As I write this, North America
is in the thick of the worst box office
slump since analysts began keeping detailed figures on movie grosses. We are on the 18th consecutive weekend in which overall business was off from the comparable frame last year. Hollywood is on course for a third straight year of declining admissions and its lowest ticket sales since the mid-1990s.
In summary, less and less, people aren't going to the movies nearly as much as they used to. It's an incredibly sad trend and it's one that I believe can be reversed if certain actions are taken.
Cease Playing Television-Style Advertisements Before The Feature Presentation
If HBO and pay-per-view don't subject viewers to such advertisements, and if devices such as TiVo let you not have television-style ads on television why must theatre-goers be subjected to such ads? Well, the numbers are very clear, playing television-style advertisements to movie audiences are successful. These short attempts to sell audiences soft drinks, jeans, automobiles, shoes and so on raked in over $356 million dollars in 2003 according to the Cinema Advertising Council trade group. Yet, there's another crystal clear number, in a recent CinemaScore-type poll, it was revealed that such ads only have a 15% approval rating among movie-goers and 27% of those polled say they keep them from frequently attending movies. Put those two numbers together and what do you get? An idea that seems good now, but judging by the wide-spread disapproval of such advertisements such glitzy ads will be eventually screening to half-empty theatres.
Lower Ticket Prices
The MPAA reports that the estimated average ticket price in 2004 was $6.21. Although I feel I should trust this number, I can't remember the last time I paid for a $6 matinee much less a peak-hours feature. The $6.21 figure doesn’t represent the many urban and suburban multiplexes that charge upwards to $8.50 to $12 dollars for admission. At such prices, one could enjoy a night of major league baseball from nosebleed seats or great seats at a minor league game, a night of community theatre, a show at a jazz club or a show by a lesser-known rock or pop act. If all these things can be done for the same price of going to the movies, what’s to stop people from enjoying all of these things instead of going to the movies? Sure, inflation calls for the raising of all prices, yet theatres have to realize that such high prices are unacceptable and are killing attendance.
Restore Faith in Second Run Theatres
Second run theatres have no real issues with ticket prices or TV-style ads. Yet unfortunately, most second-run theatres are deemed second-rate by most due to uncomfortable seating, poor projection and sound and various unclean or unprofessional conditions. Yet still movies that were well liked in their first run always seem to tag on another couple million in their second run, but even those numbers could use a boost. I think it's very important for every second-run theatre in second-rate shape to do what's necessary to provide a better movie-going experience as well as widely-advertise the great advantages of seeing major-motion-pictures on the big screen for under half the price they would've paid a month ago.
Make Sure Historical Theatres Stay Alive
With the recent closing of the Beekman Theatre in New York City, the once grande-tradition of Manhattan's ornate one-house theatres is just about dead. Similar experiences have happened all across the nation, old beautiful movie-houses steeped in tradition have been closing due to the fact they cannot compete with corporate-owned megaplexes. While some corporations have made sure such theatre's stay in-tact (such as Loews helping to keep Washington D.C.'s Uptown Theatre open) many swallow up such historical theatres. While some of the aforementioned megaplexes offer amazing sound and picture quality with a great selection in films, there is still something to be said for uniqueness in a movie-house. You just can't find things like curtains, balconies, impressive architecture, marble-stairs and wrap-around screens in megaplexes like you can in such historical theatres. The movie-going public needs to support such theatres and the government should make an effort as well by having certain theatre's declared state landmarks.
Lengthen the Theatre-to-DVD Turnover Rate
I found it interesting that in Roninspoon's review of Revenge of the Sith that he stated "I will not be able to really enjoy this, or any other film, until it's released on DVD." While in many ways, I agree with this sentiment although I think movie-theatre's are suffering the same problem television is right now. While on TV it's "Why schedule my evening around watching my favorite series only to be interrupted by commercials when I can watch all 22-episodes on DVD six months after they air?" In the movies it's "Why pay upwards to 12 dollars to watch a movie with 15-minutes of advertisements, a theatre filled with potential annoyances and questionable visual and audio quality when I can rent it only six months later and watch it in the confides of my home for five bucks?" Roninspoon had a point in his review, but for the sake of the cinema-going experience, the theatre-to-DVD turnover rate must be lengthened, allowing at least 7 or 8 months after a movie opens to hit DVD. Not only because people won't want to see it in its first-run, but also because DVD releases coupled with a movie in its second-run can greatly harm business for second-run theatres. I think the run of the Pixar smash hit The Incredibles serves as a solid example of this. The movie enjoyed six weeks playing in over 2,000 theatres and ten weeks in playing in over 1,000 theatres. In its 17th week, it began its second-run and skyrocketed 218% from the week before-hand. In its 2nd and 3rd weekends in limited release it only lost 2.1% and 7.7% of its audience and was enjoying what thus far was a blockbuster second-run. But when the film hit DVD in March, barely five months after it premiered, the movie lost 44.8% of its audience and what could've been a longer, more successful second-run was quickly killed. As for DVDs affecting first-runs, perhaps if theatres take all the other actions listed here there will be less-doubt to skip the cinema and wait it out for DVD. Regardless, the turnover period could use just a tad more length.
Let the Parents Decide On The Matter of R-Rated Films
While the Motion Picture Association of America has no official law about governing their ratings, numerous state and local laws treat the rating system as law. It's a very sticky situation when you find yourself purchasing tickets to whatever G-rated film is playing across the hall. A situation I haven't been in for years now, but a sticky situation regardless. While some jurisdictions have rules that anybody over a certain age can still purchase tickets for anybody under 17 many don't even allow that. I say let the parents decide in all situations and let them buy the tickets. If you have confidence that you raised your children well you can probably rest easy that they won't try plucking out your eye after seeing Kill Bill. Perhaps once we decide to give parents that decision we'll be freed from the influx of lame PG-13 horror and slapstick films. (On a side note, while there was a huge ruckus about the marketing of PG-13 movies such as Jurassic Park and Revenge of the Sith to children under 13, nobody seems to make a big deal that Red Stripe beer advertisements play frequently before features to R-rated audiences, which still include those ages 17-20 who can’t legally use their product.)
And of all these, most importantly...
Have Studios Greenlight Fresher and Better Movies That People Will Be More Eager to Go Out and See
First off, don't get me wrong. Every single year, both in the art house theatres and the megaplexes, I see at least a half dozen real fantastic movies. There have always been a good amount of shlocky films released every year since the very first days of cinema. Yet I use the word fresher to describe the kind of movies I want major studios to greenlight. Hollywood is collapsing in a sea of remakes and sequels. While they have always been plenty of remakes and sequels, it's hard to find an original concept in wide-release so far this year. In 10 of the 25 weekends thus far this year, the box office has been topped by a remake or a sequel. Looking at the complete release schedule thus far in 2005, it's sad to see just how many remakes and sequels we are talking about:
Revenge of the Sith, The Longest Yard, War of the Worlds, Land of the Dead, Batman Begins, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Ring Two, Guess Who, State Property 2, Beauty Shop, House of Wax, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, XXX: State of the Union, Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Amityville Horror, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Be Cool, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Assault on Precinct 13 and Son of the Mask. And we still have Dark Water, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bad News Bears, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, The Transporter 2, The Legend of Zorro, Saw 2 and King Kong on tap.
While I'm not flat out bashing all those films, and some of them made fine business at the box office (none of them ending the slump though) I'm merely making the point that perhaps in the midst of this current slump, people are staying away from the movies because of a lack in originality in the premises of movies coming to theatres. This summer proves more than any other movie season is recent memory that major studios have become lazy in greenlighting new franchises, so they have decided to churn out installments from already established franchises and remake movies that have already been made. It’s great to see written material like Sin City and The Lord of the Rings so well adapted to the screen and it's amazing that inspiration to make movies can come from books, comics, actual events, television, video games and even amusement park rides. Yet looking at the all-time highest grossing movies of all time, you see movies like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sixth Sense, Ghostbusters, There's Something About Mary etc. Movies that were written solely to be movies, not based on anything or following in the footsteps of anything. While it can also be said on that same list you see movies not founded on purely-cinematic purpose like Titanic (real event), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (sequel), Spider Man (comic-inspired), Forrest Gump (book based) and The Fugitive (based on a TV show). I think the word here is moderation. Continue satisfying needs for franchise installments and remakes while also attempting to create breaths of fresh air with completely brand new concepts.
And of course, while "fresh" is important, the most common reason that people give for this slump is simple: "They just aren't any good movies coming out." And while opinions on movies are subjective and good and bad movies can't be proven by listing out titles like "fresh" (or "not fresh") concepts can, I think this slump should be a wakeup call for studios to green light better movies. Action films that are more exciting, comedies that are funnier, dramas that are more moving and so on. While I believe all of these suggestions could save the troubled cinema-going experience, they are all for naught if they aren't any good movies playing.
MPAA Guidelines (summarized well at http://www.localmovies.com/mpaa.html or just www.mpaa.com)
Entertainment Weekly article "Ad Nauseam"
by Josh Rottenberg