Intermissions And Booze: How To Save The Theater-Going Experience

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: here's how movie theaters can win back audiences.)If you have even a passing interest in the business of movies, you'll know movie theaters aren't doing too great. Attendance by movie-goers in the United States and Canada hit record lows last year. Countless think pieces have been written about how streaming services and increased theater ticket prices (not to mention the concession stand extortion) are killing cinema. To hear some analysts talk, the end of cinema is nigh.Nonsense.I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here, but for a fairly young institution, Hollywood has a short memory. Cinema was dying when it moved from a couple of minutes of silent footage viewed in moldy back rooms to longer movies enjoyed in the company of others in theaters designed specifically for that purpose. Who could possibly watch a "flicker" that was a whole hour long!? Cinema was dying again when actors started wanting credit for their work. And again when "talkies" were introduced. And again when Technicolor came along. And again when television infiltrated American households. Cinema has been "dying" practically since it was invented, but the bitch ain't dead yet.With that in mind, I'd argue that the steadily increasing running time of major blockbusters is not only good thing, but could usher in a whole new era of cinema that turns films back into experiences you cannot get at home. Hollywood just needs to look at what audiences already want and run with it.

Feed Us Actual Restaurant-Quality Food

Back in July, SurveyMe released the results of their "Candy, Cocktails, & Cinema Cuisine" survey from Quarter One of 2018. The numbers speak for themselves. Millennials want to eat at the movies. I'm not talking about popcorn or other snacks. I'm talking french fries (the number one request with 17% of respondents asking for the delicious starch), pizza (12%), ice cream (13%), and even fruits and vegetables (14%).One of the most time-honored American Dates™ is dinner and movie, so why not merge the two? The same survey showed 69% of Millennials don't buy concessions because it is seen as a "bad value". While buy $10 candy when you can sneak the same product in for a quarter of the price? However, 43% only say they'd rather spend their food money elsewhere because they want quality food, not because they're opposed to the idea of eating at the theater. In response to this data, some theaters have already stepped up the quality and increased their menu options (and others, like the Alamo Drafthouse, have been doing this for years), but pick up the pace y'all. Give us an appetizer before the previews roll. Brings us the main course right before the film starts. Offer dessert during intermission.Which reminds me...

Let Us Go to the Bathroom Without Missing Anything

On its face, there is nothing wrong with a three-hour film. But human beings are not designed to consume 100 fluid ounces of soda and then not need to pee. Bring back intermission. Give people 15-20 minutes to use the bathroom. Or call the server to order another round of cheese fries and a lava cake. Or just stretch our legs and blink owlishly into our phones while we pepper social media with our thoughts on the first half of the film. While intermission has fallen out of favor in recent years, movies such as The Hateful Eight have indulged in them. If movie theaters are to survive streaming, they will have to find a way to become something audiences can't get at home. Broadway attendance is surging and nobody is complaining that Hamilton is "too long."

Inebriate Us

One of the best things about going to live theater is the adult sippy cup. It's exactly what it sounds like; a spill-proof plastic cup filled with wine or beer. While some movie theaters have hopped on the bandwagon of selling wine and spirits, it's still a niche market. And that's despite the fact that the same SurveyMe results I quoted above states that Millennials and iGen are clamoring for more alcohol options when they go out. 27% of all moviegoers would also like more hot drink options, so get on that Starbucks.Now I'm not saying all movies need to be three hours long. Films should be as long as they need to be to move the story along, whether that's a tight 90-minute turnaround or 180-minute epic. What I might be saying is that all film's need an intermission and some decent food and drink options. I mean, it's not like the bleak outlook is going to get any worse. Evolve or die.