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Movie Theaters Are Open Again. Will Audiences Come Back?

An AMC movie theater shuttered by the coronavirus in Harwood Heights, Ill.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
An AMC movie theater shuttered by the coronavirus in Harwood Heights, Ill.

Movie theaters have been experiencing hardships for quite some time now, and the pandemic certainly hasn't helped.

Student reporter Olivia Streeter talks with Bradley Professor Cory Barker about the current state of cinemas.

CORY BARKER: We can see that there is a decent uptick in the number of people going to theaters with more theaters being open as states open up more, right and have, you know, sort of less restrictive rules for what people can do inside and how many people can be in there. And then we've seen more big ticket sort of blockbuster movies be released over the last few weeks, whether that's something like quiet place part two, or conjuring three in the hype. So I think that piece of it tells us more people are going into theaters.

OLIVIA STREETER: Do you think theaters will ever be what they were in the past? Do you think there will ever be that way again? Or do you think the numbers that we're seeing now are kind of going to be like the new norm?

CORY BARKER: In my educated perspective, and what I hear and see other people talk about, I think what, what we're gonna see is, it's just sort of an acceleration of what we've already seen over the last 15 years, where the movies that are gonna get released in theaters are going to be the big IP franchise wide appealing blockbuster films. All the Marvel movies are still going to make a lot of money in the theaters, because those have been established, and people are really excited about them.

And there's the sense that, you know, those big expensive franchise movies are worthwhile in seeing in the theater for any number of reasons, right? You don't want to be spoiled, you want to have that communal experience. This special effects are great, right?

So there's a lot of reasons, incentives to get people into the theater a few times a year. But I think what we will continue to see is an erosion of people just willing to go to the theater, you know, multiple times a month to see just what's out that Friday, right. And when you have all of these different streaming services available to you, there's so much film and television and documentary programming available to you that it becomes harder to feel incentivized to go to the theater.

OLIVIA STREETER: So the Peoria area has about four or five theaters like in the area. Do you think this area, in this new time we're entering, is going to be big enough to support all these theaters?

CORY BARKER: If you would ask me this question, even nine months ago, I wouldn't have been confident that any of them would have even reopened based on like this sort of global conditions of some of those massive chains like AMC, right, like I didn't know if it was going to still exist.

So there's all of this stuff that's happening at the highest sort of financial level that has nothing to do with the Peoria market. Right? And so I think that's a piece of it. And then when you consider our economic conditions locally are is the population growing or shrinking? That sort of thing? You know, there used to be a lot more movie theaters and even smaller places in Peoria. Right? And they don't exist. So what point do we does Peoria hit that kind of threshold of it is no longer a market that is deemed like valuable to whatever, mega corporation owns the theaters that owns this other company and things like that?

OLIVIA STREETER: Movie theaters, and just the production companies in general, have experienced some hiccups down line since the beginning of movie theaters and that kind of thing, such as like TV and cable, and things like that the invention of those. Do you think that those were as harmful as this kind of scenario is? Or is it just like apples and oranges? Are they two different things?

You're absolutely right. Like every time there's a new thing, technology, whatever it is, there's a crisis about people don't want to go to the movie theater. I think what's different this time, is we've opened that door of the simultaneous release something like in the heights like I think Warner Media and HBO Max really, like screwed this up for everybody by deciding, okay, you know, we're not just doing this one off for Wonder Woman around the holidays, where we're going to release it simultaneously. We're going to do that for all of our movies in 2021.

So every single theatrically released movie, we're also going to make it available on streaming for free. Now the rest of the industry kind of has to play that game a little bit, right? They have to either go along with what Warner Media is doing or they have to make kind of a an explicit stand that like, we're not doing that.

Olivia Streeter is an intern at WCBU. The Illinois State University student joined WCBU in 2020.