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The Great Entertainment Debate

C.G. Smith

Nov 2, 2022

Go to the Theater or Stay Home and Stream?

I’ve been a fan of going to the movies since I was a young child. I have vivid memories of going to see films like Disney’s The Jungle Book, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Dark Crystal as a boy. The feelings of taking a giant bucket of buttery popcorn into that once sacred space and finding a good seat were magical. When the lights went down and the big theater speakers began booming, my eyes would light up, ready to be taken away to whatever fantastical universe this movie would bring. It was glorious. Not only was it entertaining but also it was a way to share something special and new with my family, and it gave us so much to discuss after the lights came back up and we made our way home.

Today we have the option to stream most movies at home, and a lot of us are doing just that. With our massive televisions that remind me of the big screen walls from the novel "Fahrenheit 451" and our fancy soundbars and multi-speaker sound systems, we can enjoy the films we want to in the comfort of our own homes. The popcorn might not be as good, but it doesn’t cost a few weeks’ worth of allowance either.

When studios began releasing movies for streaming at home, often on the same schedule as those in the theaters, I wondered why anyone would still go out to see a movie when they could just stay home in their pajamas, curl up with their loved ones or pets, and for the price of their monthly subscription enjoy the same product that others were braving the elements (and COVID and other movie goers) to see. Surely the theater experience was transitioning into being a thing of the past, right?

Box office receipts were already declining and then took a massive hit when the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world in early 2020. Even though movie theaters in 2022 have seen business come back to nearly double the 2021 numbers, people are still often choosing streaming at home over the traditional movie theater experience. Why?

Is it the ever-rising costs to go out and see a movie? It damn near costs you $30 just to get in the door, let alone what you spend on food and drink. Or, is it due to the ease of pushing a button at home and starting (or pausing) the film from your couch? Is it the fact that you won’t have a pile of human garbage tapping the back of your seat with their foot? I asked friends and strangers this very question to try and understand where fans of movies are at these days. Here are a few responses.

I like to go to the movies. It’s the whole going-out experience I enjoy—the smell of the popcorn, the big theater sound, the sense of being a part of something,” said one woman I spoke to. “I will always prefer going to a movie theater over staying at home.”

The answers to this query are diverse and seem to depend on the availability and quality of the theaters around those answering, as well as the film itself. For instance, here in New Orleans, most theaters serve alcohol along with the standard sodas, popcorn, and candies. I remember my first movie theater experience here when my wife and I went to see the special screenings of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Upon walking into the big AMC Elmwood theater lobby, I look to my left and see a fully stocked bar! I was truly in the city where I belonged.

Another time when we went downtown to see The Rise of Skywalker, we were able to order a charcuterie board and a bottle of wine. Other cities are, of course, not New Orleans and don’t have full bar setups or charcuterie boards … not that these amenities make one theater necessarily superior or not to the average audience member, but it does play a factor into the going-out experience as a whole. At least for some people.

I like streaming because I can watch programming on my own schedule,” says entertainment podcaster Scott Waltner. “I’m more willing to take a risk on a film or series than I would going to the theater. Blockbuster franchises will continue to drive people to the theater, but streaming services allow studios the chance to tell different stories and I really like having those options.”

Many people I have spoken to say it really depends on the movie. They prefer to go experience a big blockbuster MCU action movie in a fancy theater while the newest Wes Anderson film might work better at home. Some people say they just prefer the overall ambience and feel of an actual movie theater, while others say they would rather stay in and watch in the comfort of their home. Some are just hooked on the entire experience of going to see a movie in a big theater, but overall many people I have spoken with say if the movie is grand in scale, they are more apt to go to a theater to see it rather than trust their home system to present it faithfully, but that for most movies, they prefer to stay home and stream it.

I suppose the big question now is, is the experience of going out to an actual movie theater worth it to you, the viewer, more so than the comfort of staying home for that particular movie? These are questions we must answer ourselves, and ones that the Hollywood film industry have surely been pondering. Our screens will keep getting larger and might someday actually be like those described in "Fahrenheit 451," but the desire to get out of our homes and experience something in a communal setting will continue to drive most of us off the couch and out of the house for the foreseeable future.

Whichever you prefer, I nonetheless hope your movie-watching experiences are just as magical as mine are.

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