Monday, June 27, 2005

The Shrinking Box Office

Reportedly, Hollywood is in something of a tizzy because of declining box office revenues. I think a big part of the problem has to do with the behavior of movie house patrons, and the reluctance of their owners to intercede.

A few years ago, an older woman I know expressed to me that she stopped going to movies when they were transformed from a nice night out to a place where you had to suffer through the person behind you slurping soda and chomping a bucket of popcorn. I don't think she would be attracted back to today's movie houses, where increasingly you can add such items as pizza, nachos, and hotdogs to your list of "eat while viewing" pleasures. Yet most people adapted to that level of interference with their movie enjoyment. So enter what bothers me.

The phenomenon of parents dropping kids off at a movie theater for several hours, such that the movie theater acts as a de facto babysitter, is not new. Nor is the fact that some teens don't behave well in the theater. But in recent years the type of bad behavior one might associate with a young teenager seems to be exemplified in a population of young adults - people in their late teens and early twenties - who seem to believe that the movie theater is an extension of their living rooms. Most of these people are just plain inconsiderate, but some actually make a special effort to make a movie unenjoyable for everybody else in the theater. When a patron complains, missing part of the movie to do so, management may warn the rambunctious viewers, but the sanction for bad conduct rarely extends past a warning, and the bad behavior often resumes the moment the manager (or security guard) leaves the theater.

I think that the theaters view this as in their own self-interest. The problem customers are frequent visitors. The complainers are typically infrequent customers. With profits turning on repeat viewers (that is, people who watch the same movie more than once) and high concession sales, movie theaters seem to prefer losing the older, more mature customers who are irregular movie viewers, in favor of retaining those who disturb the viewing pleasure of other patrons but (statistically) see lots of movies. (Movies, particularly "blockbusters", are increasingly written to draw viewers in their teens and early twenties to the theater, two, three, four or more times. The economics of a blockbuster are dependent upon repeat viewers.)

Two adult tickets, a couple of sodas, and a bag of popcorn - about $25? A DVD rental, a bag of microwave popcorn, beverages from your fridge, and nobody talking over the movie dialog - about $7? If this Michigan experience is typical of the rest of the nation, presumably a big part of the box office decline can be attributed to people deciding that there are darn few movies which they want to see so badly that they won't wait for the DVD.


  1. Or worse, parents who bring small children to R-rated movies.

  2. Before our last two or three movie experiences, I would have agreed that small children in R-rated movies are far worse than badly behaved teenagers or young adults. Now I have to place them in equal camps, because the parents don't take well to other people asking their children to be quiet, just as grown-up brats scoff at the "old bitch."

    Maybe I have grown old and cantankerous, but it really earns my ire when I take the time and money to pay for a sitter to have a nice evening out, only to deal with other people's badly behaved children.


  3. Man, you're still only paying $7?

    In Philadelphia, full-price non-matinee no-discount adult tickets are already headed right for $10, with no intention of, say, hanging out and chilling there for a while.

    NYC passed $10 some time ago. I wonder when they'll hit $20. Nay, $50.

    If that's all you worry about, lucky you. I hate the following:

    People on their cell phones.
    People who talk back to the screen - not kids, adults.
    People who get up to take cell calls (as it rings...and rings... and rings) in the lobby, and then come back in. Answering a phone call during a movie should be good for banning. From the movie, the theater, Earth, whatever.

    Ads. I sit through 10 minutes of television-type commercials before the movie previews begin. I *hate* that. I should not have to see, watch, or think about t.v. when I go to a movie. Come in, sit down, lights down, previews, movie, go home. Period.

    High prices for candy. Popcorn? $5. Soda? A Very Large is 97,300 ounces, and you'll have to put it on your Visa (nobody carries that much cash).

    Also, big hair/ cowboy hats in front of me. Not a big problem. Happens sometimes.

    Also, now that I'm out of things to write about, visit my blawg! Unused & Probably Unusable.

  4. No, we are not paying only $7. That number refers to a quiet home DVD viewing and refreshments.

    We live in Michigan, not la-la land :)


  5. . . . and the "lag time" between the movie leaving the theaters and the DVD hitting the shelves is shrinking . . . : )

    On a petty and only somewhat relevant note, the best movie viewing experience left is at military theaters. The prices (tickets and concessions) are lower and the patrons are much better behaved . . . of course they do still play the national anthem before the show, but some of us actually enjoy that . . .



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.