SIX MONTHS AGO everyone was saying that the movie theaters were a thing of the past. The global pandemic of Covid 19 had supposedly taught everyone to stay home and stream their movies on their TV's and Computers, and that would be the new normal. I predicted that would prove to be baloney, because the movie theater experience is like the live theater experience: after hundreds of years and many challenges, it's been proven that the theater experience is here to stay as a global cultural absolute.
Not long ago people were saying that alternative endings, the interactive movie, would be the next normal. That never happened. Interactive games would also replace movies, they said. That never happened, either. There is something deep in the human psyche to sit back together and passively enjoy a story well-told.
They once huddled around campfires as the storyteller wove his mesmerizing tales and the small collectives of people sat transfixed at his voice and his mind and his imagination. That was their form of theater, while danger stalked and slithered and crawled all around them in the forests, in the deserts, in the dark.... and the theater remained.
Later, they watched stories acted on primitive stages, in the daylight, for even gaslight did not exist. Wars, upheaval and the Black Plague came and went... and the theaters remained.
In the 1890's the newly-invented moving picture made its way toward commercialization, and in small makeshift projection theaters people were astounded by the novelty and the basics of movie storytelling being invented, something never before seen by humankind.... and the theaters remained.... and expanded in form.
In the 1910's through the 1940's, they built magnificent movie palaces with ceilings several stories high, hanging massive crystal chandeliers (some still exist) beneath which were red carpets and thick marble floors and wide staircases and every available form of elegance of the day. All that so that on any weekend night a few thousand people (the Roxy in NYC had a seating capacity of six thousand people) could fill that palace while a single individual in a booth HAND-CRANKED a primitive, low-light projector in the dark, issuing forth a flickering silent movie telling simple tales and ultimately, grand ones, with no chance for the inflection of a trained actor's voice to tell the tale, albeit accompanied by the most magnificent pipe organs anyone had ever seen outside of the largest cathedrals. Obeying this collective instinct, the audiences did, however, often read the title cards together out loud. Designed and built at great cost to "Make the audience feel like royalty", between 1914 and 1922 alone over 4,000 of such massive theaters were build to attract all classes of citizens to the theaters. A World War came and went, the pandemic of 1918 came and went... and the theaters remained.
Sound movies emerged and people said that that would be the end of the movies, the theaters would need to be converted because the moving visual art form had been ruined by human speech and a new structure to the tales being told - so they said. A decade passed and then a second World War came and went with sound movies lighting up the screens, bigger and better than before and consequently the motion picture art form flourished more than ever before... and the theaters remained.
In the 1950's, television ate into the profits of the theaters, essentially functioning as a low-end version of the theater. And in that earlier time, the entire family would gather around that single screen, unlike today, feeding that need for the collective experience, and the naysayers trumpeted their gleeful songs of doom for the future of the theater. "The movies are over!" decried entertainment writers of the time, heralding this new, free form of entertainment (though the TV's themselves were not free and really quite expensive for what you got at the time). The Theaters (and studios) fought back with Technicolor, Cinemascope and 3D. We know what happened... challenged but unbowed, the theaters remained.
Starting in the 1930's, continuing into the 1940's but not terribly popular until the 1950's when it emerged as stupendously popular - was another form of movie theater: people sat together in large parking lots, also known as Drive-In Theaters, and listened to the sound on bad speakers for the inherent draw of that communal experience and sweated in the humid summer night heat, bought terrible food at a terrible price, gambled against rain, wind and lightning and got endlessly bitten by mosquitoes all for that collective experience of gathering for a story told; mixing that need for theater with what was then a family's love for its often enormous automobile as the American culture was then... and the theaters remained and flourished.
Now, on the heels of the Covid 19 global pandemic which was supposed to shut down the theater experience for good - streaming was the new normal, we were lectured while some studios foolishly bet on that advice and ruined some of their most important business relationships - a movie with unlikely a title as "Godzilla Vs. Kong" had a theatrical opening weekend of $48.5 million domestically and over $200 million worldwide.... at the theaters.
The theaters remain and they always will, because there is something plainly proven in the human psyche that demands the communal experience of passively, together, watching a story told, which is how it developed in the first place, in small tribes and other categories of early human collectives, around campfires in the dark, obeying an instinct we will never understand, but an instinct which is a gift just the same.
Threatened by the devastation of wars and disease and the fickle tastes of the fashions of the times; challenged by pretenders to the throne and the technology that propels them, the theaters remain and flourish.
The theaters and that collective experience demanded, for some reason, by the human mind, will be around for our children's children's children long after you and I have shed this mortal coil. In this person's opinion, and in an always-uncertain world, that's a warm and comfortable bit of reassurance. Long live the theater.