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2011's Box Office Woe and What Could/Should Be Done About It

Posted on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 2:35 PM

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The end of the year always brings all kinds of top 10, bottom 10, best-of, and worst-of lists, and comparisons to the previous year(s) in a variety of measures. This year was no different, and one yearly comparison that is getting some attention is the ticket sales in theaters in 2011 vs 2010 and before.

At the end of 2011, multiple outlets reported that the number of people going to the movies declined in 2011; the lowest since the mid 90's. Box office revenue was down about 3.5%, even though prices have risen more than 80% since the 90's. The Chicago Tribune published a story from CNN on December 29 which made the point:

"Consumers are still trying to repair their balance sheets," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce. "It's not so much the titles."

Spiking ticket prices have also played a role, said Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com. Average ticket prices have risen more than 80 percent since 1995, and have jumped to $7.96 from $6.88 in just the past four years.

"With the overpricing that we've seen in the past couple years, when that happens in a recession, moviegoers reevaluate," Dergarabedian said.

Trade publication The Hollywood Reporter piled on with an article titled "Box Office Shocker: Movie Attendance Falls to Lowest Level in 16 Years" and there are dozens more just like these.

That's got people in the industry concerned, and rightfully so. With so many entertainment options available to people, and especially the prevalence of services offering streaming movies right to your living room on top of the growing general feeling that going to the movie theater doesn't have the magic it once had, the movie theater industry will have to tread carefully to keep from having a one year slip turn into a slide into despair.

Even Roger Ebert, movie critic extraordinaire, has weighed in on the topic, with an article titled "Why revenues are down at the movie box office." He boils it down to 6 main points:

  1. Absence of must-see movies
  2. High ticket prices
  3. The theater experience: Moviegoers over 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls
  4. Refreshment prices
  5. Competition from other forms of delivery
  6. Lack of choice

Check out the full article to see his justifications for those points.

The good news is that the studios and movie theaters can address every single one of those points, plus a few others that cause people to stay away from theaters, and from movies in general. The studios can exercise courage by funding more original stories than franchise sequels, and that can be done through excercising restraint and not letting budgets continue to grow to enormous amounts.

Rather than spend $130 million on Happy Feet Two, which has been considered a failure by making less than $120 million worldwide, someone could have spent that same money funding 8-10 movies of the scale of The Descendants, Drive, and The Help, all of which were made for a fraction of that one poorly received sequel. Last year's Best Picture winner, The King's Speech, was made for around $15 million. That's not to say that big-budget movies shouldn't be made, as I enjoy a spectacle as much as the next person, but instead of throwing tons of money at sequels that shouldn't have gotten the green light in the first place, I think the studios could take more chances and they might just hit paydirt (all of the aforementioned movies have made many times their budgets in worldwide box office sales).

Movie theaters also bear the responsibility for making the movie-going experience the best it can possibly be. People still love movies, and they are still watching them, but they aren't necessarily going to a movie theater to see them.

This is a popular soap-box topic with me, as I feel that many movie theaters are not doing enough to make the movie-going experience special. Back in June 2007, I wrote an articled titled "Are Movie Theaters an Essential Element in a Movie's Release?", which questioned the role of movie theaters in the process of delivering movies from the studios to the movie-going public. It's been 4.5 years since that article was written, and there have been attempts by the studios to encroach even further on the time between theatrical and home video release, but by and large, if you want to see a major movie title within three months of its release, you'll have to go to a movie theater.

Since that's the case, movie theaters continue to have what I consider to be a golden opportunity to attract customers, and it's an opportunity that many theaters squander. The experience of going to a movie should be a magical one. It should be exciting to anticipate, and when you get there, it should be really special.

While concession prices are high, it's very easy for people to save money by not getting them. I went to the Harlem Globetrotters game at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee over the holidays, and a bottle of water was $3.75 and a slice of pizza was $5.00. Concessions at places like these just cost more money than they do from your local grocery store.

This issue has inspired a series of articles that are "New Years' Resolutions for Movie Theaters" and I'll continue to add them as time goes on and as we hear from our readers about their thoughts:

What do you think?

What are your thoughts about going to the movies in 2011 and 2012? Are you going more or less than you did in the past? What's the biggest issues you've run into? What do you like most? Are ticket prices too high? Should theaters stop charging extra for 3D movies?

Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

Add Your Comments

Reader VoiceReader Comments

Please Note: These comments are submitted by the readers of The BigScreen Cinema Guide and represent their own personal opinions, and do not represent the views of The BigScreen Cinema Guide, or any of its associated entities.

Jan 6, 2012 - Cine'Senor  

I am definitely attending movies much less this year, primarily due to the push to go digital across the country. Digital just isn't comparable to a film presentation, flat, plain and uninviting. Film has a much warmer, inviting presentation with depth. In addition, distributors want to up the ticket prices on 3-D presentations, expect9ng patrons to pay more for an inferior digital presentation in 3-D.

Apparently the rest of the nation finds digital and 3-D inferior from the ticket sales for the last year or two. That's OK distributors, just keep shoving this garbage at us and we'll all subscribe to Netflix and all the theatre outlets will close thier doors. 

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