M. Night Shyamalan, Netflix film chief Scott Stuber and other industry experts predict the future of the moviegoing experience.
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What will Hollywood look like 10 years from now? It's a question that EW posed to dozens of filmmakers, musicians, producers, and actors for Hollywood 2032, our look at how popular culture might evolve over the next decade. Below, we discuss the fate of one of the film industry's most beloved (and bedeviled) institutions: The movie theater.  

The last few years haven't been too kind to theatergoers — or to theater owners. Attendance took a beating during the pandemic, with the box office hitting once-unthinkable lows. Meanwhile, several iconic venues — including Los Angeles' industry-beloved ArcLight Hollywood, and Brooklyn's festive Regal UA Court Street — were forced to close down altogether. And even when theaters got back into the swing last year, some moviegoers were hesitant to take a trip down the aisle: Witness the fate of such long-anticipated releases as West Side Story and Nightmare Alley, which failed to connect with theatrical audiences — only to become hits once they wound up on streaming services. For film fans, "Will movie theaters survive?" has been an ongoing concern.

And yet, whether out of movie-loving optimism, showbiz-savvy pragmatism, or both, nearly all of EW's interviewees believe that we'll still be heading to theaters in 2032. "Movie theaters aren't going anywhere!," insists director/writer M. Night Shyamalan, who posits that the pandemic, and the isolation it forced us all into, has only heightened the need for social interaction. "Taking that oxygen away from us, even just a little bit, made us go crazy. We need to be with each other. And experiencing a story together will be even more precious, even more powerful."

Already, the last few months have proved that movie lovers still want the communal experience: Witness the billion-dollar turnout (and uproarious crowd reactions) for December's Spider-Man: No Way Home; the chart-topping return of the Scream franchise; and the recent back-to-back-to-back hit parade of Uncharted, The Batman, and The Lost City. Then there are the smaller — but no less super-heroic — successes of Norway's The Worst Person in the World and the horror drama X, both of which prove that a buzzed-about, adult-aimed indie can still draw a crowd.

Still, there's no doubt the combination of a years-long pandemic and an ever-widening streaming universe has altered our moviegoing metabolism. I'll wait to watch it at home is a commonly heard refrain these days — especially when it comes to smaller indies, which are being boxed out by big-budget franchise films. (Though 2021 was hardly a normal year, it's telling that nearly all of the top 10 films in the U.S. cost at least $100 million to produce.) Low-budget films that might have once traveled the arthouse circuit are instead finding homes on mega-streamers (Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon) or more curated outlets (MUBI, Shudder). 

So, while our experts believe that the act of leaving your house to seek out a movie will still very much be a thing in 2032, the kinds of films we see together is likely going to change — and that the gulf between multiplex-conquering IP films and streaming-friendly indies is only going to widen. "We're renegotiating our relationship with cinema," says producer Anita Gou (The Farewell, Honey Boy). "Streaming is the way of the future, but it won't kill theatrical. In fact, I think moviegoing will become more eventized, where it's like going to the theme park or a concert, as opposed to your regular viewing experience."

Does that mean you might walk into a theater in 2032 wearing your VR or AR gear, watching a movie while simultaneously hanging out in the metaverse? Perhaps. But some of the changes our experts predict are less radical. Tiered pricing — in which big-budget releases command bigger ticket fees — might be in place in 2032, encouraging viewers to take risks on smaller movies. (It was recently adopted by some theaters, which charged higher prices for The Batman.) And expect wider use out of older movie palaces, which can be refurbished or reemphasized for high-profile engagements: See Los Angeles' Regency Village Theater, which last fall hosted a weeks-long run engagement of Licorice Pizza — one that seemingly drew the attention of every film-loving Instagrammer in Hollywood.

Yet some of the industry veterans EW polled point out that, in order to keep the lights on, theater owners need to make their venues feel more regal: No one wants to pay at least $10 a ticket — plus another big sum for snacks — just to sit among annoying texters and talkers. Especially when millions of people have souped-up entertainment systems in their own living rooms. "Cinemas are getting smaller and smaller, and sometimes you just say, 'Okay, I'd much rather stay at home'," notes Jane Rosenthal, the Oscar-nominated cofounder of Tribeca Film Festival. "We've got to fix up the theaters, so that people say, 'I want to be here, and I want an experience that takes me beyond just watching something on a screen.'"

Of course, those are relatively minor solutions for the looming dilemma of how to fill seats. Some propose a more radical solution: Stop thinking of these cozy, communal big screens as being made simply for movies. "I could imagine theaters embracing long-form even more," says film/TV director and Reservation Dogs co-creator Sterlin Harjo. He points to the recent surge in lushly produced, devoutly followed TV shows: "If I could watch Game of Thrones every week at a theater with my friends, that'd be exciting."

To a younger generation of culture enthusiasts (for whom the divisions between film and TV are decidedly less rigid), there are plenty of uses for a big room with reclining seats and primo projection. "I think theaters will evolve and host social events," says Netflix global film head Scott Stuber. "They'll make deals with sporting leagues, so you can watch the games on weekends. Kids will go there to watch [e-game] tournaments. And there'll be a place for big-event television." 

Such changes might sound heretical to those who grew up at a time when the theater was almost sacrosanct — a place to get lost in the latest cinematic adventure. But the theater industry has survived countless challenges over the last several decades, whether it was the introduction of TV in the 1950s, or the advent of VCRs in the 80s. There's no reason why theaters can't evolve to face the challenges of the streaming era. If they do, it'll be a dramatic tale of survival — one maybe even deserving of the big screen itself.

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