Taking a rare timeout to get on a different sort of soapbox today:
Look, I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to movie viewing and theatrical outings. I actively — often solo — pursue indie theaters in the name of art versus a collective outing to fall asleep during the latest Marvel film. Also: I hate middle seats and sitting around people, especially in megaplexes. I have long legs — long enough that if someone needs to pass me by, I have to stand up; the sideway scrunch doesn’t cut it — so I routinely sit in one of the most unpopular seats in the house.
That said: AMC’s decision to move towards tiered prices for seats is a disheartening and damaging one, one that signals that they’re tilting towards Ticketmaster. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, within a year or two, we start to see them boost their own ticket hub to auction off ‘sold out’ seats for tentpole releases. (I still don’t understand how Ticketmaster owning and funneling tickets off to StubHub is legal.)
Movie theaters will never die — you will always have misfits operating a creaky projector in whatever abode they can finagle — however, it is about damn time that theaters as monopolies die. What many folks forget about American capitalism is that Hollywood was the very pinacle of ‘vertical integration’, where one singular power controlled the creation, distribution, and consumption of their product, giving studios unbridled sway to essentially extort money from the public. Eventually the Supreme Court interceded and handed down a brutal number of penalties against the major players. It’s worth noting that Disney actively engages in ‘block booking’, which is why you can see the latest Marvel film on ten screens in the same theater, but there’s no room for the latest Sarah Polley film. (For more, see: https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-day-the-supreme-court-killed-hollywoods-studio-system)
However, as Elijah Wood noted: movies have a history of being an egalitarian entertainment. Before there were movie houses, folks roamed from town-to-town, setting up a hand-cranked projector and a screen outdoors for public entertainment (and a bit of profit). When movies went indoors, the spots were often known as movie palaces — not just for their opulence, but because they were spaces to collectively congregate for the better part of the day, and a nickel would give you a way to beat the heat, learn about current events via newsreels, have a few laughs and maybe shed a few tears. (And yes, that’s where the term ‘Nickelodeon’ comes from.)
Not to be all ‘back in my day’ but back in my day, there were a number of national franchised movie houses, like Loews. Now, AMC owns them all and have a virtual monopoly on movie theaters. Now they’re charging more than what you’d spend to stream a film upon its release. (Those of my age may remember that, ‘back in the day’ you couldn’t buy films on video for less than $100, but that’s a subject for another time.)
Again, this isn’t about me. I’ll pay the minimum price for the handful of films I attend at an AMC for a year and it’s no skin off of my nose. (There’s no way in hell I’m paying a membership fee for the privilege of a discount, though I will note that I do pay a yearly membership fee to my favorite movie theater: Chicago’s own Music Box.) However, it does severely impact families. I can’t speak for everyone, but I vividly remember my early moviegoing experiences with my family, the awe of big screen spectacle, being swept away by intense emotions, sometimes to the point of having to be ushered out of the theater and comforted by my parents. I’m saddened to think that most of the youth of the current generation will not have those experiences — it’ll just be a blur of banal streaming works on a poorly calibrated flat-screen TV because it’s financially impractical as an outing.
(That said, my parents also hewed strictly to ratings and rarely let me watch anything they hadn’t already seen before. Let this post be a lesson to all of you young parents: restricting media to youths only serves to turn them into media-obsessed monsters.)
I wouldn’t be surprised to see AMC either revert this decision, or simply double-down on it. It’s just disheartening and sad to see what should be a simple experience of going to the movies — a literal trope in many movies — become overly complex and expensive when, if matters were better managed, it wouldn’t be a problem.