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The State of Moviegoing Today: the Impact of Streaming, COVID-19, and Ticket Prices

Entertainment

Sat, June 08

The movie theater industry, a testament to resilience, has withstood the test of time, enduring through Influenza, diseases, and two World Wars. Yet, it faced its most formidable adversary with the COVID pandemic. This global health crisis, spanning two years, brought the industry to a temporary halt. Here's a comprehensive timeline of this unprecedented event and its profound impact on the movie theater landscape.

"A Dark Time…"

By the time the fall of 2021 came along, you would see theaters slowly reopen again, and some people started coming back. It was a hard time. The box office that year was down 65% from the biggest year for them, which was 2019 (the year pre-Covid), which generated revenue of over $42 billion.

Almost every soul in the world, especially in the USA, went to the movies at least once every two months. In 2019, over nine films made over a billion dollars at the box office. The only year that came close was 2018, but even then, it had only five films that made over $1 billion.

It started showing signs that the audience wanted anything the studios would offer. It didn't matter how generic of a movie it was; they would run out to the theater in masses to watch movies like - Jurassic, Avengers, Star Wars, Justice League, Disney live-action, biopics, etc. Almost all made billions in theaters.

And that's really because that was kind of the only option there was for entertainment - streaming wasn't big back then. There was no Disney+, no HBOMAX…only Netflix and Prime Video. But even then, those two weren't that much used by subscribers or even well-known yet.

"Movies v Streaming Habits…."

Then, COVID happened. And that all changed. People flocked to streaming services like crazy.

For example, Netflix went from 167M subscribers in late 2019 to an insane 221M by early 2021 already. Habits were drastically changing. Some would say theaters were officially going extinct. The seats in the theaters during this time had to have a maximum of 3 empty seats between each person, causing attendance and primarily the box office to see shorter numbers than before, as it limited the number of moviegoers in one room. But then, there was a light down the tunnel because, after a terrible 2020 and a slightly better but still very bad 2021, 2022 was a massive return to form for theaters and for the industry itself, with huge, massive juggernauts that year, such as Spider-Man No Way Home, The Batman, Minions, Everything, Everywhere All At Once and many more.

However, there were still two problems in 2022: audiences were coming back strong, yes, but the "over 45 years old" crowd was still skeptical about returning, and certain studios were releasing films "day and day" - meaning they were releasing them in theaters and on streaming services the same day. So because of this, besides the "superhero flicks," other movies weren't doing so well. But the arrival of Top Gun: Maverick that summer changed everything.

It became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, brought every single demographic to the theater that entire summer, and made every studio realize that the "day and day" strategy was nonsense. Audiences still craved the theatrical experience. And then, James Cameron's Avatar 2 in December was the final key in the hole as it made $2.3B worldwide, the third highest-grossing film ever. The industry was back on its feet now. Or at least it seemed like it…

"The Barbenheimer Phenomenon…"

But 2023 changed up again. With a few exceptions, of course, from spring to early summer, almost every big-franchise movie was flopping as it hit theaters. Some examples would be - Transformers, Mission Impossible, Ant-Man, The Flash, Indiana Jones, Fast X, etc… The industry got worried again until the massive, unexpected pop culture phenomenon that was BARBENHEIMER happened in late July and took the world by storm.

Barbie made over $1.4 billion, and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer made a shocking $975 million. I say shocking because it was making almost a billion dollars for a movie like Oppenheimer - a three-hour biopic without action and not attached to a big IP - is insane. And deservingly so. It was 2023's best film.

To the people still preferring to wait for streaming, these two movies changed that mindset for many moviegoers. Ticket attendance started to go up like crazy, and so did the box office, of course. People were running to the theaters all over the globe for these two movies.

These were "event films". Everyone wanted to participate in the conversation on Monday at work, school, or wherever. Streaming just can't offer that special feeling. Ever.

"Films Are Events…"

So my point is that tastes are changing, and with ticket prices a little pricey sometimes, audiences are way more picky with what they want to see in theaters. Times have changed; studios can't expect to just throw at us any generic, poorly written movie in theaters, and it will make a billion dollars again. It's not gonna happen.

This isn't pre-2020 anymore. With streaming now, audiences are more picky and sometimes will wait to just watch it when it comes to streaming if the movie doesn't feel like an event or is worth paying $15 for to have that fantastic experience with a group of people. That's how I see the future of the theatrical industry. Theaters will become more niche, only for "the event flicks."

Unfortunately, the mid-budget movies will probably go directly to streaming. At the same time, the franchise ones - Marvel, Star Wars, DC, Avatar, Pixar, Harry Potter, Bond, Jurassic, etc will be the juggernauts that bring massive crowds to theaters. Theaters and streaming will just have to co-exist with one another, something that looked unthinkable until COVID-19 arrived.

Joa Duarte

Writer since Apr, 2024 · 1 published articles

My name is Joa. I’m a soon-to-be Junior in High School and co-writer of an upcoming movie titled “PONY”. I also have a six-season tv series script, written on Final Draft 12. So far I have written the first two seasons. I also have an Instagram page dedicated to talking and reviewing movies/tv shows called “movietalks_usa”. I just truly love movies. It’s more than just passion for me.

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