October 24, 2017

The Movie Industry Has Been “Dying” For A While

Steven Spielberg and his movie Jaws (1975). Courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

By Joe Bandy ’19
Contributor

In the past month or so, I’ve seen quite a few articles discussing the current state of the movie industry and reflecting on this past summer with disdain. The blame for the movie industry’s supposed downfall has been placed on a few different things: Hollywood unions, streaming sites, and movie theatres. With AMC actively working against Movie Pass (a subscription service allowing users to pay only $10 a month and, in return, receive the ability to see a movie a day in theatres without paying ticket prices), it’s hard to think it’s not their own fault.

You see, headlines say that movie theatres as we know them are dying, and for a while, that’s what I believed. Anecdotally, it makes sense. We watch more TV and YouTube than ever before—but that doesn’t mean we watch movies any less. We simply consume more media. When you look at a graph of weekly movie attendance starting in the 1930’s, things become a lot clearer.

Since TVs have found their way into most homes, movie attendance has dropped significantly. From what we hear, this doesn’t make sense, though. For example, I often hear that Steven Spielberg invented the blockbuster with “Jaws,” but looking at the numbers, I don’t really find that to be true. “Jaws” sits at 7th on the list of top box earners with $1,138,620,700. This situation is tricky to judge because quite a few movies have had re-releases, making comparisons somewhat difficult. However, if we exclude movies with re-releases, “Jaws” still sits third behind “The Sound of Music” and “The Ten Commandments,” and is followed closely by “Doctor Zhivago.”

Looking through the rest of the list, it’s quite clear that a fair share of the big, event films in cinema history happened before 1975. There have always been wildly successful, popular films. The type of movies we see and how often we see them is what has changed.

I don’t think I need to explain too much why there was such a sharp drop off in the 60’s, as I’ve already mentioned the impact of TV’s in homes. Instead, I want to call attention to just how often the movie industry has been crying wolf: every slight dip and rise in attendance is put under a microscope and said to be “signs of a larger trend”. 2014 had the lowest attendance since 1995. Simply searching “movie theatre attendance” will bring up quite a few articles detailing the drop.

However, ticket sales have been about the same for the past twenty years, with slight ups and downs. In 1995, movie audiences bought 1,221,825,463 tickets and in 2016 it was 1,300,627,644. The Motion Picture Association of America reported that the amount of average movie goers increased in 2016 by two percent and, overall, ticket sales were up. The estimates for this year are a slight dip down, which is why there are so many articles pessimistically speculating about the future of the movie industry.

In a recent interview, George Clooney said the box office panic was “premature,” referencing how Hollywood “…panicked when television came in, they panicked when VHS came in, they panicked with DVD.” He was then cut off by Julianne Moore who chimed in, saying, “they panicked when the talkies came!”

Hollywood will be fine. People aren’t going to stop watching movies anytime soon. The only movie industry thing I’m worried about right now is whether Luke Skywalker will have his lightsaber in Episode VIII.

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