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Sunday, October 01, 2023
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On the couch or in the theater: Did cinemas survive the pandemic?

COVID-19 has had many effects on what we used to consider “normal.” Restaurants closed. Social lives canceled. And movie theaters shut down. 

I have been wondering how the repercussions of new movies being released onto platforms such as HBOMax, Hulu and Netflix has affected our desire to go and see a new movie in the theater. Do we think of “going to the movies” as an annoyance or chore when we could be sitting comfortably at home? Or do we, now, cherish the moments of having an outing — an activity like going to the cinema? 

I’m on the search to find out: Has almost two years of not being able to go to the cinema made us miss it?  

Going to the theater is more expensive, you have to leave the comfort of your home, you must wear a mask, you can’t pause the movie to pee and you have to preview trailers. The impending demise of the movie theater has streaming to blame, and the pandemic forcing people to stay at home has pushed theaters even closer to their death. However, maybe the pandemic was a reawakening for cinema. 

According to Vox Magazine, people missed going to the movies for three main reasons. First of all, they want to be around people and feel the normalcy of a theater. Second, they value committing a few hours to the undisturbed cinematic experience provided by the filmmaker and finally, they appreciate being in a place that’s designated for the purpose of watching a movie and find that it makes them feel differently about what they’re watching and about the world they encounter on the way out. Essentially, people still appreciate going to the theater. The “magic of the movies'' may be more than a cliche. 

Adam Aaron, CEO and president of AMC Entertainment, stated in a Hollywood Reporter interview that “it is our expectation that moviegoers soon will be able once again to delight in coming to our theaters without any worry — viewing the world’s best movies safely in our big seats, with our big sound and on our big screens.” People miss the theater and can only experience the same “big” excitement for a new film in a physical theater setting. 

But the truth is that the theater industry has been dying for a while now. Prior to the pandemic, comfortable reclining seats, fancy food services and even alcohol and bars were all calculated tactics to regain audiences. 

Before the pandemic, roughly 14% of people visited the theater at least once a month and 46% of people visited the theater once a year or less, according to a June 2019 survey by Statista. These discouraging numbers shed light on the theater's demise and hint at the streaming industry’s rise.

Nonetheless, whether people are going to the theaters or streaming new movies from their couches, the film industry has been changing for awhile — and possibly for the better. 

Beyond that, even though people now have the option to watch a movie in the theater or stream it from home, physical theaters are far from shutting down. Even theater employees are optimistic about the reopening of theaters after the pandemic. 

The Los Angeles Times spoke with six movie theater employees about the difficulties their cinemas have faced in the past year and their “on-the-ground view” of the future of moviegoing. One employee stated that “theaters being closed for that long made people realize how much they liked going out and seeing something on the big screen … I think it’s going to come back on top.” Another compared the cinema experience to something “you can’t replicate.”

The pandemic has led to many downfalls in our world today, however, in the world of entertainment, new opportunities have arised. Being able to watch newly released movies from the comfort of your own home or experience the excitement that is provided by the big screens is a privilege that we never knew we needed. 

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Cinema has been revived; people have rediscovered the enjoyment of attending the theater and have the choice to stay home without missing out on the cinematic experience. On the couch or in the theater? Honestly, the answer is both. 

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