Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Box Office and The Buggy Whip

Box office is down this year. A lot. Why?

It's facile to say it's because movies sucked this year.

Roger Ebert says it was a great year for movies. Rotten Tomatoes says it was a teeny bit better than usual, according to an article in The Washington Post. (By the way, while the Post examines the many different possible causes for the slump, the Los Angeles Times, in typical fashion, just kinda stands outside a couple of theatres and asks a couple of people. And no, I'm not kidding.)

But the truth, and we all know it, is just that it's no fun to go to the movies any more. The experience has been ruined. From parking to lines to Fanta girls, it's a miserable experience, and until they fix that it's just nicer to stay home. (And, frankly, in my home I have a more comfortable chair and more reliable projection and sound.)

There's a line I always think of that Danny DeVito said in the movie Other People's Money (I'm sure it was in the play, too, but I could care less about plays). He says, "I'm sure the last company that made buggy whips made the best goddamn buggy whips in the world."

Economic models change. People hate to admit it, but they do.

A few years ago, everyone was moaning about saving the independent, mom-and-pop bookstore. You don't hear that much anymore. While the music industry tries to figure out how to save the CD, the consumer has all but abandoned it. And while the motion picture exhibitors keep downgrading the movegoing experience, attendance plummets.

The Arclight in Hollywood is an oft-cited example of a theatre that bucks the trend and succeeds by doing so. Consumers (myself included) are willing to pay a higher price for softer seats, better food, no ads, and a better all-around experience.

Meanwhile, the multiplexes act like we owe them a living. We don't. There is nothing written in the Motion Picture Code that says going to a theatre has to be part of the movie experience. While theatre owners protest the narrowing of the window, they should be grateful there's a window at all.

Seeing movies on TV or on DVD can and will become 100% of the movie experience. Unless theatres clean up their act -- and I hope they do -- they will go the way of the buggy whip.

1 comment:

peeky said...

Whenever I go to the movies, my muscles instinctively lock up as I walk in, in anticipation of the jerks and maroons who are very possibly going to ruin it. Moviegoing hasn't changed in a bazillion years. You sit in a dark room and eat popcorn. Yet it keeps getting more expensive to do the same thing with no improvements, i.e., no one polices the awful horrible people who should be punished & exiled. I wish we had an Arclight in NY. (sob)