CommentLifestyle & Culture

Cinemas: Will they suffer the same fate as the VHS?

The exterior of a cinema featuring a sign that reads "Now Showing: Captain America and Dumbo"

Do you ever find yourself looking at something and then getting trapped in a moment of nostalgia? Ben Collison reflects on the golden age of the cinematic experience, and explores whether we’ve lost our appreciation of a good old-fashioned cinema night.

Nostalgia pummels my mind every time I pass a movie theatre; and it gets me thinking, are the days of the cinemas coming to an end?

Once the social linchpin of society, going to the movies was more than just about seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster; it was about the experience. Whether it was the smell of popcorn or the hilarity of paying out a mate who was working or the minute that Dolby Surround Sound intro dropped, you were instantly immersed in the cinematic event.

Honestly, who here didn’t have one of those awkward teenage dates at the movies (because nothing says, “Hey I like you, let’s hang out”, than sitting in silence in a dark room for two hours)?  I am also yet to find a moviegoer who at some stage in their life didn’t have a birthday party at the movies.

Many of my younger collegiate compatriots would be straining their memories to recall, but the excitement that surrounded a premier screening was in the words of Barney Stinson, “legen…wait for it…dary”. A prolonged marketing campaign salivating audiences with anticipation, waiting for hours in queues stretching as far as the eye can see to buy tickets, die-hards dressing in the original version of cosplay; and cramming into jam-packed cinemas bustling with excitement going silent at the drop of a hat. That was what going to the movies was about.

Whilst not as dedicated as cosplayers, I have great memories of movie-goers getting into costumes for the latest Harry Potter, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings release.

I must add that whilst I personally hold a romanticised view of going to the movies, it would be remiss of me not to mention the things I don’t miss. I don’t miss the sticky floors or broken seats or needing to take out a small personal loan to buy popcorn, chocolate, and a drink (that was usually finished before the previews ended).

Regardless, there is no substitute for a cinematic experience. No matter the advances in home theatre technology; you cannot beat the immersive experience you get when you visit the movies. The lights dim, the role of the trailer; the director has set the stage to capture your imagination. You are under their gaze for the next two or so hours as they take you on a journey.

Now almost dormant, the glory days of the cinema have all but passed. The last bastions of these iconic times are the likes of Event, Hoyts or Reading Cinemas with all but a few boutique cinemas scattered around the countryside.

So how did we end up here? Did COVID kill the cinemas? Or was it the prevalence, affordability, and conveniences of streaming services that have dragged down box-office sales? Has the cost of living added another nail to the coffin? Or can we lay blame at the feet of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for their almost life-fulfilling end to The Avengers – End Game (let us be honest, after Ironman died, does anything else really matter?).

Have cinemas also become a financial liability? Whilst their revenue is a mixture of ticket sales, food and drink sales and advertising; cinemas too are subject to the growing rental crises. Cinemas in collaboration with the film industry are continuously evaluating ways they can enhance the experience for their consumer in a highly competitive market.

Adding more weight onto their (cinema) shoulders; production studios launching their own direct-to-home blockbuster feature films following a path forged by Netflix; will a return to grand cinematic audiences ever occur? Gone are the days when a film would be at the cinemas for several months followed by the long-awaited release at the great pantheons of home entertainment; video rental stores.  

As production companies reorientate themselves towards a shorter turnaround from theatrical releases to home releases; I find it hard to believe that moviegoers will have the chance to fall in love with the cinematic experience again. I fear our busy (and expensive) lives have moved well beyond any point of redemption and that like the VHS, cinemas will fade into memory.

Feature image by Lisa Fotios via Pexels

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