Image Credit: SUE TALLON FOR EWYou might not have guessed it from this weekend’s shiny, happy Oscar telecast with its red-carpet glamour, beaming trophy winners, and cute kids singing “Over the Rainbow,” but Hollywood is in the midst of a serious funk. Even with huge hits like Avatar, Inception, and Toy Story 3, ticket sales dropped 5 percent last year, and this year isn’t looking any rosier so far: January 2011 wound up being the worst January for the movie business in 20 years. In an age of ever-proliferating entertainment options available anywhere, any time, it’s becoming increasingly hard to lure people off their couches and into a movie theater. There are plenty of reasons you might choose to stay home and pop a disc into your Blu-ray player, play Fallout 3 on your Xbox, or just watch YouTube videos of cats playing the piano and peeing in toilets instead of shlepping to the cineplex. Many moviegoers gripe about high ticket prices (though theater owners like it point out that, if you adjust for inflation, movie tickets are actually cheaper on average than they were in 1940). Others bemoan the expensive and often lousy food at the concession stand. Personally, my biggest pet peeve is being trapped in my seat and, like Alex with his eyelids pinned open in A Clockwork Orange, forced to watch inane pre-show commercials for cell phones and energy drinks.
In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, as part of a feature called “How to Fix the Movies,” we offer a few suggestions to improve the theater experience.
1. Stop killing us with your popcorn. One recent study found that a single medium-size bag of movie-theater popcorn contained 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. You shouldn’t have to check with your doctor before you head to the movies. Decent, healthy options should be available at the concession stand no matter where you live.
2. Can the commercials. Yes, they bring in much-needed revenue for theater owners. But how about at least leavening the ads with an old-fashioned cartoon or two? “It’s a great way to warm up an audience and get them in the mood,” says Gary Rydstrom, who directed a Pixar short called Hawaiian Vacation featuring the Toy Story gang that will run before this June’s Cars 2.
3. Create separate screenings for shmucks. Perhaps we need to arrange separate screenings specifically for people who insist on texting, talking, tweeting, and updating their Facebook status during the movie. Or at least we can adopt a voluntary Moviegoer’s Code of Ethics. “Moviegoing is a communal experience,” says Imax Filmed Entertainment president Greg Foster. “Manners do matter.”
Feel free to share your own personal pet peeves about movie theaters below, along with your suggestions of how to fix them. And check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, for more of our suggestions for how Hollywood can get its mojo back.