Opinion – Going to the movies: a beautiful pastime and its nearing demise

Raghav Raj | Staff Writer

 Earlier this month, Warner Media announced that their entire 2021 slate — 17 feature films, including big-name releases like Dennis Villanueve’s ‘Dune’ remake and the fourth installment of The Matrix — would be released on HBO Max concurrently with its theatrical release. This stunning announcement effectively puts an end to the theatrical window before a film is released on video, putting the fate of these movie theaters in limbo.

In many ways, Warner Media’s announcement felt inevitable. The impacts of COVID-19 have completely upended the way movies are released, giving streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max a larger edge in the battle between theatrical and streaming releases that have taken hold of the entertainment industry over these past few years. As theaters across the country continue to falter and shut down, far too underfunded and securing nowhere near enough revenue to function, it’s tempting to wonder if this announcement heralds the end of the line, the nail in the casket for an industry that’s moving closer and closer to obsolescence in the face of cheaper, more convenient streaming services and their massive libraries of cinematic content.

If it is indeed the end of the line (I desperately hope that it isn’t, but it’s hard to trust legislative policies like the “Save Our Stages Act” introduced in the Senate when the government can’t even bother giving out more stimulus checks), then I think it’s worth taking stock of what exactly we’re losing.

Because it’s hard for me to quantify exactly how immense a loss it’d be to see movie theaters fade away.

In spite of the steady stream of complaints that often accompany going to the movies — the costly tickets, the oddly sticky floors, the overpriced concessions, the profoundly bleak potential for violence, the people who can’t put their dumb phones away to just enjoy the dang movie — I still find something truly magical about being able to go to the movies.

Like few other experiences, going to the movies is a deeply communal act, of sharing the same space as we all collectively work through the experience of the film. Some of the best times I’ve ever had watching a movie come from the power of these shared spaces. From cheering along with a crowd during Black Panther. From absolutely losing it with the rest of the audience while some Bollywood action hero absolutely pummels a comically endless stream of inept goons (this applies to, believe it or not, nearly every Bollywood movie I’ve ever been dragged to the theater by my parents to see). From seeing everyone collectively jump at the heart-stopping ending of Uncut Gems.

And even if the emotions aren’t nearly as outsized as those examples, they can still feel all the more powerful in a room filled with people being moved by the same experience. As Manohla Dargis, chief film critic at The New York Times states, “It is an exquisite, human thing to sit with all those other souls, to be alone with others.”

Movie theaters have continually offered the most accessible form of this communal experience of art; their range of films, from the art-house excursions to the record-breaking blockbusters, feel far grander than the scope of a concert or a theatrical performance. 

To lose them, to see theaters fall by the wayside as the immediacy of streaming takes hold of the moviegoing experience, would be a development both profoundly lonely and tragically inevitable.