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The Decline and Rebirth of Cinema

The Arclight chain of cinemas is a cultural staple all across the United States, and its flagship in Hollywood became a legendary venue due to its high standards and all the high-profile premieres that occurred in this theatre. If you’re unsure of which cinema I am pertaining to, it is without a doubt famous due to its Cinerama Dome, and it was also recently featured in a sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’. Unfortunately, and to the great distress of those who work in the movie industry and of movie lovers alike, the Arclight chain of cinemas closed earlier this year.

The facade of the Arclight Hollywood theatre complex, with its iconic Cinerama Dome, (Los Angeles Times, 2021)

It wasn’t just the Arclight that closed due to the economic repercussions of the pandemic – numerous chain, as well as independent, cinema establishments had to shut their doors. The reaction that this generated from moviegoers all over the world proves that cinema is not yet dead. However, the rise and rise of digital media and platforms in the past decade has caused cinemas to take a rather noticeable blow. More people are now simply consuming their movies on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu. Going to the cinema is (or used to be) one of the main pastimes of many people all over the world. It is something that families can look forward to on the weekends, or a respite that workers can take after a stressful day at the office. Children who go the movies to experience a sense of wonder. Ultimately, people of all ages can find some pleasure in losing themselves in a good piece of cinema. But has the golden age of moviegoing – with enjoyment stemming from stepping into the theatre, smelling the fresh popcorn, settling into plush seats, and excitedly discussing or simply digesting the film afterwards – faded away? Are cinemas really becoming obsolete?

Now, what could be the cause of such a slump? Rather than blaming it all on streaming platforms, which I’m sure you and I are guilty of indulging in a little too often, we can pinpoint a few other reasons. Patrick Corcoran, the vice-president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, attributed this decline to the quality of films that we put on offer. Film data researcher Stephen Follows, on the other hand, believes that the reason in a ‘generational gap’ – young people are less inclined to visit the cinemas that previous generations (Westbrook, 2017). Follows (2019) highlighted three strong findings which lead into suggestions that might help attract young audiences to the theatres: reducing the costs of a cinema trip, tackling the struggles of organising a trip to the cinema, and enhancing the whole experience of the trip, beyond just the movie being screened.

On a better note, some movie theatres have adapted to the rise in popularity of video streaming, by offering subscription services themselves. “One example is monthly subscription-based services that give consumers the ability to watch a fixed number of movies in theatres at a discounted price.” (Srivastava, 2018). There are ways for theatres to cope with the popularity of the medium that they are primarily competing with. If their chosen method is to capitalize on audiences’ rising appetite for film streaming, by learning from the success of streaming platforms, then this might be one of the best ways to go about it. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” – isn’t this a saying that stood the test of time and adversity?