CHARLOTTE, N.C., January 8, 2018: Certain times of the year are especially good for going to the movies: Just before a major holiday (particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas); during Academy Award season (when the allegedly best films of the year hope to make it really big); and during the summer when outer space, suprehero and adventure blockbusters usually hit the silver screen big time. But in all these time frames, movie attendance was considerably off across the boards in 2017. Tinseltown is in trouble. Movie moguls have begun to get nervous.
Why is Hollywood so alarmed? Why are producers and filmmakers panicking and indulging in acts of desperation? Do they see this attendance decline as something that could become permanent?
Example: At least two major films opened during the Christmas season in which the feature was preceeded by an on-camera "thank you for coming" appearance by the main characters in the picture. In general, the message they conveyed was "thank you for your support and for enjoying the show in the format in which it was designed to be seen."
Is this firm evidence that Tinseltown is rapidly losing audiences for the product it's been putting out. Is it possible they are is now looking for ways to "play nice" with their fans, including (possibly) the "deplorable" ones? Perhaps the "up close and personal" pitch added to at least two big films that opened during the year-end holidays was sincere. Yet both appeals felt more like acts of desperation than anything else.
For their part, cinema houses are also sending out half-price ticket discounts via the internet, along with launching additional gimmicky marketing initiatives to entice movie-goers back into their increasingly empty multiplex palaces.
If all these efforts are indeed acts of contrition geared toward attracting more fans back to the silver screen, then perhaps we should analyze some of the reasons why audiences have been staying away in the first place.
Recall that back in the 1950s, Hollywood underwent a similar panic as the Golden Age of Television began to unfold. Who could have known that the little box in the living room would quickly erode movie attendance even if early TV sets could only offer productions in black and white on their tiny screens?
TVs struck similar fears into the hearts of radio stations across the country as well. Yet that allegedly archaic industry managed to survive and then prosper once again after restructuring its programming to fill various niches that TV could not.
The film industry fought back against the boob tube by launching a spectacular movie renaissance. Tinseltown began to offer epics and spectacles filmed and projected by means of groundbreaking new technologies like Cinemascope, 3-D, and surround-sound. Slowly but surely, movie palaces also did their part, gradually adding new luxuries for movie-goers. These included rocking chair seats and multiple (multiplex) screens, all designed to lure people from their couches and cozy dens to experience sights and sounds that were light-years ahead of what they could find on their living-room TVs.
That was then. But this is now. Competition was easier for movies to combat in the mid-20th century. Today there multiple ways movie-goers and TV fans alike can access whatever entertainment opportunities they like. The internet, cellphones, Netflix, Amazon.prime, streaming video, DVDs, Roku boxes and all manner of additional, less expensive ways to watch a movie are now within everyone's grasp. Better yet, users of these products can download or stream the movies and shows they choose without the restrictions of viewing time or the irritation of overpriced concessions.
True, movies are still a bargain compared to outrageously costly major league sporting events, live theater and concerts. That's true even when you factor in the inflated costs of popcorn and a coke. Additionally, there is no comparison with the quality of the sound or the size of the image a patron hears or sees in the theater. But other factors continue to make a dent in the popularity of going to see movies live at your local movie emporium.
Perhaps least appreciated is the fact that Tinseltown shot itself in the foot on more than one occasion last year. A number of expensive productions that specifically propagandized "progressive" political positions fell flat on their respective faces when released to movie theaters.
Each and every propaganda film bombed at the box office. Every one of them ignored the simple fact that movie goers head for the theater to be entertained. They don't want a sermon. But aside from token attempts to court the audiences these awful films lost, the movie moguls appear to have learned nothing from their recent experiences.
Fans are not interested in listening to the political views of their favorite entertainers. They pay their money to hear music, watch a movie or see talented people perform in the art form of their choosing. Other than that, there is no place for political commentary when entertainers have a captive audience.
Worse, such "progressive" propaganda jumps the shark when politically movivated producers, directors and stars go out of their way to denounce, demean and insult what amounts to 50 percent of the available audience.
When viewers tune in to watch the Golden Globes, for example, they are interested in the products that gifted performers have created. Viewers, in the main, are not all all interested the predictably distorted points of view they routinely spout, while exploiting free access to a worldwide audience to express them.
Case in point in another entertainment industry: The vaunted NFL got a bitter taste of audience rejection themselves when legions of overpaid and over-cosseted players joined followed the example of Colin Kaepernick by disparaging the National Anthem of the country that allowed them the opportunity to get rich in the first place. Attendance at live games and TV viewership of the same promptly plummetted to all time lows in short order. Again, sports fans are not interested in watching politics. They want to see a game. Politicize the game and they're gone, along with their money.
Returning to Tinseltown, let's add the blockbuster scandal of Harvey Weinstein and other cronies in the film industry, all of whom are being hammered with charges of sexual harassment and assault by using their power to take advantage of young women. This has taken yet another toll on Tinseltown quality and credibility, not to mention the moral issues involved. Moral issues caused by those virtue-signaling Hollywood types who preach morality and virtue to the rest of us.
Combine all this with all the preaching and propaganda, the condescension, the poor quality of recent productions and yes, even the exorbitant prices for movie theater concessions. It is little wonder why movie lovers would choose the convenience of streaming their entertainment choices on their HD monitors and popping as much popcorn as they want at home for less than a dollar.
One other factor in the decline of movie theater attendance may or may not be generational. But whatever happened to telling a good story using real actors who can get inside their characters?
One route Tinseltown has been taking involves a substantial increased in animated films that appeal to children. These young fans do buy lots of food and drink at the movie house. Better yet for movie producers and filmmakers: Highly paid actors can get hired and make a fat living these days doing nothing but voice-overs for all these animated features. As for those big-name actors voicing these parts, spending two or three days in a studio recording dialogue sure beats being on location for six weeks to two months. Plus, the pay is outrageous to boot.
But when animatino or animé is the only alternative offering a theater can book, you can be sure that adult audiences will stay home in droves.
The same situation is true with films that rely completely on CGI and science fiction plots for effect. Yes, there are thousands of superheroes fans out there and yes, the "Star Wars" franchise is bigger than ever. But not as a steady diet. In the main, 2017's crop of CGI epics has been underwhelming with critics and movie goers alike.
Another truly irritating issue is the proliferation of advertising in cinema houses, which used to be generally free of that time wasting clutter. Movie goers today get no less than eight to ten previews before the main feature even begins. Usually more than half of those films are animated or have to do with some weird premise that allows an overpaid geek with a high-powered computer to create monsters, destroy cities or blow up the White House.
In the end, given all these issues and others, isn't it time for the film industry to wake up and re-invent itself? It's just an idea. But is anyone in Tinseltown listening?
Years ago, a folk music trio named Peter, Paul and Mary popularized a protest song called "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" During the refrain they kept asking the question, "When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?"
Today, that refrain might best apply to most of those involved in what we might broadly call the entertainment industry.
"When will they ever learn?"
*Cartoon by Branco. Reproduced with permission and by arrangement with LegalInsurrection.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.