFI posted these films after they had been shown at proper festivals. But it is still interesting to think about how digital distribution will continue to effect how movies are shown. Will there someday be a film festival that is exclusive to the internet? Whose to say it won’t happen. As to the nature of film festivals, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that they are vital in whatever capacity they are shown as they clearly show a desire to different films that deviate from the norm. No matter what, the fact that film festivals exist and that they are so willing to embrace independent films is a great sign of cinema’s longevity.

      3.To be honest, I don’t know how accurate film attendance/box office profits/budget statistics are. I just trust that people are being honest with this kind of information.

      It was not at all my intention to make this article into an angry, fearful, or sorrowful piece. If I did any of these things then I feel that I have failed the reader. If anything, I was just trying to show how the nature of theater going is changing, and how it may not necessarily be for the better. But there is always hope in the filmmakers who are willing to be bold in terms of storytelling and artistic integrity.

      And one last point Richard. Don’t ever think that you’re the one with the weird bad taste. One of the best things about movies is that they are made to be argued over. I have yet to hear of a film that is universally considered to be a masterpiece or a piece of something else. Sometimes people are in the mood for spectacle, other times for substance. But if there is something memorable about the film (preferably something that’s good) then I can respect that person’s belief that it’s a good movie. In truth, I’d argue that Godzilla was a very pleasant action film and I am glad that I watched it. I would also say that the work of filmmakers like Scorsese and McQueen are deserving of much praise. I don’t know man, I think sometimes we get so caught up in trying to reduce the love of movies to simple equations. Liking Godzilla = being a doofus while liking Persona = being a pretentious jerk (I am NOT saying that you called your audience members doofi, nor am I calling you a pretentious jerk). But a lot of the time, people reduce it to that simple of an explanation. I figure that if you like a movie and can articulate your passion (or perhaps dispassion) for it, then I’m all for listening to you.

      You’re right, the theater isn’t dead. The audience’s head may be in the wrong place, but their heart usually isn’t.

      I really appreciate your comment Richard. I hope to hear back from you.

  11. Helen Parshall

    I feel this article very acutely, especially with having worked in a movie theater last summer. Somewhere along the way, it’s just lost some of the magic. It’s sad, really. Thanks for your piece!

  12. Robyn McComb
    Robyn McComb

    I did want to comment that sharing the experience with others is part of the purpose of a movie, but watching it alone is just as great. Sometimes avoiding the theaters with their overrated and overpriced titles makes the movies more magical and enjoyable when viewing at home by yourself or with family or a best friend. The magic is only partly lost because of the commercialism.

    • I suppose either is good. Theaters provide the novelty of the cinematic experience while home entertainment is more convenient.

  13. Samira

    It seems when I was growing up there was a plethora of films that occupied theaters across the nation. Stories about jewel thieves, teenage girls navigating life, spies trying to adapt to normalcy. There were so many worlds, so many different characters. Now, superheroes, historical figures and book characters seem to be making a home for themselves on the silver screen. Television is experimenting more with genre and how far you can push the boundaries of what can and what cannot be done. I can’t say for sure whether or not film will make a comeback but right now television is more accessible and contains what the old world of movies had-depth.

  14. Celeste

    Many modern films lack a sense of urgency and grandness that requires going to the theatre. Not all films demand that kind of experience. I saw Hugo in 3-D because it was an important part of the experience and was purposefully worked in. I also saw Prometheus in the theatre because it was made with the intention of being an experience that needed to be seen on a large scale. I did not go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 in the theatre because it was not necessary to appreciate it. I think members of the film industry can use new technology, like streaming to their advantage if they try. I hope this will also force director to think harder about source material and what demands an experience in the theatre, and how to really provide that; rather than just having images thrown in your face.

    This article was a nice summary of what is going on.

  15. Greg Beamish

    Hi August,
    Great article. Insightful, articulate, and cohesive.
    The experience of watching a film is an interesting one. The suspension of disbelief is the mark of a particularly effective film. Can someone watch it and make the mental leap to forget their surroundings and focus all of their attention on the story unfolding before them? The movie theater experience is largely defined by the physical atmosphere. Complete darkness. A mental vacuum devoid of any stimulation save the images on the screen and the sound coming from the speakers. This is how a movie needs to be seen if it should be appreciated to it’s full potential.
    Think about watching “Their will be Blood” (my personal favorite) with a glare in the center of the screen or scratchy speakers. Every time your eyes focus on the glare, you’re immediately taken out of the experience. Every time the speakers crackle, you’re reminded of the reality around you. Sound is crucial to the full impact of the film. Or what about “The Shining”? If Kubrick’s film didn’t have it’s outstanding soundtrack, it would turn from a psychological thriller to a shell of it’s former self. The movie theater experience gives us premium sound quality that lets us hear every tiny subtlety of sound that might add just the right spice to the movie. One of my favorite movies is “Rango”. I saw it in theaters and was amazed by the sound editing and ridiculously quick and witty dialogue which was sometimes so fast it was hard to follow. To watch this movie without the benefit of adequate sound wouldn’t express the project as a whole. Every element of a movie makes it what it is and the dynamics of a movie theater reveal all the intricacies.
    Lucky for us home entertainment systems are becoming better and cheaper. A basic, standard size high definition TV is nowhere near as expensive as it once was. Quality sound is also easier to come by. I just bought a sound bar for fifty bucks. What I’m trying to say is we have been able to transfer the movie theater experience to our own homes which, to me, is a good thing. Perhaps it will negatively affect the financial power of the movie theater and film industry, but at least we still have a vast library of film from the past seventy or so years to appreciate on our high def TVs. Now what we need to do is get a federal program going that will provide quality Tvs with optimal sound to every family in the United States. Spread the word. I’ll start the petition.
    One last thought. Consider this: The corporate movie industry fails. There’s no longer millions to be made from film. What then? I predict a rising of the artists. Without the motivation of money, the “pure” artists will emerge. The people that love their craft regardless of how much profit they can make from it and excellent works will be made. Right now we’re entering the dark ages of corporate movie giants. Soon those giants will fall and a renaissance will begin.

    • gbeamish,

      I appreciate the kind words and I admire your thoughtful position on the matter. While my home entertainment system isn’t as buff as I’d like it to be, it has still provided me with hours of entertainment and drama. That said, one should not forget the way that a movie house can seize our attention as you so well put it, but casting us in a comfortable darkness with powerful sound. There Will Be Blood is an outstanding picture, and I remember vividly how I was mesmerized by the scene when the oil derrick was immolated. Right now, I’m anticipating Interstellar, as I’m sure that it will take full advantage of the theater’s systems.

      As for your last point, I’m in total agreement. If big budget movies continue to fail (the most recent being Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), then we may very well see a new Indie scene and the re-emergence of film societies. It will be a lot of fun to see how it all turns out.

      I regret using such a bleak tone in this piece, because in the end, the movies will always be there, and they will always matter.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  16. Charlie

    The biggest problem with Hollywood is that a tiny cabal of men control the industry. And those men are found on Wall Street. All one need do is to look at the number of hedge funds and investment houses that finance film production. These guys know nothing of creating a compelling narrative, so you get the same dreck time and again. The only way it ends is when the public no longer participates. That’s already here, USAAmericans are too broke to sustain ever increasing costs for a dinner and a movie…..


    I am utterly behind the cinema industry and pray that it will think quick in these times. The audience and the creatives need it to survive.

    AS an authority on a wonderful Outback Australian character for whom a screenplay would be a modest $15-to-$30 million to produce, it is tough to hear these predictions. My Acting Executive (who has produced one movie which gained its lead actor Best Actor at the Academy), cautions me against offering strict investment-style returns. My heart is set on convening a reunion atmosphere for our best-known Australian stylist, (name with-held for now). He has renal cancer. I would like to give him the best chance and the highest actors fee. What if I were to say: “Mate, for you, $2 million”. Well, my Acting Executive says: “You would be better off doing the movie for …$2 million”.

    Australians have been revered in the industry for “doing it for the fun of it” for a long time. That’s why production prices are low within these shores. However, dealing with the wizards and geniuses of both cinematography screen dramaturgy, you must give them the most.

    I started my storytelling life going to the movies in the 1950’s. The cinema next to my Dad’s motor garage is an icon in the village of Mansfield in Victoria here in Australia. Seven kids gave Mum a break and entered this darkened hall to watch Cinetone News, the serial movie, “Tom and Jerry” cartoons and features like Disney’s “Spree Lunch” or a rewind of “Fantasia”.

    Perhaps it is time for the studio system to form up in competition to Netflix and the other streaming fraternity. I do not as yet understand everything that is going on. But it is an illegitimate prerogative that was once illegal in the VHS and DVD era. Streaming organisations must be made to give a damn about what is happening. It is a fact of industrial history that slavery is the result of high unemployment.

    Sometimes the market-based changes are insufficient in their mechanics to effect a new era with a similar degree of stability. There are two main prospect: Within labor philosophy, there is industrial regulation. Within the l’aissez faire politique, humanitarian business minds emerge with ideas which are, to reuse a corn cob, win-win. There is a necessity, particularly in places like Australia, for discussion to exist at the highest level between government, industry employee groups (unions an associations) and the production and distribution factions.

    Arts Gratis Artis
    Bluey Quilty MA(Australian History)

    Curator of ‘LIVE LONG… DIE HAPPY! The LEGENDARY Tom Quilty”

  18. One thing to note: the coronavirus pandemic seems to be accelerating these trends at least to some extent, r/WallStreetBets buying AMC stock notwithstanding.

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