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The Real Reasons Why Movie Theaters Are Struggling

Theaters are in shambles. If you’ve been on film Twitter or followed entertainment news lately, you know people are panicking. The box office is struggling, and Memorial Day weekend was a disaster. It was the worst in three decades, with a 36% drop from the previous year. But why is this happening? Here are four reasons I believe the box office is struggling.

4. Sky-High Ticket Prices

Let’s start with the most obvious issue: ticket prices. It’s outrageous that a family outing to the movies can cost upwards of $150. Tickets for an opening week movie can be nearly $20 each. Add in the cost of popcorn and drinks, and you’re looking at a small fortune. Studies have shown that when ticket prices drop, attendance goes up. This is why $5 Tuesdays are so popular. Lower ticket prices could be the key to getting more people in seats. Even if concession prices are certainly high, it doesn’t make a difference if the ticket prices scare them into showing up in the first place.

3. The Shortened Release Window

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

Ryan Gosling is Colt Seavers in THE FALL GUY, directed by David Leitch

The pandemic changed many things, including how quickly movies are released to streaming platforms. In the past, you had to wait months for a film to come out on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray. Now, movies are on streaming services within weeks. Recently, Ryan Gosling’s film, The Fall Guy, spent only a mere 17 days in theaters. It’s now currently available on streaming platforms. In contrast, Dune: Part Two spent about 81 days in theaters before going to streaming and earned about $711M. The shortened release window discourages people from going to the theater when they know they can watch the same film at home soon after its release. Without giving movies time to build box office momentum, theaters can’t compete with the convenience of home viewing.

2. Poor Marketing

Marketing plays a crucial role in a movie’s success, and many films are failing in this area. Some movies don’t get enough promotion, while others reveal too much in their trailers. Effective marketing can make or break a film. Take “The Matrix” as an example. The original movie’s marketing was so mysterious that it intrigued audiences without giving away the plot. Today, marketing lacks creativity and often fails to generate excitement.

A counter-example would be The American Society of Magical Negroes. When the teaser first hit the internet, interest was piqued. The bold and proactive title was an immediate attention grabber. However, as the trailers revealed more of the film, audiences became less invested and curious about the film.

1. Lack of Audience Demand

Fursia: Mad Max Saga

The most significant issue might be that audiences aren’t asking for the movies being made. Who wanted another “Furiosa” film? Who was clamoring for a “Fall Guy” movie based on an ’80s TV show? Who asked for another “Garfield” movie? The reality is, many of these movies don’t have a built-in audience or these movies don’t appeal to enough people.  Successful franchises like Super Mario Bros and Barbie remain relevant across generations. That relevancy is usually achieved by successful video games, merchandise, or other media platforms with which younger audiences can connect.

Let’s look at “Furiosa.” Despite the success of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Furiosa” debuted to disappointing numbers. Even with a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it earned a B+ CinemaScore, which isn’t great. Its poor performance is even affecting the entire franchise, casting doubt on the future of “Mad Max: The Wasteland.

The Silver Lining: Demand for Quality

Deadpool 3

On the flip side, consider the hype around “Deadpool and Wolverine.” The Marvel film is a shiny example of what theaters need. This film has already generated $8 million in first-day ticket sales, outpacing other recent hits. Obviously, those high ticket prices weren’t a barrier. You also have one of the biggest attractions with Hugh Jackman returning as the fan-favorite character, Wolverine. His return is a perfect example of something fans wanted and the film delivered.

Finally, the marketing for “Deadpool and Wolverine” is something to be studied. Thus far, there’s only been a teaser and one full trailer. Outside of that, most of the advertisements have been about the characters doing silly things or selling things like beer or popcorn buckets. No additional footage has been shown which would potentially spoil the movie for audiences. All in all, “Deadpool and Wolverine” shows that when people want a movie, they’ll pay to see it, regardless of ticket prices or release windows. Good marketing and strong demand can drive box office success.

Bridging the Gap

The movie industry needs to make films that connect with both young and old audiences. If a movie only appeals to older generations, it won’t be as successful. Adults have jobs, are tired, and are already paying for streaming services. Movies need to have broad appeal to draw in larger audiences.

At the end of the day, high ticket prices, short release windows, poor marketing, and a lack of audience demand are all contributing to the box office slump. To turn things around, the industry needs to focus on making movies that people genuinely want to see and are willing to pay for. While they should certainly take some risks with new films, they should also do their due diligence to provide stories people actually want to see.

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