Movie Theaters Are Experimenting With Anything That Can Help Stave Off Extinction

MoviePass Theater Ticket Sales Black Panther

How can theaters survive? FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

It’s survival of the fittest in the entertainment world these days.

According to The Numbers, movie ticket sales have been on a steady decline since 2002, as has the combined theatrical releases of the major six studios. Last year saw 1.24 billion tickets sold compared to 2002’s 1.5 billion. The Big Six studios used to release around 200 total films per year around the turn of the century; now, that number has dwindled to around 150.


With the rise of streaming options such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu—not to mention ample digital entertainment options available at home through YouTube and Facebook—it’s become increasingly difficult to attract audiences to theaters outside of the latest Marvel movie.

As a result, exhibitors and third-party organizations are experimenting with a variety of different options to reenergize the theater business.

The most prominent example of this is MoviePass, which offers subscribers a ticket per day for a small flat monthly fee. The service has seemingly helped to boost the box office totals of Oscar contenders and recently crossed two million customers, but industry insiders question the long-term viability of the model.

CEO Mitch Lowe told THR that MoviePass is already buying about 5.7 percent of all tickets sold per week and at nearly full price, it’s a wonder how much longer MoviePass can sustain this output without dramatically increasing costs.

National CineMedia is taking a different approach.

The national chain is launching an ARcade platform (the AR stands for “augmented reality”) that includes games theatergoers can play before showtime. Come this Spring, CineMedia is hoping to launch the service across 1,700 theaters and has already begun courting advertisers. But with iPhone games and other handheld entertainment mods available to a young target audience, can games like Cinevaders really take off?

“The ergonomics of theaters are practically built for gaming,” chief digital officer Lawrence Snapp told the outlet. “It’s a visceral experience; two minutes of Cinevaders and you sweat—hard.”

We’ll see.

“The box office still matters in the Netflix era,” Steven Birenberg, founder of Northlake Capital Management, told THR. “The wide-release films still cross over to cultural consciousness and create national conversation or at least something we have in common as a nation. Witness: Black Panther.

The well-reviewed Marvel movie is indeed attracting audiences in droves to the tune of $277 million domestic as of this writing. A total upwards of $1 billion worldwide is well within the movie’s reach.

But for every Black Panther, there’s a Blade Runner 2049, an expensive blockbuster that flops. Alcon Entertainment needed 2049 to gross at least $400 million worldwide to be considered a success; the movie took in just $259 million.

Tapping into the cultural consciousness and creating national conversation is easier said than done.

MoviePass may help in the short-term, but Cinevaders seems like a futile gesture. Overall, there just may not be a clear cut path to saving movie theaters.

Movie Theaters Are Experimenting With Anything That Can Help Stave Off Extinction