In 1991, I took my girlfriend at the time to see Terminator 2. A first-run movie cost me about $9 for an evening showing for two people. I spent more at the late, lamented Chopstick Garden after the show. In 2019, I took my two youngest stepsons to a matinee showing of The Rise of Skywalker. I dropped nearly $40 for three matinee tickets. It might have been $30 if I were still dating, but then there would be the obligatory $50 for dinner afterward. I don’t mind spending $50 for dinner with a lovely lady. It’s how I married the one I’m with now. But when you factor in tickets, food and drinks, and dinner? You’re dropping $100 for an evening out. My date in 1991 cost me $25.
Now, I realize inflation is a factor, but it’s not that big of a factor. The fact is movies have gotten lamer yet more expensive. If it doesn’t have a huge number of explosions to rattle the rafters with the state-of-the-art sound system, theaters don’t want it. Add to that today’s overly puritanical demands on what can and can’t be shown, and I wonder why I should even bother.
The pandemic has hastened something I always suspected would happen anyway. Movie theaters are dying. There was a time when you could hear Martin Scorsese wax rhapsodic about sitting in a darkened movie palace and watching classic films on the big screens. However, when Martin and his colleagues, Lucas, Copolla, Spielberg, were kids, you waltzed in, got a cartoon pitch to hit the concession stand, and saw a few trailers before the movie began. Having seen Close Encounters, Star Wars, Superman, and Young Frankenstein in such a movie palace as a kid, I remember the screens being BIG. Also, you didn’t break the bank buying popcorn and a soda. (Would you like a standard petroleum drum of Coke for a quarter more?) You could drive a Volkswagen into Gene Hackman’s mouth in some scenes.
On the downside, that has some frightening possibilities for that scene in Basic Instinct.
In my early twenties, I could easily see three movies a week. I’ve even been known to go by myself. My first girlfriend in Cincinnati and I would catch the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger flick on a weekend and maybe see two second-run movies the rest of the week, back when dollar and two-dollar cinemas were a thing. Cinema grills were also fun.
But while I took my stepsons to see Marvel and Star Wars movies, I really have grown disillusioned with the cinema. I walk in with a full wallet and leave with a high credit card balance. It’s become like going to major league sports. I haven’t been to a Reds game in years, and I’ve never seen the NFL or Major League Soccer live. To expensive. And while the movie theater doesn’t have the weather risks involved with sitting in a stadium, it has become almost as expensive.
Now Amazon has purchased MGM. The James Bond movie No Time to Die will likely be the last movie I see in the theater. It is James Bond, after all, and the end of another Bond continuity. But I just watched Justice League and two Marvel shows on streaming. And to be honest, I have no desire to break away from that. We do movie night most Sundays. And while James Bond is a bit of a slog for a marathon, it’s a lot easier to pay a premium to see the latest Disney offering when you don’t have to drop an additional $75 for food or drive to a darkened building with a screen a fraction of the size of the ones Scorsese watched as a kid.
The theaters were great when streaming and DVDs and tapes were not a thing. When they were cheap. Now?
Not worth the hassle.