news • Jun 11 2024

Let’s Go To The Movies: How The Movie Theater Experience is Changing

Heading to the movie theater is an exciting way to escape the rigors of daily life for a couple hours. But when it comes to staying in business, movie theaters are navigating significant challenges. 

Following last year’s Hollywood strikes, the box office is expecting another challenging year. However, experts say things are expected to ramp back up by 2025, and theater owners are gearing up to bring new and exciting experiences to guests. 

This is being done in a variety of ways, ranging from creating dynamic adventures that go far beyond the typical movie-going experience to evolving into event hubs, hosting fun gatherings that bring people together. Some theaters are even going in a completely different direction, transforming their spaces into something entirely unrelated to the traditional theater experience. 

Here’s a look at some of the exciting ways movie theaters are looking toward the future.

 

Crafting an Experience

Think about heading to the movies in past decades. From uncomfortable seating to the occasional bag of popcorn, it didn’t involve anything new or unusual. But these days, theater owners are getting crafty by creating full-blown experiences to bring in the crowds, and the rewards are extensive. 

In Red Oak, Texas, the 100-year-old B&B Theatres chain recently opened its newest movie complex. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, one theater boasts a screen seven stories wide and four stories tall, while another wraps around the sides of the room, creating 270-degree viewing. There’s even a third theater that has a playground where children can “get their wiggles out” before the movie starts. 

A visit to B&B Theatres also has non-movie experiences, including 16 bowling lanes, an arcade, a rock-climbing wall, outdoor pickleball and bocce courts. For food and beverage offerings, there are three full bars and an outdoor balcony. 

Last summer, Barbie was a key component of movie theaters’ success. Guests clamored to come to theaters, dress up in pink, and have their pictures taken in Barbie Boxes. “What made it so effective in theaters is that people knew exactly what it was right away,” Fast Company wrote. “It encouraged them to interact and engage with it, without needing to spell anything out.”

This summer, the film industry is hoping to duplicate Barbie’s success with Twisters, the sequel to the classic 1996 film starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. They’ve even created Twister booths, which already created a major buzz at CinemaCon last April. 

Another thriving aspect of the movie-going experience is how theaters are leaning into high-end technology. It’s no secret that IMAX is hugely popular, and IMAX screens accounted for 25% of Dune 2‘s domestic box office performance during its first four weeks. This reliance on technology shows how enhancing the movie-going experience can result in increased crowds. 

 

Theaters Become Event Hubs

Movie theaters are transforming into event hubs that host “non-traditional releases” that broaden the reasons customers might choose to visit. 

Recently, theaters have pivoted to events ranging from hosting concert films from stars like Taylor Swift and Beyonce to special anniversary screenings for old movies. And with major TV events like this summer’s Olympics coming up, groups are heading to the theater with their friends and family to experience entertainment on a higher level.  

“We’re rewriting the playbook of our business and finding new ways to get audiences back into theaters,” Andrew Cripps, head of international distribution for Warner Bros., shared at the annual CinemaCon convention.

Another unique use of theaters is singer Billie Eilish’s “listening parties” for her new album in movie theaters. At just a $5 ticket price, which serves as a collaboration between Dolby, Apple Music, and a charity, the AMC Cares Charitable Fund, this is an affordable option that invigorates crowds and gives them a new reason to head to the theater. 

 

Going in a Different Direction

While creating a movie-going experience is a hot trend, so is taking these theater spaces and turning them into something entirely new by repurposing their distinct architecture. Throughout the country, there are a variety of historic theaters that are finding their second acts, transforming into entirely new properties. 

Consider the theater that’s now a high-end Canadian pharmacy chain called Shoppers Drug Mart or the Barnes and Noble subsidiary called Bookstar. You’ll even find a Crunch Fitness gym in a former theater, as well as a 99-cent store. 

Los Angeles’ historic Tower Theatre, a formerly abandoned 1920’s movie theater, is now Apple Tower Theatre, an Apple Store that features the venue’s corner clock tower and the blade sign that projects from its side. The fascinating ways these structures are repurposed highlight the endless possibilities for theaters to either embrace their original function, or become unique new spaces. 

 

The traditional movie-going experience has changed, but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright. While it’s expected that 2024 will be a tough year for the industry thanks to the strikes, things are really gearing up for 2025. 

Theaters are preparing to bring in the crowds through interactive, movie-going experiences that step outside the common trip to catch the latest blockbuster. They’re also becoming event hubs, looking beyond traditional films and leaning into concerts and TV events. Finally, by repurposing their space to become something entirely different, the theater industry is demonstrating their powerful adaptability. 

The film industry is constantly shifting, and the theater world’s ability to take hold of these possibilities is an exciting example of how companies should navigate the road ahead.

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