• Luis Gomez

Are Movie Theaters a Thing Of The Past?

We may be born alone and die alone, but humans as a whole tend to be social creatures. We enjoy experiencing things by ourselves and in groups. This is why the value of movie theaters have long been more than just what's on the screen. Movie theaters bring people together, whether it be a group of friends sharing a bucket of popcorn, or two nervous moviegoers on a first date.

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world. Social gatherings such as in movie theaters suddenly were not allowed in many places. The worlds top medical and scientific experts agree that the congregating of people indoors is a recipe for disaster if we are ever to stop or limit the coronavirus spread. So, unless a vaccine is found, does this mean that movie theaters have become a thing of the past?

Some might argue that movie theaters will be fine, because other social institutions in which people gathered together indoors have been able to function and continue to operate. While restaurants have not been able to offer table service, they were at least able to offer take-out and delivery. Similarly, in schools and higher education institutions, lessons were moved from classrooms to the internet. In both cases, the inherit purpose of the institution was still accomplished by reducing human contact or utilizing the internet. Movie theaters cannot do the same thing because their inherit purpose necessitates people coming into indoor spaces.

So what does this all mean for the future of movie theaters?

One way for movie theaters to operate as we know them would be for theater's to adopt extensive cleaning technology. Auditoriums are generally lightly cleaned between showtimes, but general sweeping will not suffice. Auditoriums would have to be disinfected between each showing. This process would be an additional operating cost for the theater and the time needed to perform such cleaning would reduce the number of daily showings. Taking the public's body temperature and using other similar screenings might also be necessary. Although, the most practical change, might be to simply reduce the number of theater seats in an auditorium to ensure social distancing.

One social distancing tool that seems feasible in public spaces such as restaurants but that wouldn't work in movie theaters is the use of separation partitions. Unfortunately, separation partitions between auditorium seats do not seem practical. If someone, for example, needs to use the bathroom during a movie, it is unrealistic a wave of partitions will be moved aside, along with the audience, to make room for one single individual to get out of the aisle. Every potential solution thus discussed inevitably reduces movie theater's profit. When you pair that reality with the rising operating costs due to extensive cleaning, it seems it is inescapable that the price for a movie ticket will go up considerably.

In time, the loss of box office revenue might influence the kinds of movies that get made. Certain movies, like MCU films have a built-in fanbase, so parent companies like Disney, are almost guaranteed to make their investment back. Other than these types of films, production companies would have to focus on movie projects that are cheaper to make. Farewell, CGI!

Even with so many amazing at-home streaming services, nothing can quite replicate the magic of going to a movie theatre and watching a new film amongst a crowd of strangers. At the movies, our movie watching experience is enhanced by the human connection of being in a crowd. A joke is suddenly more enjoyable when 100 other people are experiencing it with you in real time. This is why augmented reality (AR) movie theaters might be the way of the future. With an AR movie theatre, people can have the safety of being at home while retaining some of the zest of being at the movies. For added nostalgia to the AR experience, you could even reserve a (sofa) seat for a friend "who will be right back" at the movies in 2021 and beyond.