It really depends on who you’re talking to and who’s asked as to the future of movie theaters and whether or not they’re going to survive the decades to come. As Neeraj Chand of MovieWeb writes, director James Mangold takes a rather dim view of their chances for a couple of reasons, but they both boil down to the idea that theaters are trying to do too much with too little. The idea that many if not most theaters are trying to keep costs down is very real since it doesn’t really matter if a theater is owned by a chain, they’re expensive to run and the more screens that they have, the more money has to be made in order to keep everything running. Plus, the fact that a good deal of their revenue goes back to the movie studio is one reason why concession prices are so high and why the ticket prices continue to increase, as the studios take a huge percentage of each sale. What the studios don’t take are the concession sales, which can end up costing an easy hundred if not more for large groups. Try taking a family of five or six to the movies and watch the dollars add up as they all decide that they want popcorn, drinks, and candy. And even better, nowadays several theaters have decided to take after the Cinetopia route and offer full meals to their patrons that can be delivered in the theater. The cost of all these luxuries are about the only saving grace that theaters have since otherwise the ticket sales don’t leave them much.
Unfortunately for all the luxury that we see the truth is that it’s only a thin veneer that attempts to hide the fact that movie theaters aren’t exactly as efficient was we think. It’s true that they give an experience that’s hard to match at home unless one has a theater-quality sound system, but there are a few things that don’t quite add up if one looks at them closely. For one, theaters don’t tend to employ a lot of people as the cost of a paycheck can cut into profits in a big way. And if anyone has ever noticed the number of employees that work at theaters tend to be teenagers more often than not, people that need jobs and are glad to have something to earn some extra money. There are plenty of theaters that employ older individuals and they’re seen to be equal opportunity employers as well since there have been many disabled individuals working in theaters as well. But the reality is that the wages that people make in theaters aren’t that great, and as a non-essential job (yes it is, get over it) there’s not a lot of incentive for theater chains or even singularly-owned theaters to change this practice. They have to pay minimum wage but that’s about it.
It feels extremely premature to think that theaters are ever going to wink out of existence, but as of right now the pandemic hasn’t been doing the theater business any favors since people don’t want to sit in an enclosed room with others for fear of infect people with COVID-19. Even the procedures that have been talked about recently should the theaters re-open might be enough to keep some people out since the idea of going through a secure area and then having your temperature taken to see if you can even remain in the theater feels like an imposition that some folks might not want to deal with. It’s a small thing really but on top of the prices and the fact that theaters aren’t entirely clean most times it’s enough to make a lot of people grumble. Some theaters are pretty good about keeping things clean and orderly, but when a high school kid has roughly thirty minutes to clear a theater before the next group comes in there are bound to be plenty of things that they’ll miss. Plus, since this happens to be a first job for some kids it’s also bound to happen that their level of customer service won’t necessarily make people want to come back. Sometimes the only reason that people still attend the movies is because there’s something they want to see and they don’t want to wait the few months it might take for the movie to come out on digital. Apart from that, there aren’t a lot of reasons to keep the theater business up and running at this point.
Many would likely argue with that, much as they might argue with the need for more movie stores. The thing about both however is that they’ve served their purpose, and while a movie theater is a good way to get out of the house and have a good time, the fact is that after the coronavirus it’s just another building where people gathering could lead to serious problems.