As everyone is aware, the past few months have been absolutely brutal for the movie industry. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit our shores, theaters began to close en masse. Over time, some reopened, showing old hits such as “Back to the Future,” “Jaws” and “Star Wars,” most often to crowds of less than 10 people. That is the case at Playhouse Cinemas in ALexander City and it was also the case at Continental Cinemas in Troy, which just filed for bankruptcy and permanently closed after 22 years.
With the ever-increasing quality of at-home TVs and sound systems, there has been much sentiment that the change is not all bad; in fact, many people have been avoiding theaters for years already. Why go out to the theater and spend all that money to watch a movie with strangers when you can enjoy the same movie in the comfort of your home with everything set up just how you like it?
And there’s a point to be had there. A movie is still great no matter where you watch it. But its inarguable, for most of us, that we’re losing something.
Watching a movie at home doesn’t leave memories the way a theater does.
I can still remember going with my parents to see “The Santa Clause 2” and “Ghost Ship” when I was just 9 years old, possibly the strangest double feature combination imaginable. Seeing “Ghost Ship” was my dad’s idea.
The problem was, I knew we were going to see the horror movie second, so the whole time I should have been enjoying Chet the baby reindeer crashing around the North Pole, I was filled with dread for what was to come.
As it turns out, “Ghost Ship” didn’t really scare me all that much, and being past my usual bedtime, I fell asleep somewhere before the movie was halfway done.
I still remember just recently, going to see Avengers: Endgame in Troy. I was still working at The Messenger as news editor at the time, so I had just worked until 9 p.m. and had only 20 minutes to pick up my wife, Madi, and get to the theater.
By the time we arrived, the theater parking lot was full. And so was the adjacent parking lot. And so was most of the grassy field next to that. And it was raining. But we finally found a place to park and sloshed our way through the mud to the ticket booth and eventually got in place in our seats.
Watching those moments in theater was well worth it. The gasps when a major character died, the cheering when a long-awaited moment finally came, they were proofs that these strangers in the same community as us were just as invested as we were.
It’s too early to project whether theaters will go away, although it seems the model will definitely be changing. But for the sake of our communities, I really hope they find some way to come back stronger than ever. In a world where, even before COVID, we’ve become more and more trapped in our own little bubbles, movie theaters offer the opportunity to come together and experience something with our neighbors.
I consider that an invaluable experience.
Jacob Holmes is TPI’s design editor.