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How Movie Theaters Can Save Themselves

A woman stands outside a movie theater looking at a poster that reads "Sean Connery - Thunderball"

It’s a rough time for movie theaters, but can they dig themselves out and be stable again? We look at four ideas for how movie theaters can save themselves!

Remember back in the late 2010s, when there was a growing concern for the decline of movie theaters? Yeah, those are now looking like the good old days. The theater industry took a devastating hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s been flailing and gasping for breath ever since. Despite the help of films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick, and even a concert film starring Travis Kelce’s girlfriend, it’s incredibly obvious that general audiences really don’t want to attend movie theaters as much as in years’ past. The reasons why have been discussed ad nauseum, but I wanted to do something unique to the internet and try something constructive: ask how theaters can get audiences back.

As much as outside forces like COVID, the 2023 Hollywood strikes, and the general economy have hurt the theater business, movie theaters themselves still have some degree of agency that could bring them closer to stability.  As someone who frequents theaters at least once a week, I am … probably still not the most qualified person to give them advice, but I’m doing it anyway. I already talked about how film studios can help, so why not recommend improvements on the other side of distribution? So, sit back, get out some theater popcorn you brought home as a free refill, and enjoy my four ideas of how movie theaters can save themselves.

Enforce policies

Emily Blunt holds a megaphone in The Fall Guy, in a still featured in a Loud and Clear Reviews article about how movie theaters can save themselves
How Movie Theaters Can Save Themselves – Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy (© Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Here’s a hot take: moviegoing audiences can be really, really obnoxious. And I swear, it’s gotten exponentially worse since theaters reopened post-COVID, like certain people think, “We know these places are dying anyway, so who cares if we ruin it?” But since there’s no way to Thanos snap all the talkers and texters out of there, the only way I see this problem being fixed is if theaters find ways to boost their enforcement of the policies forbidding this behavior.

I see ushers and security going up and down the aisles all the time at film festival screenings, even though festival audiences usually don’t need reprimanding unless it’s the Evil Dead Rise premiere (if you know, you know). Implementing this kind of system to general theaters would surely help keep order. The caveat is that obviously you’d need to hire more workers for this, which would raise costs for theaters. But if the solution works and the theatergoing experience is more pleasurable, that drastically lessens one of the biggest reasons people don’t go. They’ll come back, and theaters will eventually see returns on those investments. That is, assuming they also …

Fix the amenities

Olivia Colman in Empire of Light, in a still featured in a Loud and Clear Reviews article about how movie theaters can save themselves
How Movie Theaters Can Save Themselves – Olivia Colman in Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures)

Even more than lousy theatergoers, the #1 biggest annoyance I’ve faced going to movies lately has been how run-down my own local theaters have been getting. Over half the drink machines at my AMC usually have no ice. Another nearby theater has many worn-out seats and uncleaned floors littered with popcorn and other substances I don’t want to know about. That same theater once started the trailers to a movie twenty minutes after the scheduled start time. In multiple theaters, I’ve occasionally heard loud, continuous buzzing from one of the speakers throughout the entire movie. If I wanted 100 minutes of meaningless, irritating noise, I’d marathon Critical Drinker videos.

Again, this has been more prominent in the past few years than it ever was before. Maybe it’s because theaters are struggling and therefore don’t want to spend extra funds to maintain the amenities, or maybe it’s a lack of caring. Whatever the case, if I’m letting it bother me so much, how many people are straight-up staying away from theaters because of this? Like my last suggestion, the work needed to fix these issues would probably result in more costs, but that’s money you’re investing to get moviegoers back and stay in business altogether. We don’t need super luxurious accommodations, but … being able to actually sit in the seats would be nice.

Do more special events

Taylor Swift is on stage wearing a black jumpsuit in The Eras Tour, in a still featured in a Loud and Clear Reviews article about how movie theaters can save themselves
How Movie Theaters Can Save Themselves – Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (AMC)

When I look at some of the big films that thrived financially in recent years, like No Way Home, Barbenheimer, and even the Mario movie, the common trend I see with them is that they all came across as grand, unforgettable events that could only be fully appreciated in theaters with a crowd. Or, in the case of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, only in theaters if you didn’t want to destroy your wallet and sanity. Clearly, not every movie can or should hit these heights, but this makes me think theaters could find success by creating more of these can’t-miss events on their own.

Theaters seem to be doing somewhat well with their re-releases of older films like Shrek 2 and The Phantom Menace this year, but maybe they could go further. They could host special themed screenings of popular movies encouraging everyone to dress up, or screenings of cult-favorite bad films like The Room where everyone’s explicitly allowed to be louder and rowdier. Maybe more concert films or even sporting events like the Super Bowl could be shown in some screens, inviting a boisterous party atmosphere on a scale you couldn’t have at home! If most new films can’t draw as many people to theaters anymore, find some other means of making experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

Cut down on trailers

Nicole Kidman looks at a theater screen in an AMC commercial, in a still featured in a Loud and Clear Reviews article about how movie theaters can save themselves
How Movie Theaters Can Save Themselves – Nicole Kidman in an AMC commercial (AMC)

This one’s pretty simple: put less trailers before the film starts. I’d say 10-15 minutes at most is an acceptable amount of time from the movie’s scheduled start to its actual start. But AMC and especially Regal have had trailers go for, on average, 20-30 minutes. And because these times vary so wildly, it’s not like you can always plan to go in a little later and skip some trailers. Unless you know the particular theater well, you have to go in at the scheduled start on the off chance the trailers are short. I’ve also seen people show up way after a film has properly started, probably because they assumed the trailers would go on forever. There are just way too many headaches for too many people.

This is somewhat of a tangent, but I really wish more trailers could play exclusively in theaters for one week before dropping online. It would bring back some old-school excitement to seeing trailers on the big screen, it would incentivize more people to go to theaters, and we’d still have online access to the trailers after the week is done. But if theaters can’t cut some deal with studios to make that happen, then please just ease up on the trailers in general. And for God’s sake, AMC, I don’t need Nicole Kidman to tell me why your theater is special every single time I go. I’m already there. You’ve won. Leave me alone.

Find out how film studios can save movie theaters below and read our article on how moviegoers can save movie theaters!

How Film Studios Can Save Movie Theaters – Loud And Clear Reviews
Movie theaters are struggling, but can the people behind the movies save them? We go over how film studios can do something about it!
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