The pandemic hit cinemas hard, and three years on, many haven’t recovered. Earlier this year, Regal Cinemas’ parent company announced that it was closing 39 theaters, after announcing 12 closures and a chapter 11 bankruptcy back in September 2022. AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, has seen its stock fall by 50% in the past 12 months. In short, movie theaters are trying to find new ways to pull in audiences, and the answer might be… introducing flatbreads? Maybe?
With increased competition from streaming services, America’s theaters are looking for ways to differentiate the moviegoing experience, CNBC reports. The fact that fewer movies are being released lately as studios work through a pandemic backlog means the need for theaters to drum up sales has become even more urgent.
As CNBC explains, some solutions include investing in improved sound and picture quality, as well as some enticing upgrades to the seating—at least to the extent that seating can be enticing. But another lucrative improvement has been for theaters to expand their food and drink menus with additions like cocktails and dinner entrees.
The idea is that these businesses can offer something else for customers to experience beyond the movie itself—that added value comes in the form of a high-quality meal. Half the money from ticket sales goes to the movie studios, but theaters get to pocket all of the concessions profits. Revenue from ticket sales is higher overall, but concessions—as anyone who’s bought a $6 bag of Skittles can tell you—is where the true profits are.
“The American consumer now is really demanding more than just a popcorn and a drink or nachos or candy,” Rolando Rodriguez, chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners and senior adviser of Marcus Theatres, told CNBC. “They’re really looking for experiences that they’re having for meals associated with watching the films.” He continued on to say that beefing up the menu was a “must.”
I am not a businesswoman, and if I were a businesswoman, I think I’d be really bad at it. But I’m here to denounce this new era of movie theater food. Part of the moviegoing experience, for me, is about getting a gigantic overpriced popcorn and a gigantic overpriced drink. Big popcorn and big drink. Maybe candy. Whenever I’ve gone to a theater with full dinner options, it has never felt worth it.
Overpriced popcorn? Fine. A cultural relic. Part of the experience. An overpriced veggie burger and a side that could only be described as “tater tots disrespected,” which I end up knocking over because my hands are fumbling around in the dark abyss of the theater? Not fine. Bad. All the hubbub around more elaborate plates of food distracts from the movie in a way that sipping on a giant drink and dipping into a tub of popcorn wouldn’t dare. Magic Mike’s Last Dance was not meant to be seen while eating a caesar salad!
Perhaps those are the preconceived notions that America’s movie theaters are trying to address. Would things be different if the food were worth the hassle? Maybe! Luckily, in an effort to save our theaters, I’ve thought of some alternative business strategies that are all really good and that no one can be mad at:
- Expand the menu, but only to add carnival foods (funnel cake, fried Oreos, etc.)
- Convince that Koch heiress profiled in the New York Times to front the cash for all movie theaters for a few years instead of doing whatever dumb bullshit rich people are up to instead
- Get the government to nationalize movie theaters like they’re the DMV
- Run ads on Hulu that just say, “Wouldn’t the thing you’re watching look way, way better on a big screen?”
- Drop a prize into every bucket of popcorn like it’s a cereal box
- Rob a bank?
Maybe I would be a very good businesswoman after all.