Why isn’t the theater filled?

By | June 8, 2011

I went to see X-Men: First Class over the weekend. It was opening weekend for that film. Typically, a big film like that would have a huge audience in their first few days, and I’d be worried about it being sold out by the time I got there. But I was surprised to find that there couldn’t have been more than 30 people at the Saturday evening showing I attended.

I’ve been surprised more than once over the last few years with small audience sizes for big movies. I’m talking about audience sizes 60-80% smaller than I remember from years gone by. It’s a shame, because that affects my cinema experience – usually negatively. I enjoy hearing the audience reactions to a film – it enhances the experience for me to hear the “Oh!”s, laughter, and breathless silence the films elicit from the viewers around me. That was really brought home to me with Thor, where there was a decent sized audience, and they got swept up into the film. It makes the film more fun.

(I should note here that, large or small, I’m not talking about a rude audience that just makes noise throughout the film or is otherwise distracting from the experience. I’m talking about audiences that are having a shared, respectful experience.)

So why aren’t people filling the theaters the way they used to? Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Theaters are having more showings than they used to, so the audience is spread out into multiple presentations.
  • Ticket prices are keeping people away. (I wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of ticket prices as a percentage of average family income over time. Are the prices really more of a burden or is it mostly psychological? Anecdotally it’s a significant burden for me, but I wonder what the data says.)
  • Home theaters are acceptable substitutes for many people. (It would have to be one heck of a system to be comparable for me – at least for the big movies. Plus you lose the community aspect I mentioned above.)
  • Movies aren’t as good/engaging as they used to be. (I don’t think that’s true across the board, but it seems to be a common perception.)

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Why isn’t the theater filled?

  1. George

    We haven’t seen a movie in the theater in years – literally. And it’s really a combination of factors. Partly it’s the cost. Between the ticket prices, concession prices, and the cost of babysitting (if we are lucky enough to even get a babysitter for four kids), it’s just not worth it.

    Part of it for us, too, is lifestyle. We have four kids, which means we don’t get an awful lot of time for just the two of us. When we get that time, we’d rather spend it in an environment where we can talk. I’d rather take the $50 or more that it would cost to go to a movie and go to a nice dinner somewhere where we can really spend some relatively quiet time together. Although movies can be fun, they don’t really encourage that kind of environment that we need.

  2. Jeff Post author

    Totally valid reasons. I didn’t really consider the lifestyle issue… but then I was concentrating on the population at large – certainly it makes sense to me that young families would have lower attendance than the general population, for exactly the reasons you mention.

  3. Athena

    I do agree in your reasons.. But for we i love watching theater acts than cinema..

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