Movie Theaters – DOA?

We are in election season and I am grumpy. It doesn’t matter which side I am on, don’t I have a right to be grumpy no matter who I plan to vote for? But since I have sworn off writing on overtly political topics I need to find other ways to occupy my time. Unfortunately, it appears that going out to the movies will not be one of them.

I recently read that theatre-chain Regal Cinemas has declared bankruptcy and will be shuttering its entire operation. AMC has announced that it may follow. That’s AMC the movie theater chain – AMC the car company went under decades ago. Anyway, this Covid lockdown has hit the movie theatre business harder than most, so the news is understandable.

Watching movies has long been one of my favorite ways to spend a little spare time. We have not been regular theatre-goers, though, for quite awhile. Really, from the high ticket costs to the downright obscene price of popcorn and other refreshments, a night at the movies became a luxury that we chose to forgo most of the time. Still, there were times when the big screen (I mean THE BIG SCREEN) became a must.

The first movie I can recall seeing in a theatre was Mary Poppins. I went with my family in the summer of 1964 at the age of five. People use the phrase “the magic of the movies”, but Mary Poppins really put some oomph into that saying. I was always disappointed that I could never get an umbrella to work for me in the way it did for her. Never mind the lack of dancing penguins in my actual life.

I can recall many of the movies I saw in theatres in my youth, something that separates those films from the scads of others I only saw on TV, if at all. I recall The Love Bug and The Ugly Dachshund, both live-action Disney films that were easy family-friendly fare for parents in those days. I recall seeing The Ghost And Mr. Chicken with some cousins in the theatre in their small town. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen up to then, but probably only because my parents would never let me watch The Birds on television.

Then there was 2001: A Space Odyssey that my sister and I saw with my father in 1968. Sis and I were agreed at the end – our choice of Gentle Ben would have been preferred.

As a teen I saw lots of movies – I think teens and young adults have always been the primary market for Hollywood. Roger Moore was my James Bond and Burt Reynolds made for a great moonshiner in White Lightning.

I have sampled a smattering of old films shown as they were intended, which was always a big thrill. I am a huge fan of the Hollywood that came to an end with the demise of the old production code that made people work harder to tell good stories. The Phantom Of The Opera – the silent from 1927 – was a genuine thrill in a grand old theatre complete with its imposing Wurlitzer pipe organ. And I recall when some Hitchcock films were re-released in the 80’s – Rear Window was great in a theatre.

During recent times we have been satisfying our movie-urge via streaming services on TV. I must admit that a movie on the big flat-screen in our family room is a whole different experience from watching them on the 19-inch black and white set that was the circumstance of my youth.

And fortunately for us we have access to Turner Classic Movies as well as multiple streaming platforms that feature more recent fare. And because our personal Venn Diagram of acceptable movies has a large area of overlap we can almost always agree on something.

Maybe this is where it had to go anyway – we can sit in the dark a few feet away from a really big screen with a great picture for free. Well, almost free – the kind of free that is associated with “you’re paying for it anyway, might as well watch something.” We can supply our own pop and popcorn for, well, peanuts. Confession: at home I eschew soda and popcorn in favor of a cocktail and some pretzels. Or maybe a pizza.

We have been on a “film noir” kick for a bit (thank you, TCM). I guess the runup to an election is a great time to be reminded of all of the dark impulses that occupy mens’ (and womens’) hearts – and that it has ever been such. And it appears that for the foreseeable future we will be continuing to experience these celluloid deceits and doublecrosses at home instead of out in public. I fear that the foreseeable future may be longer than we think.

20 thoughts on “Movie Theaters – DOA?

  1. I was in New York City on a Saturday night in September with my family walking the streets near Lincoln Center. We passed two AMC theatres and it felt strange to see the movie posters outside the entrances promoting films from February and March, as if frozen in time.

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    • That would be odd. You make me think of the Twilight Zone episode where the guy finds himself in a town inhabited by nobody. I think it turned out to be a dummy town made up to be a nuclear test site?

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  2. My first job was as an usher in a movie theater. It was 1984 and a ticket cost $5.

    Last year we saw an unusual number of movies at theaters and I didn’t enjoy the experience much — the places were dirty, and the food was even more shockingly expensive than ever. Sure, the picture and sound still beat what I can do at home. But what I can do at home is 1,000 better now than 10 years ago when I still had a 20″ CRT TV. It’s plenty good for me, and I can pause the movie when I need to visit the bathroom.

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  3. The last movie I saw at a theatre was “The Battle of Midway” nearly two years ago. Before that it had been ten years or so since I’d visited a theatre for a Hollywood movie. This last time I was the youngest person there (a novel experience these days) and it showed as too many patrons had to scream at each other due to hearing loss. Not fun.

    With the increasing popularity of streaming, along with the availability of new(er) movies with these services, it seems the pandemic has only sped up what seemed like the inevitable decline of movie theaters. AMC (and likely other theatre chains, such as Wehrenberg) will likely go the way of Sears, K-Mart, Polaroid, and Kodak. Maybe still around but a whole lot less visible.

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    • I actually cannot recall the last movie I saw in the theater. One of them was the Peter Jackson documentary with the restored and colorized WWI footage – They Shall Not Grow Old, if I remember the title correctly. I am sure I was to something after that but I cannot recall what it may have been.

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    • You could be right. Production has been affected, but beyond that the idea of the blockbuster that distributes everywhere may be over given the fracturing of streaming services.

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  4. Perhaps if they made films other than space aliens and Marvel comics they might be able to lure people back to the big screen. The last movie I saw was Downtown Abbey – a disappointment, the film and the theatre experience. PS. It was one of the disappointments of my young life that I never got to see Mary Poppins, (my cousin bragged about how wonderful it was but perhaps we were short on money that summer?), but I later got the book for Christmas. The Love Bug that was a good one….but 2001 The Space Odyssey was the most boring thing ever, highly over-rated. I’ll have to check into Turner Classic Films…it sounds interesting. I’m wondering if eating in restaurants will go the same way as movie theatres….now that there’s Door Dash and Uber eats to deliver your cooked meal why go out?

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    • I have to confess that we usually like the Marvel movies – I find in at least most of them a good story and a clarity between good and evil, both of which make for a good popcorn flick, if not for “great cinema”. The problem is that there have been so many of them I can’t keep straight what we have or have not seen, and whether there are sequels or installments that we have missed.

      A good question on the restaurants, though my reflexive response is that restaurants can be local affairs that involve cooks, food and diners on a fairly small scale, while the movie business was made from a gigantic ecocystem that cannot be done just here or there. But whether there will be another Olive Garden or Applebees type of large scale chain is a good question. Another good questions is whether there should be another of those chains. πŸ™‚

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  5. I’d hate to see AMC go under too J.P.. I have not been to the movies for a night showing since the late 70s (yikes, now I feel like a really old fuddy-duddy); we went to the Sunday matinees as prices were cheaper and if a movie didn’t look like it’d be worth THAT price, we’d wait until Blockbuster Vido had it on its shelves. How I miss Blockbuster and back in the day, since mom and I had no family to spend it with but each other, every long holiday, Christmas or otherwise, found me checking out the Blockbuster Video shelves with a scribbled list of possibilities, if they were in stock and on the shelf. My last trip to the movie theatre was in 1992 to see “Sommersby” – then we got cable TV. I cancelled the cable after my mom passed away in 2010 and when retired I will look forward to seeing all the movies and/or show I missed this last decade or so.

    I loved all those Disney movies! Some were based on books I read as a kid like “The Incredible Journey” or “Rascal” and I loved “Mary Poppins” which was highly anticipated back in the day. I’m embarrassed to say I could still sing all the songs (even “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious”). I likely even rewatch many of the Disney shows like I used to watch my favorite holiday cartoon specials – always a kid at heart for “Frosty” and “Rudolph” especially. “Jaws” would not be the same with that crescendo of music as Bruce the Shark was about to attack on a small screen, nor the haunting sounds of “Dr. Zhivago” and its beautiful scenery and love story. I have two TVs, each is a 19-inch screen with a bulbous-looking back on it, purchased in the late 80s/early 90s I’d guess for the time frame. There were so many TV shows on at 10:00 p.m. on work nights, that I taped both shows, sometimes stayed up to watch one … they were must-see TV for me back in the 90s and maybe early 2000s. I watched the debates on the laptop which worked for now.

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  6. As a kid in the ’70s I spent many Saturdays at the local theater watching the latest Disney double-feature (didn’t realize a double-feature was the perfect break for my parents until I had my own kids). The Disney movies always started with a cartoon and the double-features always included an intermission for snacks. As for today’s theater experience, if all they guaranteed was the good behavior of the patrons (i.e. no cell phones, no talking), I’m sure I’d go more often. People have no regard for theater manners these days. Finally, the movies themselves – they’re a shadow of their former selves yet certain ones still deserve the big screen. I remember seeing “Titanic” and the anticipation before the lights went down had me shaking. You can’t beat the convenience of the home screen but distractions abound. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a home theater, that is.

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    • As for bad behavior, I remember the remedy in one small northwest Ohio town where cousins lived. We went to a Saturday matinee in the late 60s, and the audience was almost all kids. The place was run by two cranky old ladies who patrolled the aisles with their flashlights, stopping trouble before it ever got far. I think they escorted a few unruly kids out.

      I remember seeing Avatar in 3D at an IMAX theater, and the visuals were truly stunning.

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