Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third installment in the Tom Holland Spidey era, made bank on its opening weekend. The movie beat out Avengers: Infinity War for the second-best domestic box office opening of all time, raking in a whopping $260 million — and that’s in a pandemic.
There’s a lot to parse in that figure, which indicates a market in which huge-budget franchise films with built-in audiences, produced by giant corporations, are squeezing out space once occupied by mid-budget original fare. But Spidey’s success suggests that the death of movie theaters, writ large, isn’t quite the fait accompli some doomsayers suggest.
Yet there’s no doubt it’s tough times — especially for independent theaters struggling to stay afloat, and even more so for the ones that steer away, by economic necessity or choice, from superhero fare.
Finding a way to hang on means giving customers, who have more options than ever, a compelling reason to go to the movie theater. That’s tricky at the best of times, but much more difficult in the midst of an ongoing pandemic with waxing and waning levels of risk, even if the risks are somewhat lower compared to some other activities.
Theatrical windows are also shrinking, but they still exist, keeping theaters alive.
How do you tell what moviegoers love — and hate — about the experience? Ask them. Over the past two years, we’ve had the rare experience of many people leaving theaters for a time en masse, then returning with caution and new awareness. To put it another way, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Now we know, and for many who’ve returned, it has served as a reminder not to take movies for granted.
But going back also reveals some of the rough points and great opportunities in the experience. On Twitter, I asked returning moviegoers around the world to tell me what they’ve experienced as they go back, and their responses revealed some interesting patterns. (Of course, this was far from a scientific method. The respondents were people who were willing and able to take the risk involved, and who were also interested enough in a movie to pay for a ticket.)
What they told me was revealing. While you might expect to hear about loving the huge screens and state-of-the-art sound, most people discussed their love of seeing movies with strangers as well as their gratitude for an experience that forced them to pay attention to the film at hand. As we move into a brave new era of moviegoing, theaters might also want to pay attention.
Strangers are part of the charm (except when they’re not)
Via Twitter, Mike Popham noted to me that “there is no substitute for laughter rippling through an audience or a collective gasp happening at a big moment in the story. It’s a social experience, and if anything, I didn’t appreciate it enough pre-pandemic.”
Spencer Turney observed …….