KENT: Are Audiences Done With Movie Theaters? ‘Furiosa’ and ‘The Garfield Movie’ Box Office Flops Indicate a Worrisome Trend

by | May 30, 2024 | Opinion

The summer box office season got off to a rocky start over Memorial Day weekend, slumping to a nearly 30-year low in terms of ticket sales for the big-name films hitting theaters. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Garfield Movie”, were flops.

“Garfield” earned $31.1 million over the four-day weekend, while “Furiosa” brought in a weak $32 million. That makes “Furiosa” the unfortunate film to set the new record for the lowest-grossing Memorial Day blockbuster in 30 years, excluding 2020 when theaters were mostly closed due to the pandemic. That COVID summer also saw a steady stream of theaters screening classic movies like “Star Wars”, “Goonies” and “Jurassic Park”.

The previous record holder of Memorial Day shame was the family-friendly flick “Casper”, which opened with $22 million during the holiday weekend in 1995. Great movie by the way…..

This story about box office slumps and the decline of movie theaters is an ongoing saga. The stories have been writing themselves for over a decade now. Analysts should be careful not to pounce and declare the movie theater business dead. They are kept very much alive by an insider system set up by Hollywood where most movies have to hit theaters to be considered for seasonal accolades and awards.

Streaming has begun to change this dynamic only very recently.

Why won’t consumers bite and buy a ticket to the movies? I’ll tell you. It’s very simple.

The juice is not worth the squeeze when it comes to a night out at the movies. The risk for disappointment was always too high, but the opportunity cost was low. That is no longer the case. With average ticket prices being close to $12 and concessions combos being anywhere from $10-15, a family of three can expect to spend upwards of $55 for 2 hours of entertainment in a movie theater.

Consumers are being highly selective with their choices for a night out. For films, they want to be in the know on what the world is discussing or laughing about on social media. That intrigue and meme-fueled hype train are hard to create in a lab, but “Barbie”, “Oppenheimer”, “M3GAN” and “Dune 2” pulled it off with viral social media buzz and strong reviews. The same cannot be said for “Furiosa” or “Planet of the Apes”.

Consumers are not stingy though. They might spend more than $12 per ticket for a movie if they think the whole experience will be transcendent. Despite the slow start to the summer season, some moviegoers are still drawn to theaters, particularly those offering enhanced experiences like 4DX. For this experience of the Mad Max film “Furiosa,” a red paint flare explodes and casts the theater screen in a saturated crimson cloud. Between the gyroscopic 4DX chairs, plumes of fog roll in, catching the red hue from the screen as if the flare somehow transcended the fourth wall. Audiences feel like they’re in the movie. It amounts to a key value proposition at a time when cinemas are desperate to lure back moviegoers, particularly those in the younger demographics with cash on hand and less overhead costs like a mortgage or children.

Parents need some level of predictability when they agree to a night out. A new movie is not guaranteed to be good for everyone, and these consumers don’t know how much they’ll end up having to spend on popcorn refills, drinks, and clamoring requests for candy. Many will just opt to go to the skating rink, bounce house, or park instead.

Movie theaters are ultimately in competition with every other form of entertainment. That includes bowling alleys and bookstores. The sooner theaters start to think of themselves as small fish in a big pond for entertainment, the sooner they will get realistic about pricepoint and the consumer experience.

Stephen Kent is the Media Director for the Consumer Choice Center

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